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Australia's native and plantation forests are an important natural resource providing a wide range of products and benefits to the community.
The combined resource of standing planted forests in Australia was 1.7 million ha planted to December 2003 (table 15.2). Softwood plantations, which are dominated by the exotic species Pinus radiata, represented 59% (988,000 ha). Hardwood plantations, which are almost all native eucalyptus species, mainly the Eucalyptus globulus variety, represented 41% (676,000 ha). The proportion of the estate accounted for by hardwood plantations is continuing to increase, up from 15% in 1994 and 29% in 1999 to 41% in 2003.
A diverse range of ownership arrangements exists in the Australian plantation industry, including a variety of joint venture and annuity schemes between public and private parties. Private ownership of trees in plantation forests has increased from 46% in 1999 to 57% in 2003. Private ownership of land under plantation forests has increased from 42% to 52% over the same period.
As a result of severe bushfires during January 2003, 11,000 ha (65%) of plantation forest in the Australian Capital Territory was destroyed.
Farm forestry generally refers to the incorporation of commercial tree growing into farming systems. This may take the form of smaller-scaled plantations on farms, timber belts, wind breaks, alleys and wide-spaced plantings, and may also include management of native forest for commercial returns on farms.
Farm forestry is increasingly becoming adopted as part of farm management planning and integrated into existing land uses, not only to supply wood but also to provide a range of benefits such as environmental protection and increased agricultural production.
To date, plantation farm forestry has mostly occurred in higher rainfall regions (greater than 600 mm per year) where good growth rates can be achieved and there is an existing timber processing industry. Many farmers have also entered into farm forestry by leasing their land or forming joint venture agreements with large-scale forest management companies.
The baseline area for plantations owned outright by individuals having total estates less than 1,000 ha (i.e. the small-grower sector) was just on 67,000 ha in 2000, or nearly 5% of Australia’s total plantation estate (Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia’s State of the Forests Report, 2003). In contrast to the wider plantation estate, which mainly comprised softwoods, the farm forest resource comprised over 60% hardwoods.
The management of private native forests is recognised as an important component of farm forestry, as 24% of Australia’s total native forest area is in private ownership and a further 46% is on privately managed leasehold land.
Wood and paper products
Australia's wood and paper products industries are important components of Australia's primary and secondary industry sectors. They are particularly important in providing economic development and employment in many regions of rural Australia. The industries include hardwood and softwood sawmilling, plywood and panels manufacturing, woodchip production and export, and the pulp and paper industries.
In 2002-03 total roundwood removed from forests increased by 15% to 28.6 million cubic metres. The removal of broadleaved wood (primarily from native forests) rose 12% in 2002-03 to 11.8 million cubic metres, while 17% more coniferous wood (mainly from plantations) was removed (ABARE 2004b).
The value of exports of forest products in 2002-03 totalled $2.1b, of which 38% were woodchips and 34% paper and paperboard products. The value of imports of forest products in 2002-03 was $4.0b, of which 50% were paper and paperboard products and 13% sawnwood. This indicates a trade deficit in forest products of $1.9b in 2002-03. Australia produced 88% of its sawn timber needs in 2002-03, of which native forests provide 26%, with 74% coming from softwood plantations. Imported sawn timber is mostly Radiata pine from New Zealand and Douglas fir from North America.
The hardwood and softwood sawmilling industries comprise mills of various sizes which process wood into sawn timber and other products such as veneers, mouldings and floorings. The hardwood mills are generally small scale and scattered. The softwood mills are generally larger and more highly integrated with other wood processing facilities. Australia's production of sawn timber in 2002-03 decreased by 2% to 4,049,000 cubic metres (table 15.3).
Other value-added timber products include plywood, wood-based panels and reconstituted wood products. Australian wood-based panels include particleboard, medium density fibreboard, and hardboard made from softwood or hardwood pulp logs, sawmill residues or thinnings.
Pulp and paper mills use roundwood thinnings, low quality logs, harvesting residues and sawmill waste, recycled paper and paperboard to produce a broad range of pulp and paper products. Some 37% of the paper and paper products consumed domestically in 2002-03 were imported, with 70% of printing and writing paper coming from overseas. The majority of paper products produced domestically were packaging and industrial paper (62%) along with newsprint, printing and writing papers, and tissue paper. Recycled paper now contributes 54% of the fibre used in the production of all paper and paperboard.
Woodchips are mainly used in the production of Australia's paper and paper products. The woodchip export industry uses sawmill residues and timber which is unsuitable for sawmilling and not required by the pulp, paper and reconstituted wood products industries. Before the advent of the woodchip export industry, much of this material was left in the forest after logging. Considerable quantities of sawmill waste material, which would otherwise be burnt, are also chipped for local pulpwood-using industries and for export. Up until 1990-91 at least 95% of woodchips exported from Australia had been eucalypt, but since then greater quantities of softwood woodchips have become available from pine plantations. In 2002-03, 18% of the total value of woodchips exported was from softwood woodchips.