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Chapter 39. Australia and New Zealand

Figure 39-1. Australia and New Zealand: forest cover map

Australia and New Zealand (Figure 39-1)[51] are among the world's least densely populated countries and this absence of population pressure is among the defining characteristics of forestry in this subregion. Australia, the world's sixth largest country, has 154.5 million hectares of forests covering 20.1 percent of the country's land area. Forest cover in New Zealand amounts to 7.9 million hectares or 29.7 percent of land area.

Natural forests in New Zealand comprise mainly cool temperate rain forests extending along much of the western side of South Island and through the mountainous axes of North Island. In northernmost areas there is a gradual transition to warm temperate rain forests. Plantation forests have been established throughout the country, with the largest concentration (around one-third of the total area) planted on the volcanic plateau of central North Island (FAO 1997a).

In general, Australia's forests and woodlands form a broad crescent around coastal Australia extending from the Kimberley Plateau in the north, to Perth in the southwest, and as much as 700 km inland. Closed canopy forests mainly occur in relatively narrow coastal zones, primarily in tracts along the eastern and southeastern coasts (including Tasmania), and in the far southwest of Western Australia. These tracts of closed forest are generally encircled by larger areas of open forests (primarily eucalypt forest). Further inland, where average annual rainfall begins to decline below 900 mm, open forests give way to eucalypt woodlands, which in turn are supplanted by acacia shrubland in areas where annual rainfall is below 400 mm (Bureau of Rural Sciences 2000).


Australia and New Zealand participated in the temperate and boreal component process of FRA 2000. In Australia, on-the-ground forestry data are collected by the individual states and territories, and compiled at national level by the National Forest Inventory group in the Bureau of Rural Sciences. Inventory data compilation is a continuous process culminating in the periodic publication of National Forest Inventory datasets and components such as the National Plantation Inventory and the National Forest Cover Database. In New Zealand, a National Exotic Forest Description is published annually to provide the latest plantation inventory data. A GIS land cover database, based on satellite imagery and differentiating areas of natural and plantation forests, was published in 2000. A comprehensive forest inventory for the natural forests has not, however, been carried out since the early 1950s. Work is currently under way to implement a carbon monitoring system for natural forests, scrublands and soils. This system, when fully operational, will provide updated and comprehensive statistics on many of the traditional forest inventory parameters for New Zealand's natural forests.

Table 39-1. Australia and New Zealand: forest resources and management


Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year




000 ha



768 230

153 143

1 396

154 539







154 539


New Zealand

26 799

6 404

1 542

7 946







6 912


Total Australia and New Zealand

795 029

159 547

2 938

162 485









Total Oceania

849 096

194 775

2 848

197 623










13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
New Zealand's plantation forests cover more than 1.5 million hectares (Table 39-1), with Pinus radiata constituting about 90 percent of the plantation estate, and Pseudotsuga menziesii and Eucalyptus spp. accounting for the bulk of the remainder. On favourable and well-managed sites, Pinus radiata attains exceptional growth rates, with mean annual increments (MAIs) commonly approaching 24 m3 per hectare per year. Natural forests cover 6.4 million hectares and can be broadly divided into two main types: beech forests, dominated by four species of Nothofagus spp. ("false beech"); and conifer-hardwood forests comprising a complex association of species with typical canopy species including Podocarpus totara, Dacrydium cupressinum and Agathis australis. In general, New Zealand's lowland rain forests have a high forest canopy (20 to 35 m) and dense understory, while at higher altitudes the canopy trees become progressively lower (5 to 15 m) and more dense (with Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortiodes the primary species). Thus, New Zealand's forests have a relatively high average per hectare biomass (217 tonnes per hectare) (Crowe 1992).

Australia's plantation estate covers around 1.4 million hectares with more than 70 percent of the estate planted in softwood species. Pinus radiata is the most extensively planted softwood, while Eucalyptus spp. comprise almost the entire hardwood plantation estate. Australian-grown Pinus radiata typically achieves MAIs of around 20 m3 per hectare per year, while Eucalyptus spp. MAIs are generally in the range of 12 to 19 m3 per hectare per year.

