Active forest management to address timber shortage and climate change

Active forest management to address timber shortage and climate change

Posted 16 August 2023

Timber Economics


Tasmania's private foresters are at the forefront of combating climate change and alleviating Australia's construction timber scarcity through proactive private native regrowth forest management.

Tasmania’s extensive private regrowth native forests have a long history of active management for timber production and with our changing climate and an expanding bioeconomy, Private Forests Tasmania has identified strong opportunities to boost the health and resilience of these forests, while generating income and other ecosystem benefits through silvicultural treatments such as thinning.

There are more than 300,000 hectares of private native forests in Tasmania that can be managed sustainably to produce timber and other benefits, and PFT recently launched a comprehensive suite of resources tailored to empower landowners.

PFT partnered with consultants to develop private native forest demonstration sites, field days, case studies, factsheets, and a how-to guide for forest owners to successfully plan and carry out active management for beneficial outcomes.

PFT acting CEO Stephen Clarke said Australia faces a supply and demand imbalance for construction timber, and private native forest management can help to address this, plus, deliver environmental benefits.

He said PFT’s new resources demonstrate and communicate commercially feasible private native regrowth forest management options to support extension and commercial engagement with private native forest growers.

He said as solid wood market opportunities and processing capacity expand, there is an opportunity for the forest and wood products sector to further engage with Tasmania’s private native regrowth forest growers.

PFT, a Tasmania government statutory authority, has a legislated objective to expand the development of our private forest resources.

To further this objective, and to help meet the nationwide shortage of timber, more of the areas identified in the 2020 Tasmanian Private Forests Resource Review will need to be brought under active and sustainable native forestry regimes.

"As public native forest access declines, private forestry's role grows in supplying wood products. Strategic management ensures health, resilience, and compliance,” Mr Clarke said.

"Amid a changing climate and bioeconomy, these forests can generate income, sequester carbon, and offer vital ecosystem services. Timber demand is set to rise.

"Private native forestry is a cornerstone of sustainability. Managed well, it safeguards forests, increases carbon sequestration, generates income, bolsters drought resilience, mitigates fire severity, and enriches biodiversity.

“Plus, primary producers are increasingly being asked to demonstrate their carbon credentials to markets and active forest management is the ideal way to help manage that.”

The resources available at treealliance.com.au offer four videos, five case studies, seven fact sheets and A Guide to Private Native Forest Operations in Tasmania highlighting essential topics such as forest assessment, planning and approvals, silviculture strategies, operation management, outcome monitoring, supply chains, markets, and financial analysis facilitate informed decision-making.

The case study properties at Sassafras, Levendale, Mount Direction, Ben Nevis and Blackwood Creek represent diverse forest types, species, and site qualities, and illustrate various market options and supply chain challenges while presenting multiple scenarios for landowners to consider.

These operations involve selective harvesting, promoting a multi-aged forest, increasing medium-term sawlog production, improving forest health, fostering biodiversity through understory development, and bolstering carbon sequestration.

Western Junction Sawmill manager Vince Hurley said now is the perfect time for private landowners to start thinking about native regrowth forest management.

“The private resource in Tasmania is a sleeping giant. When you combine all of it together it’s a really significant resource, it’s a world-scale resource and it just needs to be managed properly so that the landowners know they have a market now for logs including thinnings and plantations, and they have a market in the future for higher-value logs that could develop from that,” he said.

“Having good contractors that look after the private property owner’s forests, having good markets for those logs and a market for all the product is a really important part of it.”

Ian Dickenson, who produces beef, prime lamb and forestry at Elverton Pastoral, Blessington, said forestry is a valuable asset if it is managed correctly.

“It has its ups and downs in respect to markets, but it’s not as volatile as our other primary products,” he said.

“When the prices [of cattle] crashed in ‘76 if we hadn’t been getting some income from forestry... I know the bank would have sold us up, but they knew I had a timber resource.

“[With modern technologies] we’ve got the opportunity to now thin in a very careful way and that is certainly setting our forests up for longevity.”

One-time Australian Treefarmer of the Year John Lord, who has been thinning private regrowth forest for more than a decade, said he understands many landowners may be sceptical about heading into private native regrowth forestry.

However, he said there are plenty of benefits to consider such as reducing fire risk.

“It’s an opportunity for you to have another enterprise on your farm,” Mr Lord said.

“Forestry is great because it’s not an annual cycle like cattle and sheep, and cropping and what have you, the cycles are much longer.

“The long-term situation is that those that manage land in my view need to understand the value of trees on their farms.

“We manage by removing biomass to reduce fuel load. The Aboriginal tribes did it, they burnt frequently to keep themselves safe and to provide plentiful food, and to prevent the excessive buildup of fuel.

“You can’t have a bad fire day unless there’s fuel, so the management of fuel is actually the critical thing.”

Midway Tasmania operations manager Clint Webb, who has more than 30 years of forestry experience, said the management of private native regrowth forests offers a range of benefits to landowners, however, the forests are complex and different scientifically based strategies can be used such as regrowth thinning.

He said thinning and selective harvesting allows trees left behind to grow into high-quality products in the future.

“Ninety-eight per cent of what we leave behind now would be a product that can be utilised going forward in the saw wood market,” he said.

“What we’re about is if we can get the processes right, [the forest is] there for the next generation and the next generation after that.

“With the right processes and regimes, we can get the best dollar for the grower, and we can enhance the forest and the value for the community.”

Forest Practices Authority chief practices officer Anne Chuter said she understands some landowners see the planning and legal processes as a barrier to getting into forestry.

“We have forest practices officers who are there to help landowners through the process, but the FPA itself also employees a host of staff, everything from scientists to advisors to compliance officers who are there to provide advice on how you would provide your forest practices plan to undertake your operations,” she said.

She said there is a need to improve community education and understanding of the benefits of Tasmania’s sustainable and well-regulated forestry industry.

“Every forestry operation is supervised, it’s monitored, and the standards are enforced so there is a huge amount of regulation that happens in forestry in Tasmania.”

For more information and guidance, landowners can readily contact PFT's Tree Alliance helpline on 1300 661 009 or visit our suite of materials including case studies, fact sheets, videos and guide, to assist in the active management of private regrowth native forests. CLICK HERE.