Forests maintain our water quality, purify the air, store carbon, stabilise and nourish soil, assist agriculture and support regional economies. Victoria’s population growth will increase the pressure on our forests, through more demand for water and timber. Climate change and more frequent and severe fires also threaten our forests.

The science evidence that informed this assessment is available in this Forests chapter 

What the indicators tell us

Most of the 21 forest indicators are fair, with only 1 good, 3 poor and 3 unknown. The trends are more mixed, spread fairly evenly over improving, stable, deteriorating and unclear.

The Forests Indicator Report Card provides an assessment summary of all indicators in this chapter 

Themes and indicators: How does Victoria measure up?

Ecosystem Diversity

Genetic Diversity

Species Diversity

Ecosystem Health

Carbon Cycles

Productive Capacity

Legal, Institutional and Economic

Socio-economic Benefits

More detail

Background

Forests and the services they provide are essential for the health and wellbeing of all Victorians. Forests maintain Victoria’s water quality, purify the air and store carbon, stabilise and nourish soil, assist agriculture, and support economies vital for regional communities and businesses. Forests have also been an essential part of history and culture for Victoria’s Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. The definition of ‘forest’ used by Australia’s National Forest Inventory, established in 1988, is:

An area, incorporating all living and non-living components, that is dominated by trees having usually a single stem and a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding 2 metres and with existing or potential crown cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 20 per cent. This includes Australia’s diverse native forests and plantations, regardless of age. It is also sufficiently broad to encompass areas of trees that are sometimes described as woodlands.

Victoria has 8.4 million hectares of public land, of which 3.4 million hectares are state forest and 3.7 million hectares are forested parks and reserves (Figure Fo.1). Since European settlement, more than 14 million hectares (60%) have been cleared, mainly for agriculture and settlements. Victoria’s population growth and subsequent urban expansion will increase the pressure on Victorian forests, through elevated water demand from forest catchments and timber harvesting. In managing these forests, a range of actions are identified to achieve the principles of sustainable forest management.

This was defined in 1993 at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe as:

The stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.

Map of Victorian state forest and parks and reserves

Figure Fo.1 Victorian state forest and parks and reserves

(Source: DELWP)

The current literature identifies several major issues for long-term sustainable forest management in Victoria:

  • Climate change – There is considerable scientific evidence predicting damage to the vitality and health of Australia’s forests due to climate change. Forests are an important element of the global carbon cycle; therefore, monitoring carbon stocks in forests is an essential part of sustainable forest management.

  • Changing fire regimes – more frequent and severe fires as a result of changing climate are expected to cause tree mortality, regeneration and seed viability in the fire-sensitive forest types,9F including eucalypt forests (such as Eucalyptus pauciflora and Eucalyptus delegatensis subsp. Delegatensis).

  • Biodiversity – In Victoria, nearly 250 fauna species are listed as ‘threatened’ in the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. Of these, approximately 20% are forest-dependent species. While disturbance and regeneration are fundamental to forest maintenance, significant shifts in the frequency, scale and intensity of these processes can disrupt the health of forests.

  • Fragmentation – Forest-dwelling fauna species, including endangered species, are impacted by the fragmentation of native forests. This eventually leads to the geographic isolation of a species’ population, from the loss of forest connectivity, and impacts on the species’ genetic diversity. This has significant implications for the survival of many iconic and forest-dependent species.

  • Economy – Forests provide a resource for several economically significant industries in Victoria. These include forest products, agriculture (agroforestry) and tourism. The forest products industry alone provides an estimated 15,696 jobs, of which 14,475 are directly related14F to forests. Victoria has the largest total area of plantations in Australia, compared to other states and territories, with 433,000 hectares of commercial hardwood and softwood plantations in 2013–14, up 13% from 2003–04. Successful management of Victoria’s forest/timber resources is vital to the state’s economy.

  • Legal framework – Management of Victoria’s forests is delivered within a complex legal and policy framework. Relevant legislation includes the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004, National Parks Act 1975 and Forests Act 1958.