Figure 39-2. Australia and New Zealand: natural forest and plantation areas 2000 and net area changes 1990-2000

The predominant natural forest types in Australia are characterized as eucalypt forests and acacia forests. Eucalypt forests are easily the most widespread forest type, comprising around 80 percent of Australia's forest cover. The bulk of eucalypt forest has a relatively open "woodland type" canopy (20 to 50 percent crown cover), with most of the remainder classified as wet or dry sclerophyll forests. (Florence 1996). Acacia forests are widespread throughout the country, covering around 12 million hectares and generally predominate in areas with annual rainfall below 500 mm. At the more arid extent of their range the density of trees declines and low acacia woodlands are formed. The low density of these prevailing forest types is reflected in the relatively low estimates of per hectare forest biomass for Australia (Table 39-1). Tropical rain forests in Australia extend along the coasts of Arnhem Land and the Cape York Peninsula, and along the eastern seaboard of northern Queensland. In southern Queensland the seaboard forests are best characterized as warm temperate rain forests, while further south, cool temperate rain forests occur across coastal New South Wales, Victoria and much of Tasmania. Other major forest types include those characterized by a respective dominance of Melaleuca spp., Casuarina spp. and Callitris spp. while mangroves occur in many coastal areas (Bureau of Rural Sciences 2000).

Changes in forest area cover in Australia and New Zealand in the period 1990 to 2000 are relatively small in a global context. During this period Australia reported deforestation of 282 000 ha per year, while New Zealand reported an average net gain in forest area of 39 000 ha per year (Table 39-1, Figure 39-2). The net forest loss of 243 000 ha per year in the subregion constitutes only 2.6 percent of global deforestation. Australia's reported decline in forest area is, in part, the result of improved forest assessment methods. Australia's generally dry climate means large areas of the country are susceptible to wildfires, and significant areas of forest and woodland are burnt each year.

In 1994, for example, severe bushfires in New South Wales burned across 800 000 ha of forests and woodlands. In New Zealand, significant increases in the national plantation estate more than offset a modest decline in the area of natural forests (much of which is the result of more accurate assessment, rather than the physical clearance of forests) (Emergency Management Australia 2000).


Both Australia and New Zealand provided national-level information on the forest area managed, applying the definition used by industrialized countries of forests managed in accordance with a formal or an informal plan applied regularly over a sufficiently long period (five years or more) and including areas where a decision had been taken not to undertake any management interventions. For Australia, all forests were reported as being managed, whereas for New Zealand, where the figure provided was limited to forests managed primarily for wood supply, not for conservation or protection purposes, the area equalled 87 percent of the total forest area. For the subregion as a whole, approximately 161 million hectares, or 99 percent of the total forest area, was reported as being managed in accordance with a formal or informal plan.

The basis for forest management planning in Australia is a system of Regional Forest Agreements negotiated between the Commonwealth and State governments to provide a blueprint for long-term management and use of forests in a particular region. Regional Forest Agreements have a 20-year lifespan and aim to: establish a world class forest reserve system in Australia; provide planning certainty for industries and regional communities; and ensure ecologically sustainable management of the national forest estate. Regional Forest Agreements apply to Australia's predominant commercially productive forest areas. Other forest areas are subject to a variety of State government legislation and management planning requirements (Commonwealth of Australia 2000).

More than 90 percent of New Zealand's plantation forests are under private ownership and virtually all the plantations are managed for commercial wood production. There is no strict legislative requirement for plantations to be managed under formal forest management plans, although the vast majority are subject to detailed plans. All forests are subject to the requirements of the Resource Management Act 1991, which regulates land use activities and under which many forestry operations (particularly harvesting and planting) require that a local government Resource Consent be obtained. A large majority (77 percent) of natural forests in New Zealand are government owned and managed as protected areas by the Department of Conservation. All these forests are subject to conservation management plans. In 1992, the Forests Act 1949 was amended to require that privately owned natural forest areas be managed under government-approved Sustainable Forest Management Plans if they are to be subject to commercial harvesting (Environment Australia 1997).

Both Australia and New Zealand are strongly committed to principles of sustainable forest management. Australia's commitment to sustainable forest management is formally expressed through its National Forest Policy Statement 1992, which aims for sustainable management of all its forests for future generations, whether the forest is within reserves or in production forests or plantations, and on public and private land. The development of Regional Forest Agreements is a key initiative in realizing this commitment. Other initiatives include: the development of an Australian Forestry Standard as a means of certifying forest management practices in Australia; and the development of a framework of subnational criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management in Australia. In New Zealand, the commitment to sustainable forest management and sustainable resource use is enshrined in the Resource Management Act 1991 and amendments to the Forests Act 1949. Voluntary measures that enhance the protection and sustainable management of New Zealand's forest resources include the New Zealand Forest Code of Practice and the New Zealand Forest Accord 1991. Several New Zealand forests have obtained Forest Stewardship Council certification, and a process to develop a national certification process consistent with international standards is under way. Both countries are active participants in the major international fora and processes aimed at the achievement of sustainable forest management.

