Victorian Government's action for long-term sustainability of Victoria's native timber forests

Update
Otway Forest

On the 7th November 2019, Victoria’s State Government announced a 30-year plan to phase out native forest logging in Victorian public forests by 2030. This includes an immediate logging ban of old-growth forests in Victoria, protecting 90,000 hectares of native forest with an estimated age group of 600 years old. An additional 96,000 hectares will be exempted from logging under the Great Glider Action Statement, a DELWP led strategy to protect the threatened greater glider species and its habitat. The 30-year plan also provides $120 million to upskill and redeploy 1,000 forest industry workers, while providing mills with new equipment for alternative timber processing. VicForests will extend existing timber supply agreements until 2024, after which timber supply will be stepped down before ending in 2030.

 

A dwindling native timber supply

Harvestable timber reserves in Victoria have halved over the last decade, creating concerns for achieving sustainable native timber production. This is particularly the case for sawlog, which is a high-quality timber extracted from the lower to middle part of the tree trunk. Sawlog is mainly produced from ash forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands region, and has been considerably impacted due to highly variable age structure of Victorian ash forests and minimal hectares of ash forest available for timer production post-1939 age group (see Figure 1). The Victorian sawlog industry currently relies on the 1939 regrowth ash forests. When the 1939 ash forest sawlog supply is exhausted, native forest sawlogs will no longer be available for timber production at least for decades.  

Figure 1. Age class distribution of ash forests (Data source: VEAC)

Figure 1 Age class distribution of ash forests

 

There has been a gradual decline in total timber annual production from state forests over the past two decades, from 729,000 meter cube in 1996–97 to 299,740 meter cube in 2016–17 (Figure 2). Pulpwood production has decreased at a similar rate to sawlog production since 2004–05. From 2012–13 to the present day, overall production of wood products from state forests has been stable although at a lesser amount than 2011.  

 

Figure 2. Annual production of wood products from state forests by sawlogs, pulpwood and other products, 1996-97 and 2016-17 (Data source: VicForests 2018).

Annual production of wood products from state forests by sawlogs, pulpwood and other products

 

Victoria’s native timber sawlog demand and supply balance

The supply and demand of native timber since 2000 has varied. In 2016-17, there were 421,700 hectares of industrial hardwood and softwood plantations in Victoria (Figure 3). Over the past 18 years, commercial softwood plantation areas have been stable at between 212,000 and 226,000 hectares. By contrast, commercial hardwood plantation areas have doubled in the 10 years since 1999-2000. Plantation areas have gradually decreased by approximately 11,200 hectares since 2010-11, with similar decreases in new plantation establishments from 38,000 hectares in 1999-2000 to no new plantation areas being established since 2012-13 (Figure 4).

The native timber logging ban on public lands will likely result in the unavailability of wood supply from native forests. To address the supply and demand of sawlog needs within Victoria, the State Government will provide an extra 50,000 hectares for timber plantation. This is to be delivered by 2030 to align with the full native logging ban timeline.

 

Figure 3. Plantation areas in Victoria, 1999 - 2000 to 2016 -17 (Data source: ABARES)                                                       

Plantation Areas in Victoria                                                                                   

Figure 4. Area of new plantation establishment in Victoria, 1999-2000 to 2016-17 (Data source: ABARES)

Area of new plantation establishment in Victoria, 1999-2000 to 2016-17

 

Decades are required for plantations to be ready for harvesting and producing high quality sawlogs. Even with the additional 50,000 hectares being established, there will be a sawlog supply gap due to the time needed to realise the production availability of this plantation. Victoria’s plantation industry produced approximately 87% of Victoria’s log volumes during 2017-18. Timber mills that rely heavily on timber supply from VicForests will face timber production supply gaps. To address these business concerns, the Victorian Government has committed funding to upskill and redeployment of mill employees, as well as providing new equipment to current mills to process alternative timbers.

The Victorian domestic demand for sawlogs will increase due to projected population growth over the next decade. This could result in a greater gap between supply and demand for Victoria, with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences forecasting a shortfall in the volume of softwood sawlogs available for the domestic market of 2.6 million cubic metres per year between 2045 and 2049 in Australia.To meet the estimated demand, an additional 200,000 to 250,000 hectares of new softwood plantations are required by 2050.

