Chapter 4 Native forestry
Since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, harvesting from both
public and private forests has significantly altered much of the forest estate
in Australia. Whilst many native forest products have been replaced by other
materials – by concrete, steel and plastics – and despite the growth of timber
plantations, native forestry remains a fundamental part of the Australian
economy, especially in rural and regional areas. The inquiry’s terms of
reference direct the Committee to consider ‘the development of win-win outcomes
in balancing environmental costs with economic opportunities’, and this chapter
will discuss how those two things can be balanced. Whilst there are challenges
that face all parts of the Australian forestry industry, there are particular
challenges and opportunities specific to native forestry.
Australia’s forests have been harvested and managed to some degree –
however small – for tens of thousands of years. Some submissions to the inquiry
have made reference to the use of fire for forest management by Indigenous
Australians, as well as their regular use of various forest products.
Other submissions have drawn attention to the continuing significance of native
forests for indigenous heritage. It is clear that the
cultural story of Australia’s native forests goes back many thousands of years,
and the Committee is pleased that so many witnesses and submitters recognise the
ancient history of Australia’s forests.
Native forestry is a substantial part of many regional and rural
economies around Australia. It provides significant employment in numerous
regional centres, and is a vital part of many communities. The Committee
consistently heard evidence from groups and individuals who viewed the
viability of the native forestry sector as central to the viability of their
community. As expressed by Mr Tony Wade, of Timber Communities Australia:
We still have a fair bit of employment in the industry up
here. We have lost a lot. But socially I think it has been devastating for a
lot of the genuine people that were in timber and in forestry for all the right
reasons. I think they have been forced to do other things. Some of them maybe
were old enough to receive a pension, but I really believe that had they stayed
in the job they loved they would never have retired until they were too old and
arthritis got the better of them...Another thing that disappoints me greatly
about the undue pressure that has been brought on the industry as a whole and
the lifestyle is the fact that families no longer stay intact, that children
are forced to go to the cities to work, there is no family business to carry on
with, and again this puts a lot of pressure on relationships.
The evidence of Ms Lisa Marty, CEO of the Victorian Association of
Forest Industries, demonstrates how the forestry industry has a significant
‘flow-on’ effect to other areas of the economy. This is true of native forestry
as much as in plantations:
The industry is a significant employer: it directly employs
over 24,000 people and indirectly supports the employment of up to 52,000 more.
Many of these jobs are located in regional areas which are highly dependent on
the industry for employment and socioeconomic activity. The industry also
supports the manufacturing sector, which includes the local furniture, frame
and truss, and paper industries as well as wholesale and retail sectors.
As for the current and future prospects for the Australian forestry
industry, the recent history of native forestry is the most important. As noted
in Chapter 2, the National Forestry Policy Statement in 1992 continues to be
the central reference point for much discussion around the state of forestry in
During the course of the inquiry, there have been a number of major
themes that have been consistently been raised in evidence given to the
Committee. These include:
- How to define a
‘native forest’, ‘old-growth forest’ and ‘high conservation value’ forest, and
how to manage conservation values in native forests;
- Wood supply security,
including the RFA process and social licence;
- Forest ownership and
a ‘fair return’ for the use of a community resource;
- Native forest
management, including bushfires, regrowth and biodiversity; and
- Native forest
This chapter deals
with these themes sequentially.
The Committee strongly supports a strong, viable native forestry sector.
As part of that strength and viability, native forestry must continue to
operate under the following principles:
- wood supply security;
- high-value products;
- a ‘fair return’ for
the use of a community resource;
- ongoing monitoring
and information collection;
decision making; and
will be developed in different sections of this chapter.
Defining and managing native forest conservation values
A significant area of debate regarding native forestry in Australia
centres on the definition of a ‘native forest’. A related discussion concerns
the best way to classify the conservation value of native forests, and how to
manage those conservation values. These issues will be discussed below.
What is a native forest?
Defining a ‘native forest’ is not simple. It is an inherently vague and
imprecise term. Returning to the 1992 Statement, its glossary provides two good
definitions, of both ‘forest’ and ‘native forest’.
Forest - an area, incorporating all living and non
living components, that is dominated by trees having usually a single stem and
a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding
5 metres, and with existing or potential projective cover of overstorey strata
about equal to or greater than 30 per cent.
This definition includes Australia's diverse native forests and plantations,
regardless of age. It is also sufficiently broad to encompass areas of trees
that are sometimes described as woodlands.
Native forest - any local indigenous community the
dominant species of which are trees — see Forest — and containing
throughout its growth the complement of native species and habitats normally
associated with that forest type or having the potential to develop these
characteristics. It includes forests with these characteristics that have been
regenerated with human assistance following disturbance. It excludes
plantations of native species and previously logged native forest that has been
regenerated with non-endemic native species.
The definition of ‘forest’ has been used (with some modifications) by
documents such as the State of the Forests 2008 report.
