Forestry and timber
Tasmania has extensive native hardwood forests dominated by about 30 species of eucalypts in forest types ranging from temperate rainforest to dry sclerophyll woodlands. There are also many valuable minor tree species. Forests account for almost 44 per cent of the State’s land area, or around 3 million hectares. Many of these forests are showplaces of biodiversity, natural beauty and tranquility and the management of some of them has been Tasmania’s most divisive issue.
The State contains Australia’s largest tracts of cool temperate rainforest, with 82 per cent of the total protected in reserves. There are significant eucalypt and softwood plantations.
Industrial-scale harvesting of native forests had been six times more important to the local economy than in Australia overall, but the sector had been struggling in 2013 when the Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA) reduced it by 50 per cent. The TFA, which had been negotiated during exhaustive talks between industry representatives, unions and conservation groups, intended to add more than 500,000ha to the Tasmanian World Heritage Area. This included tracts of old-growth forest deemed to have retained 'high conservation value' during generations of harvesting.
The Liberal Party campaigned in 2014 on a promise to rescind the TFA and restore the sector. It was elected with a significant majority and legislation to remove many effects of the TFA passed through Parliament.
However, 170,000ha of forest had already been added to the World Heritage Area, bringing reservation to around half of Tasmania's land area.
The bill to rescind the TFA included provision for the immediate selective harvesting of minor species in 400,000ha of the reserved forest. Special timbers – mainly from the forest under-storey – had emerged as an issue following the TFA. They are used to make contemporary furniture, delicate musical instruments, traditional wooden boats and striking craft objects that are sought after by discerning buyers world-wide. When key supply forests were locked up, local artisans became seriously concerned about supply.
The legislation also made industrial logging of the same 400,000ha of forests an option after 2020.
Two major processors, Britton Timbers and veneer producer Ta Ann Tasmania, had survived the sudden overall loss of resource under the TFA. Several companies continued to produce laminated timber beams, while a number of local sawmillers continued to operate. After the end of a severe downturn in Asian woodchip demand, small-scale exports resumed following the TFA.
The State Government is developing Australia’s first timber-first building policy, a concept that earned United Nations support in 2016. State projects will be encouraged to use more timber, while wood will be promoted as a first choice for construction, interior design and daily living. Innovative timber buildings at a new UTAS campus in Launceston are templates for this new thinking. The National Construction Code has changed to allow timber products, like cross-laminated timber, to be used in major building projects.
The Tasmanian Government has committed $1.25 million towards a Wood and Fibre Processing Innovation Program that will help drive new uses for wood and fibre, and broaden the use of timber and agricultural residues as value-added products.
Forestry Tasmania (FT), a government corporation, continues to manage State-owned working forests outside the reserve system for the supply of eucalypt, blackwood and other minor species timbers. FT also operates forest-based tourism businesses at the Tahune Airwalk, south of Hobart, and at Hollybank, near Launceston. Private operators manage the Tarkine Forest Adventures near Smithton, which was initially developed by FT.
Forestry and woodworking are entwined in Tasmania’s history and continue to influence the way many people think about the State of Islands.
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 canopy near the confluence of the Huon and Picton rivers south of Hobart.
- Tasmanian companies produce laminated timber beams and use them in engineering such timber structures 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.