Production of industrial roundwood in New Zealand is centred on plantation forests, which provide more than 99 percent of the country's annual harvest. New Zealand produces a significant volume of wood, surplus to its own requirements, with around 60 percent of current production exported in some form. Large areas of plantations are approaching maturity and New Zealand's annual harvest is projected to increase markedly from the current 18 million cubic metres, to more than 30 million cubic metres by 2010. Australia also has significant areas of maturing plantation forests and is expected to become a net exporter of forest products during the next decade. At present, Australia's annual wood harvest totals around 21 million cubic metres, which is evenly divided between coniferous and non-coniferous wood.

Household use of woodfuels in Australia and New Zealand is significant, but is not regularly monitored in either country. One estimate (FAO 1997) suggests that the current consumption of woodfuel in the subregion is around 3.5 million cubic metres. Woodfuel does not constitute a major source of electricity production in either country, although there are examples of wood by-products being used to generate electricity in particular industrial plants.

Both Australia and New Zealand have developed comprehensive protected area networks. Australia's terrestrial protected area network currently covers around 8 percent of the country's land area. Most recently, the signing of Regional Forest Agreements has led to a significant boost in the area of forests in protected areas. At present, around 42 percent of land covered by Regional Forest Agreements is in conservation reserves. In New Zealand, the Department of Conservation (DOC) administers State-owned protected areas; the DOC estate encompasses almost 5 million hectares (77 percent) of natural forests. An additional 70 000 ha of privately owned natural forests have protected-area status through a variety of covenant arrangements (Environment Australia 1997; Commonwealth Forests Taskforce 2000).


Data reported to FRA 2000 by Australia and New Zealand are both reliable and indicative of the countries having well-developed forest monitoring and inventory systems in place. Systems for collecting information and data pertaining to plantation forests in each country are among the most comprehensive in the world. Natural forest inventory systems are less well developed, but both countries are making substantive efforts to upgrade data and the next several years will see systems in place comparable with those of leading forestry countries.

Both countries are well placed to deliver on commitments to sustainable forest management. As economically developed countries, with very low population and land use pressures, both have the physical and financial capacity, as well as the apparent political will, to achieve very high standards of forest management. These capacities are reflected in relatively high proportions of forests in formally protected areas, the establishment of large plantation forest estates as a means of reducing industrial pressures on natural forests and significant progress in implementing mechanisms to support sustainable forest management.

The key forestry issues requiring attention in Australia mainly relate to achieving an acceptable balance between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of forestry. Regional Forest Agreements provide a mechanism for attaining this balance, at least in terms of achieving agreement between Commonwealth and State governments; however, there remains considerable disparity in broader stakeholder perceptions of the appropriate emphasis that should be placed on nature conservation objectives compared with economic development objectives. A separate dimension relates to social aspects of forestry and, in particular, how the rights and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders in respect to their forest interests can be reconciled within national and regional frameworks for sustainable forest management.

The principal challenges faced by the New Zealand forestry sector lie in two distinct spheres. In the natural forests there remains a distinct tension between preservationist and multiple-use management philosophies. In recent years, there has been a marked shift towards further reducing the already modest industrial forestry activities in natural forests. At the same time, this has removed a significant component of the natural forests' ability to generate funds for improved management. Natural forests managers have consequently become increasingly reliant on direct government funding for effective management, and in some areas this has fallen short in providing adequate protection from degradation by introduced pests, most notably by red deer and the Australian brush-tailed opossum. In New Zealand's plantation forests the principal issues relate to challenges in effectively marketing rapidly increasing wood supplies. This incorporates the development of significant value-added processing capacity and the opening of new export markets, but also ensuring that plantation-grown wood meets more environmentally conscious market expectations through, for example, the development of an internationally accepted certification system and continuous improvement in plantation forest management.


Bureau of Rural Sciences. 2000. Forest information. Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia.

Commonwealth Forests Taskforce. 2000. The CAR reserve system. RFA Forest news - August 2000. Commonwealth of Australia.

Commonwealth of Australia. 2000. Regional Forest Agreements.

Crowe, A. 1992. Which native tree? Auckland, New Zealand, Penguin Books.

Emergency Management Australia. 2000. Wildfire prevention in Australia. United Nations 2000 World Disaster Reduction Campaign.

Environment Australia. 1997. National reserve system - terrestrial and marine protected areas in Australia. Canberra, Department of Environment and Heritage.

FAO. 1997a. In-depth country study - New Zealand, by C. Brown. Asia Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study. Working Paper No. 5. Rome.

FAO. 1997b. Country report Australia, by Commonwealth Department of Primary Industries and Energy. Asia Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study. Working Paper No. 13. Rome.

Florence, R.G. 1996. Ecology and silviculture of eucalypt forests. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

New Zealand. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). 1997. Indigenous forestry sustainable management - a guide to plans and permits. Wellington, New Zealand.

New Zealand. MAF. 2000. National exotic forest description: national and regional wood supply forecasts 2000. Wellington, New Zealand.

[51] For more details by country, see

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