This broad definition of ‘native forest’ has both advantages and
disadvantages. On the one hand, it speaks of all kinds of forests dominated by
endemic native species, and uses generally non-technical language. On the other
hand, it does not distinguish between ‘frontier’ or ‘undisturbed’ forests and
those that have been harvested and regrown with human assistance, or forests on
land that might previously have been open farmland. This breadth has the
potential to create considerable confusion. In the general community, a
reference to a native forest might conjure up images of an untouched
wilderness, a forest whose wood has never been harvested and which has not
changed significantly since European settlement. However, that ‘native forest’
might have been logged and regrown over decades. The term ‘native forest’ also
denotes both public and private forests. The definition is useful, but by
itself ‘native forest’ is a potentially misleading term.
‘Regrowth’ native forests might be logged and regrown over decades.
According to one witness, some of these forests are classified as ‘remnant
forest’ or ‘virgin forest’. Without adopting an
opinion regarding these particular examples, they demonstrate the potential for
confusion when the general term ‘native forest’ is used by itself.
What is an old-growth forest?
The best definition of an old-growth forest is in the National Forest
forest that is ecologically mature and has been subjected to
negligible unnatural disturbance such as logging, roading and clearing. The
definition focuses on forest in which the upper stratum or overstorey is in the
late mature to overmature growth phases.
Hence, an old-growth forest refers to a mature forest that has not been
disturbed by activities such as harvesting. Such a forest might have trees that
are hundreds of years old. In this sense, an old-growth forest might be
described as a ‘frontier’ forest, as discussed above. It is important that this
definition be strictly applied, to ensure it does not apply to native forests
that have been harvested and disturbed in the past.
What is the ‘conservation value’ of a forest?
Many submissions to the inquiry refer to the term ‘high-conservation
value’ (HCV) forest, often as the main criterion for a forest’s protection.
In general, HCV refers to a complex system of assessing the value of a forest,
according to numerous factors. As it was put by the CEO of Timber Communities
Australia, HCV ‘does not just mean ecological values. It means social,
environmental and economic values. It means cultural values. It means aesthetic
values. It means a whole range of values.’ There are two major
issues relating to the HCV term. Firstly, how best to define the term; and
secondly, what is the appropriate management of an HCV-designated forest.
Throughout the inquiry, the Committee asked witnesses who used the term
‘High Conservation Value’ to provide a concrete definition. The Committee
received some of these definitions as exhibits (see
Appendix B). The Forest Stewardship Council, one of the major international
forest certification organisations, provided the Committee with its definition
of an HCV forest. A forest is assessed against four criteria:
a) forest areas containing globally, regionally or nationally
- concentrations of biodiversity
values (e.g. endemism, endangered species, refugia); and/or
- large landscape level forests,
contained within, or containing the management unit, where viable populations
of most if not all naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of
distribution and abundance;
b) forest areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or
c) forest areas that provide basic services of nature in
critical situations (e.g. watershed protection, erosion control); and
d) forest areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local
communities (e.g. subsistence, health) and/or critical to local communities’
traditional cultural identity (areas of cultural, ecological, economic or
religious significance identified in cooperation with such local communities).
According to Kayt Watts, the CEO of Australian Forestry Standard Limited
(which is accredited to the other major international forest certification
We have 'biodiversity', which covers everything they have in
their 'high conservation value'. If you want to go through the two and tick off
one against the other, pretty much they are exactly the same.
Further consideration of the role of
certification is provided in Chapter 8.
By contrast, the Wilderness Society has a range of specific
characteristics included in its definition of an HCV forest. Such a forest
satisfy the WildCountry Science Principles; [be] rare,
threatened or endangered, or contain centres of endemism; old-growth; forested
wilderness; rainforest (including with emergent eucalypts); undisturbed /
negligibly disturbed mature forests; highly (biologically) productive; have
been identified as core habitats for local endemic, rare, threatened and
endangered species; have been identified as having world heritage or of
national heritage value; are located in areas with steep climate gradients; or
form part of domestic supply or Wild River catchments.; refugia and/or of
evolutionary significance; are significant carbon stores and; areas of high
cultural and social significance.
As noted in Chapter 2, the ‘Statement of Principles’ agreed in Tasmania
includes a central role for HCV forests. The principles include action to
‘immediately protect, maintain and enhance High Conservation Value Forests
identified by ENGOs [Environmental Non-Government Organisations] on public
There are three ENGOs party to the Statement of Principles – Environment
Tasmania, the Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation;
they made a joint submission to the inquiry (submission 109). They also
provided the Committee with a document that gives ‘background on the ENGO
identified high conservation value reserve areas’,
which the Committee took as an exhibit to the inquiry. This document outlines
how the ENGOs identified HCV forests for reservation under the Statement of
Principles. The conservation values considered include:
Large intact natural forest areas; Forest areas displaying
ecological maturity; Forest areas of social, cultural and spiritual importance
to local, national and/or international communities; Forest ecosystems and
habitat with important biodiversity values, including rare, depleted and
under-reserved forest communities and species; Forest areas that contribute to
good reserve design (eg. Buffering and ecological connectivity); and, Forests
with important ecosystem services functions (eg. Carbon storage, water
This is a very broad definition, and could easily capture young regrowth
forests. There are clearly some consistent trends throughout all of these
definitions of HCV forests, as well as notable differences between them. It is
equally clear that the conservation value of a forest is not merely
attributable to how ‘intact’ or ‘undisturbed’ it is. Making a determination
about the conservation value of a forest necessarily encompasses many
How to manage conservation values in native forests
As noted above, there are different views about how to manage an HCV
forest. The HCV forests identified under the Tasmanian Statement of Principles
are by explicitly intended for protection – that is, to be
reserved permanently. By contrast, the FSC definition is part of the overall
certification system, and adherence to the FSC certification does not
necessarily entail permanent reservation of a forest. Rather, the FSC Principle
is the ‘maintenance and preservation of high conservation values in forests’.
