September and December quarters 2017
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 (75 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.
When additional operational restrictions to maintain and manage non-wood values are taken into account, the net area available for harvesting of Australia’s multiple-use public native forests is 5.5 million hectares (14 per cent of public native forests) as reported in Australia's State of the Forests Report 2013. Wood is harvested from a small portion of the net harvestable area—1.4 per cent nationally each year.
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 1,955,100 hectares in 2016‒17, a decrease of 19,700 hectares (1 per cent) from 1,974,800 hectares in 2015‒16. The total area of new plantations established in 2016–17 was 200 hectares, comprising softwood species mainly planted in Victoria and hardwood species mainly planted in Western Australia.
In 2016‒17 the total area of softwood plantations was 1,036,900 hectares, an increase of 100 hectares from 2015‒16, and the total area of hardwood plantations was 908,500 hectares, a decrease of 19,800 hectares since 2015–16. Softwood plantations accounted for 53 per cent of total commercial plantation area, hardwood plantations constituted 46 per cent and mixed plantations and unknown species made up the remaining 1 per cent.
In 2016‒17 Victoria continued to have the largest total area of commercial plantations of Australia's states and territories (421,700 hectares), followed by New South Wales (394,400 hectares) and Western Australia (367,900 hectares). Western Australia accounted for the largest proportion of Australia’s hardwood plantations (29 per cent) and New South Wales had the largest share of softwood plantations (30 per cent).
In 2016–17 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).