4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2007  
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Contents >> Landscape trends >> Forests

Image: kookaburraFORESTS


Native forest


Forests are classified as land with trees with an actual or potential height greater than two metres and 20% crown cover. When Europeans settled Australia in 1788, it is estimated that forests covered about one-third of the continent. This has fallen to about one-fifth (21%) in 2003. Native forests accounted for 162.7 million hectares (ha), of a total of 164 million ha. The rest was plantation forests.

Forests are an important resource for the forestry and wood products manufacturing industry, for biodiversity conservation and as a recreational resource. More than 16,500 plants and 3,800 animals have been identified as forest-dependent (Endnote1).

While the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have the smallest area of total native forest of all states and territories, they have the largest area of native forest as a proportion of the state/territory area (48.8% and 46.7% respectively).

Thirteen per cent of Australia's native forests were formally protected in nature conservation reserves in 2003. About 70% were privately managed and 7% were available for timber production in multi-use forests.

Native forest as a proportion of area, 2003
Graph: Native forest as a proportion of area, 2003
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, National Forest Inventory, 2003 and ABS, Year Book 1997 for land area data.


NATIVE FOREST, 2003
Area of native forest
' 000 ha

New South Wales
26 658
Victoria
7 935
Queensland
55 734
South Australia
10 866
Western Australia
25 365
Tasmania
3 169
Northern Territory
32 836
Australian Capital Territory
117

Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, National Forest Inventory, 2003.

Plantation forest

Current information indicates that forest cover in Australia is decreasing. Although regrowth on cleared agricultural land and establishment of new plantations, farm forestry and environmental planting are occurring, this does not exceed current conversion of forest for other uses such as agriculture and urban expansion (Endnote 2).

Plantations are ‘intensively managed stands of trees of either native or exotic species, created by the regular replacement of seedlings or seeds’ (Endnote 3). Hardwood plantations are mainly made up of eucalypt species, while softwood plantations are mainly pine species.

The data show that while the area planted to softwood species has remained relatively stable, the area planted to hardwood species is increasing. Between 2003 and 2006, the area planted to hardwood species increased by almost one-fifth (19%).

Hardwood and softwood plantation forest
Graph: Hardwood and softwood plantation forest
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, National Plantation Inventory Australia, 2000, 2002 and 2004; Australia’s Plantations 2006, 2007; Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003.

The area planted to hardwood and softwood species varies greatly between states and territories. In most states and territories the area planted to softwood is greater than that planted to hardwood species. However, in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, the reverse is the case.

While plantations host fewer forest-dwelling native animals than native forests, plantations can provide habitat for some flora and fauna compared with cleared land. Animals frequently found in softwood forests include echidnas, kangaroos, wombats, possums and birds such as yellow-tailed black-cockatoos.

When sited appropriately, plantations can provide wind shelters, improve water quality and reduce soil erosion.

Hardwood and softwood plantations, 2006
Graph: Hardwood and softwood plantations, 2006
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia’s Plantations 2007.


Endnotes
  1. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia's Forests at a Glance, 2005. <back
  2. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003, p.29. <back
  3. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia's Forests at a Glance, 2007, p.26. <back


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