Another view is that advanced by Timber Communities Australia, that:
high-conservation value of itself—certainly within the
FSC—does not necessarily mean no logging. What it means is identify the value
and manage the value...you can identify high-conservation values. You can
manage for them. You can ensure that those values, where the value is
inconsistent with intensive harvesting, can have that level of management
The Committee supports this view of managing conservation values in
forests. However, it is important that this principle is rigorously applied in
practice. Most forest managers have been diligent in understanding the value of
their forests over the last 200 years, as can be attested by the quality of the
forests existing today. But they should continue to do so with updated and
continuous monitoring. Harvesting codes are very stringent now, but if there are
negative impacts, forest managers must actively investigate and share what they
They must also ensure that they treat forests appropriately, relying on
the information available, to ensure that they actively and sensitively manage
the conservation values over the long term. The principle of intergenerational
equity demands that native forests be managed so that the ability of future
generations to benefit from all of their uses and conservation values is not
diminished. Ideally, we should be passing forests on to future generations in a
better state than we received them.
The definition and management of high conservation value forests will continue
to be debated in Australia, and around the world. Whilst the Committee does not
wish to adopt one particular definition, nor to suggest that forests falling
under such a definition be automatically managed in a particular way, it is
important for this debate to be supported by sound science and that a range of
views are taken into account, including those of local communities.
Chair, Hon Dick Adams MP, in a regrowth area.
Wood supply security
In the 1992 Statement, it was noted that in order to
attract new investment and profitable value-adding projects,
the Governments must establish clear and consistent policies for resource
development, providing secure access to resources and consistent environmental
Clearly, one of the aims of the statement, and the resulting RFA
process, was to provide security of wood supply to the forestry industry. The
statement also acknowledges the role of state governments in ensuring that
harvesting rights ‘will reflect security of supply for wood users’.
Numerous submissions to the inquiry reiterated the importance of wood supply
security as provided by the statement and the RFA process, particularly for
attracting investment. In addition to the
formal agreements regulating the use of public native forests, numerous
submissions to the inquiry have highlighted the importance of maintaining
social licence for native forestry. These issues will be discussed below.
RFAs and wood supply security
As noted above, many submissions have given the RFA process qualified support
for providing wood supply security. The submission from Timber Communities
Australia notes that:
Despite the fact that some Governments, for political
reasons, have failed to honour the commitments of the RFAs, the agreements have
provided the forest industry with considerably more certainty than previously
existed in relation to access to forests and have encouraged investment by the
industry. This investment has provided new and more skilled employment
opportunities, particularly in rural areas, and has led to increased domestic [processing]
of our native timbers.
However, some submissions have suggested that RFAs have not performed
The RFAs have in our view delivered no such certainty. Forest
based industries cannot be robust when agreements fail to deliver and cannot
distribute on an ongoing basis the wood volumes as specified in the agreements.
According to the Victorian Association
of Forest Industries, RFAs do not currently live up to their potential and actually
prevent greater forestry investment:
until they are seen and implemented as a strong guarantee for
resource security and supporting of effective forest management, there will be
an under-investment in forestry in Australia.
RFAs are an instrument that allows twenty year contracts, with review
every five years, and this can be a continuous process. RFAs use the best
practice and best science to give resource security to the native forestry
In addition to the debate about the certainty currently provided by
RFAs, many submissions raised concern about the limited lifespan of RFAs. According
to submissions from Timber Communities Australia, the Forest Industries
Association of Tasmania, the NSW Forest Products Association, Hurford Hardwood,
the National Association of Forest Industries, and the Port Macquarie–Hastings
Council, the best way to ensure wood supply security is to adopt ‘evergreen’
RFAs, such as with a ‘rolling’ renewal process. This would mean that, for
example, ‘at any time the industry has at least 15 years of resource security.’
Currently, each RFA has a fixed ‘expiry’ date, beyond which there is no
guarantee of wood supply security. According to the NAFI submission, the
Australian Government should:
immediately start a process of renewing Regional Forest
Agreements (RFAs) and provide evergreen 20 year resource security through five
yearly rolling renewals – backed by Commonwealth and state legislation.
The Committee also received submissions supporting the original design
of RFAs, but calling attention to so-called faults in the way that RFAs have
been created, implemented and reviewed. South East Forest Rescue states that:
The scientific processes in the RFAs were politically
compromised, the established Joint ANZECC/Ministerial Council on Forestry Fisheries
& Aquaculture National Forest Policy Statement Implementation Subcommittee
(“JANIS”) criteria for forest conservation were not fully applied. There are
large areas of high-value conservation forest that would have been reserved if
the original RFA criteria for forest conservation had been fully employed.
