Forestry and timber
Tasmania’s magnificent forests are a showplace of biodiversity and natural beauty that produce world-class renewable timbers.
Almost half of the island, over 3 million hectares, is covered by forests which range from Australia’s largest tract of cool temperate rainforest to dry sclerophyll woodlands. These include extensive stands of native hardwood, dominated by more than 30 species of eucalypts.
The forests are also home to unique, highly prized specialty timbers, such as Huon Pine, Myrtle, Blackwood and Sassafras. These are crafted into contemporary furniture, delicate musical instruments, traditional wooden boats, and other artisan objects that are valued worldwide.
Today, 52 per cent of Tasmania’s forests are protected in reserves. This includes more than 1.2 million hectares, or 87 per cent, of old growth forests.
Forestry is currently undergoing a resurgence. After years of downturn, following divisive conflicts and the final collapse in 2012 of timber giant Gunns, optimism has now returned, and investment is flowing once more.
Heading this upsurge is the Hermal Group that is building Australia’s biggest hardwood mill near Burnie at a cost $190 million. Forico also plans significant investment with a $130 million wood pellet factory planned for the Tamar Valley. And, since it took over the Bell Bay mill in 2013, Timberlink has invested $15 million to double output.
Higher timber prices are also fuelling increased production volumes. In 2016-17 Tasmania’s forests produced 5.3 million cubic metres of wood fibre, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.
Amongst all this, we are seeing the emergence of a ‘new forestry’ as the industry re-invents itself.
Sustainability is the focus, with private plantations now accounting for more than half of Tasmania’s wood harvest. The state has about 310,000 hectares of plantation timber forest, a quarter of which is renewable softwood pine. Certified plantation pine is fast-growing, cost-effective, and versatile with applications ranging from structural framing to decorative and industrial products.
‘New forestry’ also embraces innovation. Ground-breaking products, such as Hydrowood – ancient trees salvaged from the deep waters of Tasmania’s man-made dams – set new benchmarks. The Launceston based National Institute for Forests Product Innovation is leading the way with research.
Tasmania’s beautiful timbers are also being seen in a new light.
Craftsmen, designers and architects are promoting them as exclusive niche products. One example is the striking wooden camp on the Wukalina Walk, with huts lined in a veneer replicating bark, which is garnering international accolades.
The island state has 800,000 hectares of public production forest which is harvested for high quality sawlogs, veneer logs, and peeler logs. These forests are managed by Sustainable Timber Tasmania, formerly Forestry Tasmania, which also focuses on social and environmental values.
The Tasmanian Government is committed to sustainable forestry; and in 2017 it showed the way of the future, by adopting Australia’s first ‘wood-first policy’ which encourages new building construction out of responsibly sourced timber.
Forestry and beautiful timbers are entwined in Tasmania’s history and will continue to influence the way many people think about the State of islands for years to come.
Facts and figures
- Tasmania contains Australia’s largest tracts of cool temperate rainforest, with 82 per cent protected in reserves. Species-rich rainforest generally grows in areas receiving over 1,200mm of rain a year, but some isolated patches occur in much drier areas.
- The Wooden Boat Centre south of Hobart teaches traditional skills in the use of the native timbers that made Tasmanian ships eagerly sought after for centuries.
- The Tahune Airwalk enables visitors to walk 45m above the ground through the canopy of a mixed-use forest near the confluence of the Huon and Picton rivers south of Hobart.
- Tasmanian companies produce laminated timber beams and use them in engineering timber structures such as dome roofs, church roofs, footbridges, marinas, factory kits and house kits.
- The Tarkine Wilderness Experience, in 600ha of moist blackwood forest near Smithton, features boardwalks through a giant sinkhole where visitors can explore a fertile, self-regenerating swamp without getting their feet wet. There is a slide for the adventurous and many intriguing artworks.