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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 about 125 million hectares of forests comprising almost 123 million hectares of native forests, just over 2 million hectares of industrial 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).

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 industrial plantations are located in areas with more than 700 millimetres of annual rainfall.

Further details are available on the Forests Australia website and on 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 ‘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.

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.
  • Other Crown land - Crown land held for a variety of purposes.
  • 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.

Indigenous forests – Just over one-third of Australia’s forests (41.9 million hectares, 34 per cent by area) was 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.

Tenure Area (‘000 hectares) Proportion of total (%)
Multiple-use public forest 10 159 8
Nature conservation reserve 21 478 18
Other Crown land 8 146 7
Private forest 33 394 27
Leasehold forest 48 533 40
Unresolved tenure 871 1
Total native forest 122 581 100

Plantations – Until the early 1990s, state governments were the major plantation owners. In the intervening period, there has been increasing private sector institutional investment in plantations.  As such, private ownership of plantation trees has increased from about 30 per cent in 1990 to 76 per cent in 2011.