Conservation of Australia's Forests

​The protection of forest ecosystems and environmental and heritage values is fundamental to Australia’s approach to forest conservation as contained in national forest policy.

Forest conservation was a critical component of the NFPS and the RFAs, which effectively led to the allocation of significant areas of forests to Australia’s reserve system.

The proportion of Australia’s native forests formally protected in public nature conservation reserves has increased from 11 per cent (17.6 million hectares) in 1998, to 17 per cent (21.5 million hectares) in 2013. There have also been significant increases in the informal reserve system on both public and private land.

Internationally, Australia compares favorably with respect to forest conservation. The International Union for The Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommends at least 10 per cent of each forest biome should be reserved. Most of Australia’s broad forest types are protected above these targets and in RFA areas, the IUCN target has been significantly exceeded.

Australia’s Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative​ (CAR) reserve system

One of the key objectives of the RFA process was to use a set of nationally agreed criteria for the establishment of a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system in Australia based on the JANIS criteria to protect, in nature conservation reserves:

  • 15 per cent of the pre-1750 distribution of each forest type
  • 60 per cent of the existing distribution of each forest type, if vulnerable
  • 60 per cent of existing old–growth forest
  • 90 per cent or more of high-quality wilderness forests; and
  • all remaining occurrences of rare and endangered forest ecosystems.

The RFA process resulted in the transfer of more than 2 million hectares of forest from the broad tenure category of multiple-use public forest to nature conservation reserves. Subsequent decisions taken by relevant states and territories have further increased the area of forests in reserves.

Further details on the nationally agreed criteria for Australia’s CA​R reserve system.

Forest biodiversity

Biodiversity is the variety of all forms of life; the different plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems they form. The ultimate objective of the conservation of biodiversity is the survival of species and the genetic variability within those species.

Australia has very diverse flora and fauna and a high proportion of our species are not found anywhere else in the world. Most (80 per cent) of Australia’s flowering plants, mammals, reptiles, frog and fish species, and about half the bird species are only found in Australia.

Information and lists of forest-dwelling vertebrates and vascular plant species throughout Australia continues to improve. Significantly better information is available for species in regions that have been subjected to formal assessment processes, such as the Comprehensive Regional Assessments that preceded the RFAs.

The protection of biodiversity is a fundamental principle in the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s forests.

Further detail on forest biodiversity can be found in Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2013.

Old-growth fore​sts

Old growth forests are ecologically mature forests where the effects of past disturbances are now negligible. They provide important habitat for particular species, valuable wood products and a range of aesthetic and cultural values.

The NFPS gives high priority to the conservation of old-growth forests, with specific provisions to protect more than 60% of identified areas.

Old-growth forests were surveyed in RFA areas as part of the assessment processes preceding the RFAs. Of the 23 million hectares of forest assessed for old-growth over 5 million hectares (22 per cent) is classified as old-growth. Over 73 per cent of these known old-growth forests are now within nature conservation reserves.​

Further detail on old-growth forests can be found in Australia’s State of the Forests Report 2013.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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