However, these forests are not
identified, which makes it impossible to judge the validity of the claim.
The submission from the North East Forest Alliance alleges that ‘the
Regional Forest Agreement process has become a sham with numerous commitments
and timelines simply ignored.’ However, the alliance
does not call for the North East NSW RFA to be abolished. It rather makes a
number of recommendations, including to:
review compliance with all clauses of the RFA and identify
actions to remedy failures...Investigate and remedy the failure by NSW to
annually report on actual versus predicted yields as required by the RFA... Require
the identification of the reservation status of all forest ecosystems in
accordance with the RFA.
Other evidence to the Committee recommends that RFAs should simply be
abolished. According to the joint submission from Environment Tasmania, The
Wilderness Society and The Australian Conservation Foundation:
The Australian Government needs to abandon the Regional
Forest Agreements (RFAs). Where RFAs remain in place, conflict in public
forests persists. Where they have been abolished, conflict has dissipated. It
is clear that RFAs have failed to protect jobs, industry security, or the
environmental benefits of native forests.
The Committee has formed the view that RFAs should be retained. This is discussed
below in the next ‘Committee Comment’ section.
In addition to formal agreements – such as RFAs – that allocate rights
to use native forests, the forestry industry relies on a social licence to
operate. As defined by the submission from Timber Communities Australia:
Social licence is the permission that the community gives an
operator (public or private) to use a community resource either for profit or
not for profit, once it (the community) has reached a level of comfort that the
costs to the community associated with that use are acceptable to the community
relative to the benefits. The concept of social licence recognises that, in
addition to all the necessary government licences and approvals, an industry
needs broad community support if the industry is to proceed and prosper.
There have been significant improvements in forestry practices over the
years, but this has been largely unrecognised. Forest management is politicised
and criticised without documented reasons which has led to forestry being
vilified generally. Banks and other financial institutions have withdrawn their
support in various ways despite many criticisms being unfounded.
Witnesses frequently referred to the need for improved social licence,
to ensure that the forestry industry has broad support in the general
community. Whilst this is important for all sectors of the forestry industry, it
is particularly relevant for native forestry.
According to evidence from Mr Jim Adams, the CEO of Timber Communities
Australia, the social licence of the forestry industry in general has been in
decline over recent decades. As noted during a hearing,
That social licence, I believe, has been lost over the years
due largely to politicisation of forest management decisions. So many forest
management decisions have become politicised and regrettably some of them have
been politicised in a very negative way. The community has really started to
distrust forest management and to some extent I could sit here and say that
some of the practices of themselves have contributed to that and there has been
a significant improvement of practices over the years. I think we have got to a
stage now where the whole politicisation of the forest industry debate is
beyond the point where it is actually making a constructive contribution to
on-ground management of forests. We now have the community broadly saying, 'We
don't want native forest management', simply because they have been convinced
that it is not a good thing not because it is actually not a good thing.
Whilst it is no simple task to improve the social licence of a
particular industry, improving social licence begins locally. Numerous submissions
have suggested that some corporations have attempted to improve their social
licence by simply exiting native forestry completely.
This is obviously not a solution for sustainable native forestry, quite the
Some evidence suggests that certification will play a role in improving
I think that increasingly the communities nowadays in both
the plantation sector and the native forest sector look at certification as a
way of gaining a level of comfort in forest management. Our submission talks to
some extent about the importance of certification as a vehicle to help
communities generate comfort and industry to restore social licence to its
Representatives of the Forest
Stewardship Council gave evidence that certification provides ‘peace of mind’
to customers. If the forestry industry
can use certification to give more Australians ‘peace of mind’ about individual
native forest products, it will build greater social licence. In addition,
certification can actually make timber and wood-products more valuable in the
market. Forestry operations that are certified can expect higher returns for
their products, and greater acceptance for their products overseas. This should
be reflected in the support given by financial institutions to those
Unfortunately there are few simple strategies for improving the social
licence of native forestry. This remains an area for work by those involved in
native forestry. Chapter 8 includes a discussion about improving social licence
for the forestry industry more generally.
The RFA process has clearly played a central role in native forestry
since the 1992 Statement was agreed. The RFA process ensured that the local
community was involved in the creation of each RFA, and RFAs have provided some
certainty for both conservation and wood supply since they were agreed.
RFAs clearly arouse passions, and the Committee has heard some very
strongly-held views about value and future of RFAs. Whilst some submissions
have called for RFAs to be abolished, the vast majority of evidence suggests
that they should be carefully reviewed, improved and extended. In short, they
should be renewed. RFAs are a sound way for Governments to broker compromise
agreements about the use of public native forests. The negotiation of such
agreements will always have to balance multiple interests, and no group or
individual can expect to receive everything they want. It is through such
negotiation that communities can identify the relative importance of all the
different values of a native forest – social, economic, environmental – and
agree on how to best manage each of those values. The Committee supports the
renewal of existing RFAs.
