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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 1.6 million ha planted to December 2002 (table 15.2). Softwood plantations, which are dominated by the exotic species Pinus radiata, represented 60% (988,000 ha). Hardwood plantations, which are almost all native eucalyptus species, mainly the Eucalyptus globulus variety, represented 39% (638,000 ha). The proportion of the estate accounted for by hardwood plantations is continuing to increase, up from 15% in 1994 and 29% in 1999.
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. Over time, the area of plantations in public ownership has lessened, while the proportion in private ownership has increased. Just over half of the resource planted since 1990 involved private ownership of land and trees, while only a quarter of the resource planted during this period involved public ownership.
Farm forestry generally refers to the incorporation of commercial tree growing into farming systems. This may take the form of smaller scale 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) 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. In lower rainfall regions, fostering farm forestry uptake and revegetation in general, will become an increasing priority in government programs designed to improve land management and ameliorate environmental degradation, especially salinity and water quality.
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 2000-01, the total sales and service income of the Wood and paper product manufacturing industries was $15.1b, of which Paper and paper product manufacturing contributed $8.0b (table 15.3).
In 2001-02, it is estimated that total roundwood removed from forests remained steady at 24.3 million cubic metres. The removal of broadleaved wood (primarily from native forests) fell 8.6% in 2001-02 to 10.6 million cubic metres, while 7.5% more coniferous wood (mainly from plantations) was removed.
In 2001-02, the value of exports of forest products totalled $2.0b, of which 36% were woodchips and 35% paper and paperboard products. In that year the value of imports of forest products was $3.7b, of which 53% were paper and paperboard products and 12% sawnwood. This indicates a trade deficit in forest products of $1.7b in 2001-02. Australia produces 87% of its sawn timber needs, of which native forests provide 27%, with the balance 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 increased by 17% in 2001-02 to 4,119,000 cubic metres (table 15.4), of which 73% was softwood.
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. Of the paper and paper products consumed domestically in 2001-02, 39% were imported, with 72% of printing and writing paper coming from overseas. The majority of paper products produced domestically were packaging and industrial paper (58%) 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, and 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 2001-02, some 19% of the total value of woodchips exported was from softwood woodchips.
Management of forests
Land and forest management is the constitutional responsibility of state and territory governments. Each state has a forest authority responsible for the management and control of publicly owned forests, in accordance with the relevant Forestry Acts and Regulations.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (AFFA) and the Department of the Environment and Heritage (E&H) are the two key agencies with responsibilities relating to forests at the national level. Close liaison is maintained between them on relevant issues. AFFA's main responsibilities are the development of a national approach to forest management; providing advice to government on forest matters; administration of export licensing responsibilities in relation to unprocessed timber; liaison with state, national and international organisations concerned with forestry; and management of policy and program initiatives.
E&H has responsibility for environmental matters relating to forests, and provides policy advice to government on conservation and environmental matters pertaining to Australia's forests, including biological diversity and climate change. The Australian Heritage Commission and Environment Australia have assessment, management and monitoring roles in respect of the national estate, endangered species and environmental impacts in Australia's forests.
AFFA and E&H, in close cooperation with the state and territory governments, and other bodies, were extensively involved in the development of the National Forest Policy Statement and continue to actively participate in ongoing development of Australia's National Forest Inventory. Details of these initiatives and others such as Regional Forest Agreements, the Forestry Industry Structural Adjustment Program and the National Plantation Inventory can be obtained from the AFFA web site, <http://www.daff.gov.au/>.
Research for the forestry, wood and paper industries addresses industrial and environmental forestry including the sustainable management of eucalypt and softwood plantations, tree breeding and genetics, wood properties and quality, forest assessment, and wood and fibre processing and products.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) plays a major role in undertaking research into a broad range of community and economic issues including landscape degradation, conservation of biodiversity, water quality, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and new product options such as novel composites and environmentally benign preservation methods. CSIRO is also an active participant in five Cooperative Research Centres: Sustainable Production Forestry, Greenhouse Accounting, Functional Communication Surfaces, Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, and Innovative Wood Manufacturing.