Everything we need to live, from the oxygen in the air to the materials we build with, comes from trees. There are also many “hidden” benefits of forests that we enjoy. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, forests deliver invaluable benefits that we often take for granted. A single mature, leafy tree is estimated to produce a day’s supply of oxygen for anywhere from two to 10 people. In addition to being homes for animals and sources of income for people, forests protect watersheds, stop soil erosion, and reduce the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, despite the fact that we cannot survive without trees, we are still allowing them to disappear.
To understand the importance of Australian forests, we need to understand how Australian forests are defined.
“An area, incorporating all living and non-living components, is dominated by trees, usually a single stem and a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding 2 metres, and with an existing or potential crown cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 20 per cent. This 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.
Australia has a wide variety of forests, from the karri forests of Western Australia to the tropical rainforests of Queensland. Australia has the seventh biggest forest area in the world, making up three percent of the Earth’s forests. There are unique Australian forests in every state and territory, from the cool, temperate south-west corner of Western Australia to the warm, wet tropical areas of north-east Queensland and the cool terrain of Tasmania.
Australian forests are known and valued for their diverse ecosystems, unique biodiversity, and ability to provide products like wood. They have important effects on the environment, like storing carbon and protecting soil and water. Forests are also places with cultural, aesthetic, historical, and recreational value.
Types of Australian forests
Australia’s native forests are found in a wide range of landscapes and climates, and they are home to many different species, most of which are endemic, or found nowhere else. Together, these species make up unique and complex ecosystems. The native forests of Australia provide a variety of wood and non-wood products that Australians use in their daily lives. They also keep the water clean, protect the soil, offer opportunities for recreation, tourism, science, and education, and support cultural, historical, and aesthetic values.
There are eight types of national forests in Australia. Each type is named for its main genus or structural form;
- Other native forests (including minor native forest types such as Agonis, Atalaya, Banksia, Hakea, Grevillea, Heterodendron, Leptospermum, Lophostemon and Syncarpia)
The National Forest Inventory of Australia also includes “Commercial Plantations” and “Other Forests” as types of forest.
Commercial plantations are grown on a large scale to make wood, while “Other forest” includes small areas of mostly non-industrial plantations and planted forests of different types, such as sandalwood plantations, small farm forestry and agroforestry plantations, plantations in the reserve system, and non-commercial plantations. The “Other forest” category also includes natural forests that are dominated by species that were brought in from elsewhere.
Australia’s forests today
Australia’s forests often house endangered flora and fauna, and they themselves are not without threats either.
Australian forests face many threats, such as land clearing for agriculture, urban development, mining, and infrastructure, extreme weather, drought, climate change, invasive weeds, pests, and diseases, changed fire patterns, urban development, agricultural management practises like grazing, and the legacy of past land management practises.
At the end of 2019, the world was shocked by the terrible news that forest fires were destroying the eastern and southern coasts of Australia. It is thought that about 46 million acres of forest were burned. But now, as the ash settles and the smoke clears, Australia may see a glimmer of hope for its forests.
Climate change is one of the biggest problems that the world is facing right now. Natural disasters are getting worse and happening more often, weather patterns are changing, polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and there are droughts. These are just some of the effects that people all over the world are already feeling. Even though forests can help stop climate change, they are also very sensitive to changes in weather, and Australian forests are no exception.
The type of forest that can grow in a certain place depends on the weather there. When the weather changes, the forests have to change too. But the process of adapting usually takes longer than the changing weather conditions allow. This often leads to the loss of forests, their wildlife, and their ability to mitigate the effects of climate change.
A total of 46 million hectares (35%) of Australia’s native forest is on land protected for biodiversity conservation, or where biodiversity conservation is a specified management intent.
In Australia the states and territories are responsible for managing forests. Out of Australia’s 132 million hectares of native forest, 47.2 million hectares (36%) are on land with a leasehold title, and 41.0 million hectares (31%) are on land with a private freehold title. So, 67 percent, or 88.2 million hectares, of Australia’s native forest is managed in some way by private companies. Another 21.7 million hectares (17%) of native forests are in formal nature reserves, and 9.8 million hectares (7.4%) are in public native forests that can be used for many different things.
Forest management is a long-term process, with the results of good practice often only apparent after decades. Responsible Wood (PEFC Australia) sustainable forest management certification provides you with independent recognition of your responsible management practices now.
In the National Forest Inventory, the six tenure classes for forests are a mix of the many different classes used by different states and territories. The classes can be grouped by whether they are owned by the public or by private people. There is a small area where the ownership is not clear. For industrial plantations, the owner of the land may not be the same as the owner of the trees, and management arrangements can be complicated.
- leasehold—Crown land that is privately managed.
- multiple-use public forest—publicly owned state forests and timber reserves
- nature conservation reserve—land formally reserved for environmental, conservation and recreational purposes, including national parks, nature reserves, and state and territory recreational and conservation reserves
- other Crown land—Crown land reserved for a variety of purposes, including utilities, scientific research, education, stock routes, mining, defense, and protection of water-supply catchments
- private—land held under freehold title and privately owned
- unresolved tenure—land for which data are insufficient to determine ownership status.
Organisations like Responsible Wood (for Australia) and the PEFC (globally) ensure forest sustainability through certification-based compliance. Responsible Wood (formerly the Australian Forestry Standard) is a leading forest certification scheme. Responsible Wood pioneered the development of certification standards for sustainable wood sourced from managed forests in Australia. As a non-profit, non-government organisation, we are dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification. Responsible Wood is the National Governing Body for PEFC in Australia
Over 16 million hectares of Australian forest are certified by the Responsible Wood scheme. This means that more than 90% of Australia’s commercial forests are also certified by the Responsible Wood scheme. PEFC certification also covers more than 320 million hectares of forest around the world and is the world’s largest forest certification system. To this, you should add the more than 20,000 companies that have PEFC chain of custody certification.
A step in the right direction toward sustainable forest management.