As noted in Chapter 2, the ‘Statement of Principles’ in Tasmania is a
departure from the RFA process. The Committee fully supports the Tasmanian
process, but reiterates its belief that it cannot be simply extended other
regions of Australia. It is specific to Tasmania, and the Australian Government
must continue to drive national policy with the renewal of RFAs.
There are a number of important principles that must form the basis of
any process to renew existing RFAs, as discussed in the following paragraphs.
These principles are:
- comprehensive review
of existing RFAs;
- thorough and
wide-ranging consultation, providing it uses information that has a strong
- ‘evergreen’ or
‘rolling’ RFA extension; and
- concrete timelines
for the renewal process.
The ‘next generation’ of RFAs must be more than just an extension of
existing agreements. The process should ensure that the lessons learnt from the
first RFAs are incorporated into the next agreements, and put into practice as
they are implemented.
Whilst the Committee believes that RFAs continue to be the best way to
produce a workable regional agreement on both forest use and conservation, it
is essential that they have the confidence of all stakeholders. This applies to
both the RFA process and the content of the resulting agreement. The Committee
supports the renewal of RFAs, but this must be done by using a thorough and
wide-ranging consultation. It is important that this consultation uses
information that has a strong factual basis.
The Committee supports the general principle of providing continuing
certainty under RFAs, whether this is through early renegotiation, yearly
extension, or mid-life direction setting.
As a general principle, RFAs should also use a ‘carrot and stick’
approach. If companies operating under an RFA are doing the right thing, they
should be rewarded. If companies are in breach of the agreement, they should
lose rights under the RFA.
Whatever process is used, it should include the other ‘renewal’
principles of review, consultation and concrete timelines. This would mean that
all stakeholders have certainty about wood supply and some conservation
outcomes from native forests. The Committee believes that there should be at
least ten years on a rolling basis as a starting point for consideration.
RFAs have played a central role in native forestry, and the Committee
believes that they have an important role to play in the future. In developing
that future role, concrete timelines should be set and adhered to. RFAs will
also present an opportunity for all parties to participate in the renewal
process, and they should have sufficient time to make a contribution and
respond to the contribution of other participants.
To ensure that RFAs continue to have broad support, renewed RFAs must
have improved ongoing monitoring and periodic assessment. As noted in Chapter
2, some existing RFAs have been monitored and assessed (‘reviewed’) in groups,
with significant delays. Communities must have confidence that each RFA is
monitored and assessed on its own merits, regularly, and at proper arm’s-length
from all interested parties. As part of the renewed RFA process, a new ongoing
monitoring and periodic assessment regime must be developed, agreed and
implemented. This will ensure that RFAs continue to have the full confidence of
governments, forestry operators and the general public.
||The Committee recommends the Australian Government initiate
a process to renew existing Regional Forest Agreements, incorporating the
principles of review, consultation, evergreen extension and concrete
||The Committee recommends the Australian Government, subject
to the agreement of the relevant State Government, ensure that a renewed RFA
is in place within three years of the expiry of each existing RFA. Renewed
RFAs should incorporate the principles outlined above
||The Committee recommends the Australian Government, in
negotiation with State Governments, develop, agree and implement a new regime
within all renewed RFAs to provide for ongoing monitoring and periodic assessment.
The new regime should provide for the periodic assessment of each RFA on an
individual basis, at regular intervals, and at arm’s-length from all
According to Australia’s Forests at a Glance 2011, of the
approximately 147 million hectares of native forest in Australia, 71 percent
(almost 105 million hectares) is either privately held, in private leasehold,
or in unresolved tenure. The remaining 29 percent (over 42 million hectares) is
public forest, largely state owned and managed.
According to that report, 23 million hectares of native forest are in
(public) formal conservation reserves, representing 16 percent of total native
forests in Australia. According to the State of the Forests Report 2008,
there has been an increase in private native forests managed for conservation
values in recent years, but that the increase is ‘not well documented.’
A total of 9.4 million hectares of public native forests are used for timber
production, about 6 percent of total native forest area.
As the State of the Forests Report notes, ‘native multiple-use
public forests provide most of Australia’s native timber and wood products’,
though there is also a substantial harvest from private native forests. There
are no national statistics on private native forestry and, as the Report
continues, ‘In practice, most private forest managers make limited use of their
forests for wood production, responding to immediate needs and opportunities in
Public native forests are managed by State and Territory governments,
through agencies such as Forests NSW, Forestry Tasmania and VicForests. These
agencies respectively described as a ‘public trading enterprise’, ‘government
business enterprise’ or ‘State-owned business’.
Under the National Competition Policy, these agencies should have no
competitive advantages or disadvantages compared with private entities that
manage and harvest from private native forests.
As outlined by the State of the Forests Report:
state forest agencies must charge prices (royalties) for
sawlogs and pulplogs which, over the long term, generate revenues that at least
cover the costs of managing their forests for wood supply and provide a
commercial return on assets, including land and timber. Moreover, the focus on
cost recovery and the trend to the greater transparency and accountability of
public agencies in their management of public resources have encouraged forest
agencies to evaluate the efficiency and financial performance of their forest
Public native forests are clearly an asset that belongs to the entire
community, and as such these forests should be managed to ensure that the
community receives a fair return for the resources removed for private gain. Additionally,
public native forests should be managed so that they operate on a ‘level
playing field’ with private native forests.