Critical challenges for sustainable forest management in Victoria, now and in the future, include:

  • establishing long-term monitoring of key aspects of forest conditions, such as loss of species population and genetic diversity due to fragmentation of native forests

  • understanding the changes in patterns of natural disturbances including fire, flood and drought, and any increase in variability and intensity of these disturbances due to climate change

  • understanding the impacts of altered disturbance patterns on forest productivity and forest-related biophysical and social values

  • understanding Victoria’s forest carbon cycle and increasing the carbon storage capacity of forests

  • improving complex and outdated forest management legislation that cause inconsistencies, overlaps and gaps, and lead to confusion for land managers and communities

  • managing forests for a range of social, cultural, economic and ecological values and uses

  • enhancing the protection and management of forests with attributes important to ecological conservation and carbon storage

  • characterising the optimal restoration targets (location, maturity stages) in post-fire and/or logged regrowth forests to reduce fire proneness

  • achieving sustainable native-timber production while protecting threatened species such as Leadbeater’s possum

  • defining forest-logging to fire-severity relationships as mediated by regrowth stage, tree abundance and density

  • being consistent, multi-tiered and multi-valued in monitoring approaches and data acquisition strategies for sustainable forest management.

Current Victorian Government Settings

Victoria’s forests are managed in accordance with Victorian legislation including the National Parks Act 1975, Forests Act 1958, Conservation, Forests and Land Act 1987, Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978, Land Act 1958, and Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004, together with related regulations, codes of practice, management plans and policy initiatives.18F The system undertakes to balance management of the multiple values of Victoria’s forests, including environmental values.

Recent policy measures that address or overlap the issues above include:

  • Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037 (‘Biodiversity 2037’) which sets out a 20-year vision and goals for biodiversity in Victoria

  • review of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act), so that it can more effectively protect Victoria’s biodiversity in the face of existing and emerging threats

  • amendments to regulation of native vegetation, with the aim of providing for better consideration of biodiversity elements in decision-making, including habitat for rare or threatened species, large trees, endangered ecological vegetation classes (EVCs), sensitive wetlands and coastal areas.

In 2017, the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) recommended the following be undertaken within five years:

  • state forests be administered under one Act

  • the National Parks Act 1975 be expanded to include revised categories of national parks, conservation parks, nature reserves, marine protected areas, and other categories and overlays classified as protected areas, to become the ‘National Parks and Conservation Reserves Act’

  • a new public land Act be developed to replace the current Land Act 1958, Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 and Forests Act 1958.

The Victorian Government has accepted these recommendations.

Elements of Victoria’s forest management framework are accredited by the Commonwealth under five Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs).19F The RFAs were a key outcome of the National Forest Policy Statement (1992) through which the federal, state and territory governments committed to the sustainable management of all Australian forests.

RFAs endeavour to maintain a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system, to manage forests on an ecologically sustainable basis, and provide for the long-term stability of forests and forest industries. All five Victorian RFAs are due to expire in March 2020.

The Victorian Government endorsed a program to modernise Victoria’s RFAs. Over the next two years, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has committed to engaging with Victorian communities on how they value Victoria’s forests. DELWP will also complete assessments of forest values, including environmental values, indigenous heritage values, economic values, social values and principles of ecologically sustainable management.

It is anticipated that the outcomes of the engagement and assessments processes will inform the modernisation of Victoria’s RFAs and the planning and regulatory frameworks they accredit.

Future Focus

Understand the impacts of forest fragmentation on biodiversity and improve assessment of protected areas

A systematic approach to understanding the status and future trends of Victorian public forests is critical. DELWP developed the Victorian Forest Monitoring Program (VFMP) in 2011. The VFMP completed its first full cycle of field measurements in 2015 and is expected to complete its second cycle by 2020. It is critical that minimal changes to the VFMP data-collection methods occur following the completion of the second full cycle of data retrieval. Consistency in methodology, with only essential amendments, would allow the identification of underlying trends and improve the utility of the evidence base. Any changes to data collection and analysis methods to achieve more accurate data must not disrupt comparative analysis with existing datasets or future trend analyses.

