Improving productivity in Australia’s private native forests

New evidence-based information has demonstrated the financial viability of private native forests in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, as well as the potential improvements in yield and profit associated with effective forest management practices.
Researchers found silviculturally treated plots have trees with average growth rates approximately four times higher than those in non-treated plots.

The researchers are exploring methods of educating landowners about the positive impacts of such practices on their businesses, the broader economy and the environment.

Data from 203 permanent monitoring plots was analysed to determine the impacts of forest management in the two regions, which are vital to the supply of domestic hardwood.

Mapping carried out during the project found there are approximately 1.9 million hectares of commercially harvestable private native forest in southern Queensland, and 525,600 hectares in the upper north east region of New South Wales.

The need for privately grown hardwood is likely to increase over the next decade. Despite the significant size of this resource, the research suggested variable quality in forest management practices has negatively impacted on its overall productive condition, with many of the sites found to contain a high proportion of un-merchantable trees.

The good news is the majority of private, native forest sites surveyed were considered to have untapped potential (e.g. appropriate commercial species) that could be released with effective forest management practices.

Dr Tom Lewis, a research scientist at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, was involved with the research. He said one example of practice improvement would be regrowth as an alternative to re-clearing for grazing, because it would lead to greater yield and profit for growers, improved ecological conditions and biodiversity, and opportunities for carbon sequestration.

"On average, silviculturally treated plots were found to have trees with growth rates approximately four times higher than those in non-treated plots,” Dr Lewis said.

The financial viability of such treatment options was also considered by the researchers. Case studies of individual properties were used to demonstrate the value of ongoing forest management with and without silvicultural thinning treatments. In the majority of cases, the treated stands were shown to generate a positive financial return on investment vastly exceeding returns from non-treated stands.

In their report, the researchers recommend making incentives such as annuity payments available to landholders, if widespread adoption of silvicultural treatments is realistically to be achieved. Incentives of this type would enable landholders to engage trained forestry professionals to carry out appropriate silvicultural treatments, which would not only boost the domestic supply of hardwood, but also have a positive impact on regional employment.

Going forward, the researchers plan to communicate the proven benefits and importance of effective forest management to private forest owners in a number of ways, including field days and workshops, fact sheets, property case studies and a decision support tool.

The research project was supported by FWPA in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the University of Queensland School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Private Forestry Service Queensland, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Queensland Herbarium, Department of Environment and Science.

The full report will be made available in January.