Evidence to the Committee has suggested that some state forestry
agencies operate at a loss, causing a drain on public finances. However, there
needs to be more recognition of the public good provided by public forestry,
including roads, bushfire protection, communication services in rural areas,
pest control, assistance to allow beekeeper access, dog walking and horse
riding areas, other recreational access and research opportunities for outside
bodies (such as Warra in Tasmania ).
These public agencies have to cover these costs as well as general production
costs, and together they are greater than the costs private forestry companies
or any other land use activities have to face.
The Committee supports the principle, as expressed in the State of
the Forests Report 2008, that state owned forest enterprises should operate
on the basis of open competition, without distorting the market in which they
operate. This is also an issue in relation to public assistance in establishing
plantations, discussed further in Chapter 5. In addition, it is important that
the Australian public receives a fair return for the use of a community
As noted above, public forest agencies contribute to the provision of the
public good that is difficult to quantify in dollar terms. The Committee
supports any attempt to put a value on this public good, so that public forest
agencies can better demonstrate the costs and benefits of their forest
In practice, State Governments must make decisions about the structure,
operation and oversight of their own forestry enterprises. However, the Committee
is firmly of the view that these decisions should be made in accordance with
the National Competition Policy which ‘aims to promote efficient competition
between public and private enterprises to ensure that government businesses
have no competitive advantages or disadvantages compared with their private
Native forest management
The Committee received considerable evidence regarding the management of
native forests in Australia. The evidence focuses on three major policy areas,
and the Committee is keen to acknowledge the ongoing debate in these areas. The
three major debates concern:
- Regrowth; and
At a basic level, these debates all focus on how different uses of
forests – whether reservation, harvesting or multiple-use – contribute to
long-term forest values. The differing uses of forests can have profound impacts
on the local environment, and it is essential that native forest management
reflects the best available knowledge about those impacts.
As noted by the State of the Forests Report, ‘fire is an important
forest management tool in Australia because many forested ecosystems are
ecologically adapted to fire and require it for regeneration.’
Many submissions to the inquiry make reference to the role played by fire in
Australian native forests. However, the majority of evidence points to an
incomplete understanding of how fire – in all its complexity – affects
different kinds of native forests, which are themselves under many different
management regimes. The NSW Forest Products Association notes that there is no
simple way to characterise the role of fire in forests:
Fire regimes influence forests in many ways. Some are more
susceptible to fire, seedlings can be killed by low intensity fires and mature
trees by higher intensity fires [...] However, fires can also assist
regeneration by promoting seed fall, improving seedbed condition and removing
competition for seedlings [...] Fires can also promote germination and
establishment of other species such as Acacia.
Numerous submissions to the inquiry note the need for greater research
into the way fires affect forests. A changing climate will have an impact on
the kinds of fires in Australian forests. The North East Forest
Alliance draws on evidence that ‘altered fire regimes’ contribute to the
disturbance of some native bird species in native forests.
The CSIRO has identified the need for more research into the role fire regimes
play in the carbon stored in forests. The Victorian
Association of Forest Industries (VAFI) has identified the need to better
understand how forest management can be integrated with fire-risk mitigation.
VAFI also gave evidence about the potential for forest management to
affect water catchments:
We do thin our forests to improve the productivity and health
of the forests. There has also been an enormous amount of research, both in
Victoria and Western Australia, to look at the value of ecological thinning to
maximise water yield. This could have particular benefits to Victoria when you
look at the impacts of the 2009 bush fires. About 30 per cent of Melbourne's
water catchments were burnt. Some catchments, such as Armstrong Creek, were 100
per cent burnt. Before that, the Victorian government had commissioned some
research that found that a severe bushfire, looking at the Armstrong Creek
catchment, could actually decrease water yield [...] Applying ecological
thinning techniques could have real benefits in terms of forest health but in
particular water yield. I also think ecological thinning has a place in fuel
reduction through mechanical biomass manipulation and mechanical fuel
reduction, and this really has value along roadsides, close to communities,
where prescribed burning might not be feasible. The integration of forestry
techniques into fire management and conservation management certainly could
have real value, particularly given our changing climate and the increasing
bushfire risk that we face.
These examples demonstrate the need for further research into the role
that fires play in native forest management, and the impact that forest
management has on fires.
In addition, numerous witnesses identified the fire-risk in National
Parks as a major concern. According to Professor Jerry Vanclay:
If we create a large national park system without adequate
staffing to maintain that, we may find a situation where the fire regime has changed,
not necessarily for the better, where we are not maintaining a rural population
well equipped to deal with situations that might happen there.
Further evidence suggested that logging in National Parks may assist in
reducing the risk of fires therein:
The areas of those national parks that grow hardwood that has
been used for sawmilling in the past I believe should be revisited with a view
to logging those areas. I guess overcoming the urban myth, or the urban view,
of conservation may be a big issue in managing that perception that if you lock
something up it is there forever and you do not need to do anything with it.
