Australia's forests

​The Forests Australia website provides up-to-date information on Australia's forests. This website is hosted by ABARES in the Australian Government ​Department of Agriculture and Water Resources​, and represents collaboration between many Australian forest-related organisations, including all Australian, state and territory governments.

Detailed information on Australia's forests is available from Australia's State of the Forests Reports that are published every five years. Preparation of the reports is a commitment made by Australia's 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 supports progress towards the sustainable management of Australia’s forests. The following topics are core to reporting in Australia's State of the Forests Reports and the related information presented on the Forests Australia website.

Forest definition

The definition of forest used by Australia's National Forest Inventory is:

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 2 metres and with 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.

Forest area

​Australia has a total of 125 million hectares of forest, which is equivalent to 16% of Australia's land area. Of this total forest area, determined as at 2011, 123 million hectares (98%) are native forests, 2.0 million hectares are 'Industrial plantations' and 0.15 million hectares are 'Other forest'. Australia has about 3% of the world's forest area, and globally is the country with the seventh largest forest area.

​Queensland has the largest area of Australia’s forest (51.0 million hectares—41% of Australia’s forest), with New South Wales (22.7 million hectares—18%), Western Australia (19.2 million hectares—15%) and the Northern Territory (15.2 million hectares—12%) making up much of the balance.

Maps of Australia's forests are available on the Forest maps​ page.

​Forest types and distribution

The forests of Australia are diverse and highly valued, and are among the country's most important natural resources.

Australia's native forests occur in a broad range of geographic landscapes and climatic environments, and contain a wide array of mostly endemic species (that is, species found nowhere else) combining to form unique and complex ecosystems. Australia's native forests provide a range of wood and non-wood products that are used by Australians in their everyday lives. They also provide clean water; protect soil; provide opportunities for recreation and tourism, and scientific and educational pursuits; and support cultural, heritage and aesthetic values.

Native forests are categorised in Australia's National Forest Inventory​ into eight national forest types named after their key genus or structural form: AcaciaCallitrisCasuarina, EucalyptMangroveMelaleuca,Rainforest, and Other native forest (which includes a range of minor native forest types that are named after their dominant genera, including Agonis, Atalaya, Banksia, Hakea, Grevillea, Heterodendron, Leptospermum, Lophostemon and Syncarpia). Across the wide range of rainfall and soil conditions that support forest, more than 80% of Australia's 'Native forest' category of forest is dominated by eucalypts (75%) and acacias(8%).

In addition to native forests, Australia's National Forest Inventory​ recognises two other categories of forest. 'Industrial plantations' are plantations grown on a commercial scale for wood production, while 'Other forest' includes small areas of mostly non-industrial plantations and planted forests of various types including sandalwood plantations, small farm forestry and agroforestry plantations, plantations within the reserve system, and plantations regarded as non-commercial. Non-planted forest dominated by introduced species is also included in the Other forest category.

Australia's Industrial plantations are a major source of commercial wood products. About half of Australia's Industrial plan​tations are exotic softwood (predominantly Pinus radiata), while the other half are hardwood (predominantly eucalypt species).

Forests are generally confined to regions where average rainfall exceeds 500 millimetres per year. Forests extend across Australia's northern tropical regions, and down the east coast through sub-tropical regions to temperate cool-season wet and cold–wet zones in the south-east; they are also found in Mediterranean climate zones in the south-east and south-west. In some regions, forests extend from these wetter, coastal and sub-coastal areas into central, drier parts of the continent. Through these regions, forests grow on soils that vary from ancient, fragile and infertile soils, to recent, fertile soils of volcanic origin.

​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 ‘nature conservation reserve’, ‘multiple-use public forest’ 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. Some forests on private land are publicly managed as conservation reserves. For industrial plantations, the ownership of the land can be different from the ownership of the trees, and management arrangements can be complex.​

Of the 123 million hectares of native forest in Australia, 48.5 million hectares (39.6%) are native forest on leasehold land, and 33.4 million hectares (27.2%) are native forest on land held under private freehold title (including Indigenous land). Consequently, a total of 81.9 million hectares (66.8%) of Australia’s native forest is under some form of private management. A further 21.5 million hectares of native forest (17.5%) are in formal nature conservation reserves, and 10.2 million hectares of native forest (8.3%) are in multiple-use public native forests.​

About one-third of Australia’s forests (41.1 million hectares, 33% 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.​


 

Note: The names of the national native forest types have capitalised initial letters (e.g. Acacia forest). The related common names do not have capitalised initial letters (e.g. acacias). The related formal genus names are italicised and have capitalised initial letters (e.g. Acacia).

Last reviewed:
06 Feb 2017