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 Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia (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 responsibilities for environmental matters relating to forests, and provides policy advice to the Government on conservation and environmental matters pertaining to Australia's forests, including biological diversity and climate change. The Australian Heritage Commission and Environment Australia within the Environment and Heritage portfolio 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 Australian states and territories, 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.
Commonwealth government initiatives
National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS)
The NFPS was signed by the Commonwealth and all mainland state and territory governments at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Perth in December 1992. Tasmania became a signatory in 1995. The Statement provides a policy framework for the management of Australia's public and private forests, and outlines a vision for the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's forests. The vision has 11 broad national goals: conservation; wood production and industry development; integrated and coordinated decision making and management; private native forests; plantations; water supply and catchment management; tourism and other economic and social opportunities; employment, labour force education and training; public awareness, education and involvement; research and development; and international responsibilities.
Plantation initiatives under the NFPS
Under the NFPS, Australia is committed to expanding its plantation estate to provide additional resources for the forestry sector. The Commonwealth Government has supported the expansion of Australia's plantation resource base for many years. Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision was released in October 1997. Vision 2020 is a partnership between the Commonwealth Government, the state governments and the forest industry. This initiative, which aims to treble Australia's forest plantations estate by the year 2020, will enhance growth in Australia's forest industry and the contribution made by plantations to the Australian economy, rural communities and regional development.
Under the Natural Heritage Trust, the Commonwealth funds a number of farm forestry-related activities which can make a significant contribution to improving land use, leading to better soil health, water quality and vegetation condition. As well as achieving better environmental outcomes, farm forestry can become a profitable adjunct to traditional agricultural industries and provide the basis for regional wood processing initiatives.
Regional Forest Agreements (RFA)
The Commonwealth signed 10 RFAs with four state governments between 1997 and 2001. The 20-year agreements in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia cover regions where commercial timber production is a major forest use. They seek to provide a balance of the full suite of environmental, social, economic and heritage values that forests can provide for current and future generations.
The agreements set out to establish a world-class forest conservation reserve system of nearly 10.4 million ha that is comprehensive, adequate and representative. The RFAs also provide certainty for forest industries and for continuous improvement in ecologically sustainable management of the entire forest estate. More than 8.5 million ha are within formal dedicated conservation reserves.
The RFAs provide for the Commonwealth Government and the state governments to report against milestones each year and to conduct a major performance review every five years. The reviews, which began in Tasmania in 2002, are being undertaken with reference to the 'Montreal Process Indicators', nationally and internationally agreed criteria and indicators for measuring the sustainability of forest management, and other relevant criteria and indicators. See also the articles Forest conservation and Sustainable forest management.
Forestry Industry Structural Adjustment Program (FISAP)
FISAP was established in 1996-97 to assist businesses and workers involved in native forest industries to adjust to changes associated with RFAs. Under shared funding arrangements with the states, the Commonwealth has allocated $60m to New South Wales, $19m to Victoria and $15m to Western Australia. With RFAs now in place in those states, the focus of FISAP funding is primarily on leveraging private sector investment and employment generation in the native hardwood industry. Following the withdrawal of the Queensland Government from the RFAs process, $5m of FISAP funds were allocated to Queensland to support investment by businesses involved in the native timber industry.
National Forest Inventory (NFI)
Australia’s NFI collects and communicates information on Australia’s forests. It is a partnership between the Commonwealth Government and all state and territory governments, and is based in Canberra at the Bureau of Rural Sciences, a scientific research bureau of AFFA. The NFI databases contain information on native and plantation forests and a wide range of forest characteristics, including extent, type, age and tenure.
A State of the Forests Report (SOFR) produced by the NFI was released in late 1998. This comprehensive publication includes a description of the public, private, native and plantation forest estate, including use and management, and examination of the social attitudes framing public opinion on forest issues. Preparation is underway for the next SOFR, to be produced in 2003. Information from the NFI is used to meet Australia’s national and international forest-related reporting requirements.
National Plantation Inventory (NPI)
The NPI is a component of the NFI, established in 1993 to provide up-to-date quantitative reporting of Australia’s plantation resource. The NPI reports annually on plantation areas, new plantings, ownership and planting locations at a national and state level. Each year the NPI produces an update report, the NPI Tabular Report. The latest of these was launched in June 2002. The Tabular Report provides an annual snapshot of the plantation environment. Every five years the NPI produces a comprehensive report that also includes regional level plantations data and wood availability estimates. The latest report, Plantations of Australia 2001, also incorporated the findings of the National Farm Forest Inventory (NFFI). The NFFI, a project funded by the Farm Forestry Program, facilitated farm forest data collection by establishing a consistent framework and standards for data collection across Australia.
Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation
The Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation was established in 1994 as a key initiative under the National Forest Policy Statement, to assist the forest industries to improve their international competitiveness and to realise their growth potential. Industry and the Commonwealth jointly fund the Corporation.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
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.
Most of the work for the sector is conducted by the CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products Division with other contributions from the CSIRO Divisions of Entomology, Land and Water, Plant Industry and Sustainable Ecosystems. Close links with other CSIRO divisions facilitate coordinated action on broad 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 also contributes to the forestry and forest products industries through its active participation in five Cooperative Research Centres: Sustainable Production Forestry, Greenhouse Accounting, Functional Communication Surfaces, Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, and Innovative Wood Manufacturing.
CSIRO research has delivered significant benefits to Australia’s forestry, wood and paper industries. Recent examples include the SilviScan technology for rapid, low-cost assessment of wood properties, guidelines for effluent irrigation of forest plantations, the domestication and improvement of Australian native tree species by the Australian Tree Seed Centre, contributions to national policy and program development including the RFAs, and support to industry for the growing, management and processing of young eucalypts.