 

Reduced employment in Victoria’s forestry industry

Employment trends provide further evidence to the diminishing trend of Victoria’s forestry industry (Table 1).  Aside from forestry and logging and forestry support services, employment in the forestry sector is proportionally decreasing. As a result, Victoria is becoming less dependent upon the forestry industry than a decade ago.

 

Table 1. Employment by forestry industry sector in Australia and Victoria, 2006, 2011 and 2016. (Data sources:ABARES and ABS)

 

Australia

Victoria

Year

2006

2011

2016

2006

2011

2016

Forestry and logging

6,866

5,403

6,028

1,177

1,065

1,371

Forestry support services

2,050

2,171

2,956

338

418

569

Pulp and paper product manufacturing

23,482

19,368

13,969

8,893

8,164

5,660

Timber wholesaling

5,533

4,673

4,566

1,704

1,641

1,610

Wood product manufacturing

47,304

41,669

29,032

10,897

10,348

7,525

Total in forest industry sector

85,235

73,284

56,551

23,009

21,636

16,735

Total employment of all industries

10,299,500

11,323,200

11,957,700

2,551,200

2,830,900

3,102,300

Forestry dependencyB

0.83%

0.65%

0.47%

0.90%

0.76%

0.54%

A. % Victoria is a proportion of employment in Victoria in each sector compare to the employment of each sector in Australia.

B. Forest dependency is total in forest industry sector divided by total employment of all industries.

 

Forestry tertiary education

Tertiary education trends provide a window on the future of Victoria’s forestry industry. The State of the Forests 2018 Report demonstrates that enrolments in forestry training packages in Victoria dropped by 73% between 2009 and 2016. The only industry qualification that showed a growing demand was timber merchandising, where enrolments saw a four-fold increase. However, this qualification is not directly related to forestry industry operations. The greatest decline in tertiary education enrolments was in forest growing and management, which decreased by 1122. Since 2013, enrolments for wood panel and board production qualification have been zero.

The sharp decline of enrolments in forestry courses, employment in forestry sector and dwindling native timber supply indicates that the forestry industry has been shrinking while the overall industry in Victoria has been expanding (Table 2).

 

Table 2. Forest training package enrolments in Victoria, 2009-2016. (Data source: Industry Skills Scans)

Industry qualification

Enrolments

% Change

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Forest growing and management

1555

1174

1146

163

234

322

215

433

-72

Harvesting and haulage

498

480

326

148

94

23

54

44

-91

Saw-milling and processing

427

389

201

107

120

139

124

93

-78

Timber manufactured products

110

78

91

99

115

82

54

39

-65

Wood panel and board production

38

30

80

77

0

0

0

0

-100

Timber merchandising

39

64

36

29

24

34

161

201

415

Pulp and paper manufacturing

393

458

113

301

179

19

10

26

-93

Total

3060

2673

1993

924

766

619

618

836

-73

 

The insight provided in this article is based on evidence from the State of the Forests 2018 Report that can be found here.

 

References 

ABS, ‘2016 Census’, Canberra, Australia.

Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (ABARES), ‘Australian forest and wood products statistics’, Canberra, Australia http://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/publications/pubs?url=http://143.188.17.20/anrdl/DAFFService/pubs.php%3FseriesName%3DAustForestStat%26sort%3Ddate%26sortOrder%3Ddesc%26showIndex%3Dtrue%26outputType%3Dlist%26indexLetter%3D_ Accessed 10 January 2019.

Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources ABARES 2018, ‘Australian forest and wood products statistics: September and December quarters 2017’, Canberra, Australia http://data.daff.gov.au/data/warehouse/9aaf/afwpsd9abfe/afwpsd9abfe20180524/AFWPSOverview_Sep-Dec_2017_v1.0.0.pdf Accessed 4 December 2018.

Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources ABARES 2007, ‘Australian forest and wood products statistics: September and December quarters 2006’, Canberra, Australia http://data.daff.gov.au/data/warehouse/pe_abare99001363/afwps06.2_sept__dec06.pdf Accessed 4 December 2018.

ForestWorks, ‘Industry Skills Scans’, Melbourne, Victoria http://www.forestworks.com.au/publications/industry-skills-scans/

VEAC 2017, ‘Fibre and wood supply: Assessment report’, Melbourne, Victoria.

Whittle L, Lock P, Hug B 2019, ‘Economic potential for new plantation establishment in Australia: Outlook to 2050’, Research report 19.4, Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (ABARES), Canberra, Australia.