September and December quarters 2018
Australia’s forests are classified nationally into three categories—native forest, commercial plantations and other forest. Australia’s native forest category is dominated by the forest types eucalypt (77 per cent of the total native forest area), acacia (8 per cent) and melaleuca (5 per cent), and a small area is rainforest (3 per cent). Australia’s commercial plantation comprises exotic softwood species (predominantly radiata pine) and mostly native hardwood species (predominantly eucalypts). The other forest category comprises a small area of mostly non-commercial plantations and forests of various types.
Native production forests
The main source of Australia’s native production forest wood is multiple-use public forest in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. Currently, much of the native forest on leasehold and private land contributes minimally to wood supply. Under relevant state and territory legislation, substantial areas of multiple-use public forest are reserved or excluded from wood production.
Australia has 9.8 million hectares of multiple-use public native forest (23 per cent of total public native forest area). When management and operational restrictions are taken into account, the net area available for harvesting wood from Australia’s multiple-use public native forests is 5 million hectares (12 per cent of total public native forest area) (MIG and NFISC 2018). The total area harvested annually from Australia’s multiple-use public native forests is approximately 73,000 hectares (0.75 per cent of total multiple-use public native forest area and 0.06 per cent of total native forest area).
Commercial plantations are intensively managed stands of native (mainly hardwood) or exotic (mainly softwood) tree species. The primary purpose of commercial plantation forestry is wood production.
Australia’s total commercial plantation area was 1,942,700 hectares in 2017‒18, a decrease of 12,400 hectares (down 0.6 per cent) from 1,955,100 hectares in 2016‒17. The total area of new plantations established in 2017–18 was 3,150 hectares, comprising softwood and hardwood species planted mainly in Western Australia.
In 2017‒18 the total area of softwood plantations was 1,037,000 hectares, an increase of 100 hectares from 2016‒17. The total area of hardwood plantations was 896,000 hectares, a decrease of 12,500 hectares (down 1.4 per cent) since 2016–17. Softwood plantations accounted for 53 per cent of total commercial plantation area and hardwood plantations constituted 46 per cent. Mixed plantations and unknown species made up the remaining 1 per cent.
In 2017‒18 Victoria continued to have the largest total area of commercial plantations of Australia's states and territories (420,600 hectares), followed by New South Wales (393,200 hectares) and Western Australia (361,700 hectares). Western Australia accounted for the largest proportion of Australia’s hardwood plantations (28 per cent) and New South Wales had the largest share of softwood plantations (30 per cent).
In 2017–18 the ownership structure of plantations remained relatively unchanged from the previous year. Institutional investors owned 49 per cent of the total plantation area, governments owned 21 per cent, farm foresters and other private growers owned 21 per cent, managed investment schemes owned 5 per cent, and timber industry companies owned 4 per cent (Downham & Gavran 2018).