Further, although the VFMP maps forest fragmentation at the state scale (including private forests), it does not provide a complete assessment of forest fragmentation and its impacts on biodiversity in native forests. Long-term monitoring and detailed spatial research have been conducted to explore impacts of fragmentation on native forests and forest-dependent species at the regional scale (such as mountain ash forests in the Central Highlands) and this research has demonstrated that forest fragmentation is becoming intensified, and its impact on threatened species has been increasing.161F 162F 163F 164F 165F The study of biodiversity impacts from forest fragmentation is also impeded by the lack of an authoritative list of Victorian forest-dependent species.

Further research is critical to complement VFMP mapping and understand the impact of forest fragmentation on biodiversity at the state scale. This research program would also assist in the establishment and management of protected areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected areas in Victoria increased by 140,000 hectares between 2004 and 2016. However, there is little evidence of the level of long-term species protection provided by the classification of these areas. A viability analysis, for example, would provide risk assessment and management options to better protect target species in protected areas. Such analysis would also provide an indication of species conservation benefits if an increase in protected areas was to occur.

Recommendation: That DELWP maintain their commitment to resourcing and maintaining the VFMP and enhance it to (i) improve statewide understanding of the impacts of forest fragmentation on forest-dependent species (including the development of an authoritative list of Victorian forest-dependent species), and (ii) improve assessment of protected areas by conducting detailed research to identify the benefits of various types of IUCN-protected areas for target species. Any amendments to the VFMP must not disrupt future trend analyses.

UN Environmental Economic Accounts

Environmental–economic accounting provides a framework for linking forests (a type of land account) and the natural inputs and ecosystem services they produce that benefit the economy and society. The contribution forests make to the economy is partly captured in the SNA, which accounts for goods and services from forests, such as timber and tourism, when they are produced and consumed in the economy. The SEEA extends the SNA by including environmental assets in forests and the natural inputs and ecosystem services they produce.

See indicator Value ($) of forest-derived ecosystem services for further analysis.

Case studies

Making Victoria’s parks more accessible

People with limited mobility can now experience the natural beauty of previously inaccessible parts of Victoria’s parks.

Standard wheelchairs can’t cope with rugged terrain, which means many parts of Victoria’s parks have been out of bounds to people with limited mobility. Now people visiting many of our parks can book a lightweight, single-wheeled, all-terrain wheelchair with a cushioned seat known as the TrailRider. Apart from large steps, the TrailRider can go across most rough ground. Someone who is fit and able to operate the chair must accompany the chair user. An electric motor helps with steep climbs.

Volunteer ‘sherpas’ are now available at parks in the Grampians and Dandenong Ranges. The sherpas have been trained in the use of the wheelchair, and can help people with limited mobility explore the natural bushland in the parks, acting as guides as well.

A first time user of the program, Disability Advocate Karen Fankhauser, said the program offered freedom. ‘It means I can actually experience bushwalking and that’s something you can’t do in a normal chair.’

The TrailRiders are free to use, but should be pre-booked. The sherpa service is also free, and needs to be booked at least a week in advance.

Discover more

Preserving Victoria's River Red Gum parks

The parks that play host to Victoria’s iconic River Red Gums are being visited by more and more campers, hikers and tourists every year. A new plan balances the tension between visitors enjoying the forests and the need to preserve these majestic trees.

Not just any old tree

There are few Australian landscapes more iconic than the River Red Gum forests that line Victoria’s Murray, Ovens and Goulburn rivers. Loved by locals and visitors alike, these areas are popular for recreational activities like camping, fishing, bushwalking and hunting. They are also culturally significant, with rich heritage links to Traditional Owners, and environmentally significant as homes to an abundance of wildlife.

A plan for the parks

In 2018, Parks Victoria released a River Red Gum Parks Management Plan that sets out a long-term vision for the management and protection of five national parks and more than 100 other parks and reserves.

The plan covers an area greater than 215,000 hectares stretching from the South Australian border to Wodonga on the New South Wales border. It applies to the River Red Gum forests along the rivers, as well as several internationally significant wetlands, Aboriginal sites, post-settlement heritage sites and geological sites.

A balanced approach

The plan was influenced by two years of consultation with local communities and other stakeholders, including recreation and interest groups, businesses and Traditional Owners.

