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Australia's forests

Detailed information on Australia's forests is available from the ‘State of the Forests’ reports that are published every five years. Preparation of the reports is a commitment made by governments in the National Forest Policy Statement. Reports have been published in 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013. Reporting on the state of Australia’s forests through these reviews will support progress towards the sustainable management of Australia’s forests.

Forest area

Australia has a total of 125 million hectares of forests comprising 123 million hectares of native forests, approximately 2 million hectares of commercial plantations and 0.15 million hectares of other forest. These forests cover about 16 per cent of Australia’s land area. Australia has about 3 per cent of the world's forest area and the seventh largest reported forest area of any country worldwide.

Forest types and distribution

Australia's native forests are dominated by eucalypts (75 per cent), followed by acacias (8 per cent) and melaleucas (5 per cent).

About half of Australia's plantations is exotic softwood (predominantly Pinus radiata), while the other half is hardwood (predominantly eucalypt species such as Eucalyptus globulus).

Climate and soil properties broadly determine the distribution of forest types and classes across Australia, although other factors, especially fire frequency and intensity, are important.

Most of Australia is too dry to support forests as arid or semi-arid lands occupy about 70 per cent of the interior, where average annual rainfall is less than 350 millimetres. With the notable exception of mallee, native forests are generally located in areas with an average annual rainfall of more than 500 millimetres. Most of Australia's commercial plantations are located in areas with more than 700 millimetres of annual rainfall.

Further details on Australia’s forests are available at Forests Australia and Australian Forest Profiles.

Forest tenure and ownership

The ownership of a forest, especially native forest, has a major bearing on its management intent. The six tenure classes used for forests in the National Forest Inventory are amalgamations of the wide range of classes used by various state and territory jurisdictions. The classes can be grouped on the basis of ownership as public or private, with a small area of unresolved tenure. Publicly owned forests include ‘multiple-use public forest’, ‘nature conservation reserve’, and ‘other Crown land’. ‘Leasehold forest’ is forest on Crown land (land that belongs to a national, state or territory government) that is typically privately managed. For commercial plantations, the ownership of the land can be different from the ownership of the trees, and management arrangements can be complex.

Native forests – Six tenure categories are recognised for Australia's native forests, covering both public and private management:

  • Multiple-use public forest - Crown land managed for a range of values including wood harvesting, water supply, conservation, recreation and environmental protection. Significant proportions of multiple-use forests are informal reserves where wood harvesting is not permitted.
  • Nature conservation reserve - Crown land formally reserved for environmental, conservation and recreational purposes, including national parks and nature reserves.
  • Other Crown land - Crown land held for a variety of purposes, including utilities, mining, water catchments and use by Indigenous communities.
  • Private forest - forest on privately owned land, including Indigenous owned land.
  • Leasehold forest - forest which is privately managed on leased Crown land and is generally used for grazing.
  • Unresolved tenure - forest for which ownership status has not been determined.
TenureArea (‘000 hectares)Proportion of total (%)
Multiple-use public forest10,1598
Nature conservation reserve21,47818
Other Crown land8,1467
Private forest33,39427
Leasehold forest48,53340
Unresolved tenure8711
Total native forest122,581100

Indigenous forests – Around one-third of Australia’s forests (41.1 million hectares, 33 per cent by area) is identified as part of the Indigenous estate as one of four broad Indigenous land tenure and management categories: Indigenous owned and managed; Indigenous managed; Indigenous co-managed; and Other special rights. About three-quarters of this forest area is in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Plantations – Until the early 1990s, state governments were the major plantation owners in Australia. In the intervening period, there has been increasing private sector institutional investment in plantations. As such, private ownership of plantations has increased from over 32 per cent in 1996 to over 76 per cent in 2015-2016.