But the reality is, particularly with bushfire, the only thing you can manage
is fuel. You cannot manage the ignition source, whether it is lightning or
arson. You cannot manage the climate or the weather conditions but you can
Whilst it is clear that fuel management can have a significant impact on
bushfires, it is not a panacea. Forest management – whether in multiple-use or
reserved forests – must adopt a comprehensive fire protection regime.
Dr Douglas Head also identified the ‘corporate knowledge’ held by state
forest agencies, including relating to fire management. As he put it:
If the native forest industry goes under one of the things
the community will lose is the state forest agencies, which have an enormous
historic bank of knowledge. Once that is dissipated—I am sure these people will
all get jobs and they will break up—that consolidated institutional knowledge
of our forests and not just growing forests [...] Not just in terms of the
timber industry but bushfire management and the many other facets for which
they run their forests will be lost as well. 
As noted at the beginning of the chapter, a considerable part of
Australia’s native forest estate has been harvested and regrown many times
over. There are many different management schemes for replanting forests, and
the Committee is keen to see further research on new and innovative approaches
to this aspect of forest management.
According to Ta Ann Tasmania, regrowth timber can be more promising for
innovation and value adding, owing to the ‘properties inherent in regrowth
timber that have a comparative advantage - such as higher density and
sustainable management.’ As noted by the
Institute of Foresters of Australia:
Professional expertise must be employed in timber harvesting
to better improve biodiversity outcomes in large areas of regrowth forests
originating after fire and from previous timber harvesting. It has been
demonstrated that adaptive silviculture in certain regrowth forests can
contribute to reducing the time forests take to develop old-growth
characteristics such as large trees and hollows which are important for some
However, other submissions have pointed out that regrowth is not
universally positive for the local environment. The Gippsland Environment Group
notes that harvesting practices affect species in different ways: ‘disturbance
loving species thrive, to the detriment of many species that are adversely
impacted by mechanical disturbance and post harvesting fires, potentially
resulting in local extinctions.’ As a general comment,
this does not identify particular examples of such occurrences, and good forest
management can prevent these problems from occurring. The North East Forest
Alliance has suggested that, at least during early stages, regrowth forests use
Good forest management can have multiple benefits, and continuing research
will further demonstrate the potential for regrowth management to impact on
both the timber and wood-products, as well as on the local environment. Management
of regrowth in native forests is a matter for local communities, the forestry industry
and governments, relying on the best available information to continue to
achieve positive outcomes.
members in a regrowth area.
As noted with the two previous discussions about native forest
management, decision makers must have access to the best available research,
and be willing to try new approaches that balance the competing demands on
forests. The management of forest biodiversity is another heavily debated topic,
and the Committee received copious evidence about the best ways to protect and
In the 1992 Statement, biodiversity is defined as follows:
A concept encompassing the diversity of indigenous species
and communities occurring in a given region. [...] It includes 'genetic
diversity', which reflects the diversity within each species;
'species diversity', which is the variety of species; and 'ecosystem
diversity', which is the diversity of different communities formed by living
organisms and the relations between them. [Biodiversity] is the variety of all
life forms — the plants, animals and micro-organisms — the genes they
constitute, and the ecosystems they inhabit.
Rather than provide a survey of the evidence about the impact of forest
management on biodiversity, the Committee wishes to report on a possible
mechanism to encourage private forest managers to manage biodiversity in their
own forests. That is, rather than a discussion of how management practices
affect biodiversity, the following section described one method to provide an
incentive for individuals and organisations to protect and improve
Professor Jerry Vanclay, from Southern Cross University, has developed (with
colleagues) a proposal for ‘stewardship payments’ to landholders and managers
for environmental services provided by forests:
The public gets landscape, environmental, water and wildlife
benefits from having forests on land. If we can set up a scheme of payments for
environmental services that gives those landholders an annual income for
delivering a good outcome, it will then put into place a system by which we
will see delivery of good forests on private lands.
As Professor Vanclay noted, this would
reward positive outcomes rather than proscribing actions, or binding
individuals on the basis of promises to achieve outcomes in future. This notion
of paying forest owners for environmental services provided by the forest is
similar to the Carbon Farming Initiative, which can reward forest owners for
the carbon stored in their trees (discussed in Chapter 3).
The Committee is aware of numerous debates about the best way to manage
native forests in Australia. Whilst many forests have been formally reserved,
there is still a considerable public and private native forest estate that must
be managed for multiple uses. Forests can have an enormous impact on their
local environment, and it is important that decision makers encourage forest
management that considers the impact of forestry management outside the forest.
In relation to fires, the Committee believes that there is a pressing
need for more information about how fire regimes affect different kinds of
forests, as well as the risk that fire poses to forests. This should include
further research into the fire risks in National Parks, and the multiple ways
to prevent fires or ease their impact.
In relation to biodiversity, the Committee believes that the
‘stewardship’ proposal outlined above is an interesting idea that deserves
consideration by the Australian Government. However, the Committee does not
believe that stewardship payments should be provided by public finances.