One of the major aims of the plan is to improve the health of the rivers as well as the River Red Gum forests and their ecology.. Environmental watering to support the numerous rivers and wetlands is a priority, as is controlling pest animals and weeds, and reducing grazing pressure from kangaroos, rabbits and cattle within the parks and reserves.

Visitors can continue to enjoy popular recreational activities like bush camping, fishing, boating and hunting, with Parks Victoria improving some facilities like boat ramps and access tracks. The plan also supports the development of new tourism initiatives, including bookable campsites, safari-style accommodation and canoe trails.

The plan has sought a balanced approach to parks management – protecting and enhancing the outstanding natural and cultural values of these parks and reserves – while allowing for sustainable recreation and tourism that is compatible with preserving these precious areas.

Discover more

The equine effect

A new action plan aims to stop the damage feral horses are inflicting on some of Victoria’s most sensitive environments.

Carving up the mountains

While ‘brumbies’ have a romantic place in Australian folklore, the reality is that feral horses seriously damage the landscape, especially Victoria’s sensitive alpine areas.

As well as grazing on native plants, which means there is less for the local wildlife to eat, feral horses degrade natural habitats, trampling the ground with their hard hooves and fouling waterways. The damage they do increases the rate of erosion and makes it harder for bushfire-affected ecosystems to recover. Areas trampled by horses have fewer plant species and more non-native weeds.

Too much of a bad thing

A 2014 aerial survey estimated that there were about 2350 feral horses in the Eastern Victorian Alps and a much smaller population of up to 80 in the Bogong High Plains.

The horses don’t distinguish between national parks, state forests, reserves and private land. And they don’t avoid those habitats that are crucial to the survival of threatened species. The high numbers of feral horses and their impact on the environment is causing severe long-term harm to endangered native alpine wildlife and plant species.

Holding the horses

Following extensive consultation with the community, environmental groups and other stakeholders, Parks Victoria developed a Strategic Action Plan to control feral horse numbers in the Alpine National Park. The plan was released in June 2018.

As a result of community feedback, the plan focuses on passive trapping, with rehoming the horses the main priority. Community consultation revealed that many people didn’t understand the size of the problem and didn’t see feral horses as pests. Once informed about the issues, they generally supported population management as long as it used mustering and fertility control, not culling. Parks Victoria hopes to capture and rehome approximately 400 feral horses each year.

Discover more

An eye in the sky for our forests

Historic satellite data is being put to a new use – helping to more accurately monitor the health of Victoria’s precious forests – and predict their future.

The importance of monitoring

Victoria’s forests are regularly monitored so that scientists and land managers can understand what affects their health, how they are changing over time, and how best to manage them.

The Victorian Forest Monitoring Program (VFMP) is a key tool for this monitoring. The program takes data from 859 ‘forest inventory plots’ to build up a picture of how Victoria’s forests are faring.

Blending tech

A new project – LandFor (short for Landsat for Forests) – blends satellite imagery from the past 30 years with data from the VFMP. So rather than relying on data that represents less than 1% of our forests, land managers can now use statewide geospatial mapping based on extrapolated data. This gives more accurate information about important indicators of and factors for forest health such as water levels, above-ground biomass, canopy health and carbon.

Satellite imagery came mostly from Landsat, but to make sure the imagery and data was as comprehensive as possible, the project also used Victorian aerial photo interpretation records, pest and disease records, Google Earth and aerial imagery sources.

LandFor’s objectives include:

  • determining how the use and management of land, as well as natural processes like bush fire, affect forest lands and biomass each year

  • establishing a way to monitor land cover and changes in land use

  • delivering products such as statewide forest dynamic disturbance maps, a baseline forest extent map for Victoria, and composite, cloud-free image mosaics for Victoria.

The project is a collaboration between the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), RMIT University and the European Forest Institute.

From monitoring to managing

The more accurate monitoring data coming out of the LandFor project will help Victorian land managers to better understand forest health, including how productive they are and how much timber can be harvested from them, and the level of biodiversity present. Just as importantly, the data will help them make more precise forecasts about the forests’ future – leading to better decisions in forest management.

Map of Victoria and Landsat image extent

Discover more