Rather, these payments should ideally be provided by the market, by ensuring
that management of biodiversity in forests is reflected in the value of the
timber and wood products produced in those forests. Government consideration of
a stewardship proposal should include a rigorous analysis of the cost of
administration and monitoring, the practicalities of achieving a market reward
for biodiversity management, as well as modelling the kinds of financial returns
necessary to achieve good biodiversity outcomes.
||The Committee recommends the Australian Government direct
the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to consider and
evaluate the ‘stewardship’ proposal outlined above, and that relevant
Minister report to Parliament on its findings within twelve months.
Finally, the Committee wishes to recognise the immense contribution made
by foresters and those who study and research native forests in Australia. Many
of these individuals gave the Committee their time and energy, and they are
vitally interested in the future of the Australian forestry industry, as well
as the future of Australia’s native forests. Whilst much of their work focuses
on the harvesting of timber and wood-products, their contribution to the
preservation and conservation of Australian native forests is immeasurable.
Much of the work they undertake has had flow-on benefits for our understanding
of Australian native landscapes, and the Committee commends them for their work
and their contribution to the inquiry.
Native forest products
As noted by many submissions to the inquiry, over the past 60 years, there
has been a gradual shift in Australia’s forestry industry from exclusive
reliance on native forests, to a mixed reliance on both native forest and plantation
trees. This shift is the result
of many factors, discussed in chapter three. The trend towards plantation
timbers is continuing: in the period from 2003 to 2008, the volume of timber
harvested from native forests declined by 14 percent, whilst that harvested
from plantations increased by 28 percent. Part of this trend can
be explained by additional native forests being put in reserves, and taken out
According to the Forest Growers’ CEO Forum, ‘existing plantations cannot
supply the current or future demand for timber and wood products.’
That submission continues:
Only around 1 million hectares of forestry plantations are in
longer rotations, suitable for structural timber products used in building,
construction and manufacturing. The vast majority of the expansion of the last
15 years has been in short rotation species and management regimes where the
product is predominantly woodchips and the markets are largely export for pulp
In addition, many submissions raised concern about the effect of increased
timber imports if native forestry were ceased in Australia:
Ongoing demand for timber with special strength, durability
or appearance features and declining supply might act as a signal for the
importation of similar material from other regional sources [...] Excluding
harvesting from all Australian native forests for environmental reasons, at
least in part, is merely exporting a larger environmental consequence on our
neighbours, which have been under severe environmental pressure for decades.
Amongst submissions to the inquiry, there was considerable agreement that
the Australian forestry industry will need to, and should, continue to harvest
timber and wood products from native forests. There are a number of debates
that nevertheless arise beyond that point of agreement. The discussion in the
previous section, about forest management, included three such debates. The
final section of this chapter will consider the debate about the particular
products that could be made from native forests.
High value timber and wood products
Some evidence suggests that the market for native woodchips is steadily
declining. Various reasons have been cited for this decline, including concern
in international markets about sustainability, pressure from
environment groups, the high Australian dollar, the lack of processing
facilities, and international competition.
There is a need to be able to market lower-grades of native forest or
the waste from native forest harvesting so that the whole tree can be value
added, not just the sawlog component.
As the demand for woodchips has declined, some mills have found new uses
for previously chipped timber, such as peeled veneers.
As noted by the Huon Resource Development Group, utilising timber for veneer is
a way of ‘value-adding the timber that fails to meet sawlog requirements rather
than exporting it as wood chip.’
During its site inspections and hearings, the Committee regularly heard
of the ways that Australian mill operators are increasing the value of products
that they produce from the available wood. As imported products continue to
enter the Australian market, the best way for Australian producers to compete
is to increase the efficiency of their milling operations, as well as the
quality of their product. When asked about innovation, many witnesses told the
Committee that the forestry industry continues to innovate in order to remain
competitive and to ensure that they are making the best use of the wood
available. In the words of Mr Andrew Blakesley, from the Tasmanian Government:
We are going to be living in a fibre-short world. We are
going to be living in a carbon constrained world. The products that we now
regard as the lower quality parts of the wood flow are going to become
increasingly valuable. We already know the technology exists to transform those
products into elaborate manufactures.
In addition, there remains an opportunity to use waste products from the
forestry industry to generate electricity. This is discussed in Chapter 7.
Committee members with Ms Janelle
Saffin MP (Member for Page) and Mr Jim Bindon in Grafton.
The Committee believes that it is preferable for native forests to be
harvested for high-value products. In addition, it is important to ensure that
the whole tree is processed, so that the integrated value of the tree is
realised. Given the strong views that are held about native forestry – both for
and against harvesting – a good way to build support for sustainable native
forestry is to ensure that durable, high value products are created. This will
ensure that the Australian community has a strong understanding of the
innovative and high-quality products that native forests produce.
Whilst this should ultimately be a matter of markets providing a greater
reward for more valuable products, there are a number of things that will help
speed the transition to higher-value products. The industry must continue to
find new ways of using more of the wood supply that is available, and continue
to improve the efficiency of its processing. It must also continue to improve
the quality of its products, which are already world-class. The Committee has
seen plenty of evidence during site inspections that the Australian forestry
industry is already innovating and adapting its approaches in order to remain
viable and internationally competitive.