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Forests - New South Wales, Australia

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There are approximately 14.4 million hectares of forests and woodlands in NSW. It covers 18% of the total land mass but this is less than half of the forested areas before European colonisation. NSW forests represent about a third of Australia's total existing forested area and just under 1% of the world's forests.

New South Wales is one of the most environmentally diverse parts on earth. Many different landscapes that can be found across this state such as rainforests, deserts, mangrove swamps, eucalypt forests, alpine herbfields, coastal heaths, grasslands. There are well over two hundred distinct forest communities, ranging from several kinds of rainforest to drier sclerophyll forests with open canopies. Of the 98 genera of primitive angiosperms and gymnosperms in Australia, 42 occur in Northern New South Wales and Southeast Queensland.

Under a fifth of NSW's surviving native forests are in secure reserves under the management of the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. A similar area is under control of the Forestry Commission of NSW. Most of the remaining area consists of forests or woodlands that are low in timber value and unsuitable for logging. The State and Federal Government targets requires that at least 15% of each forest type based on pre-European forest cover to be reserved. NSW falls well short of this. This is especially a dire predicament for rare forest types, most of which have been diminished to small, unviable fragments.


At the time of the first white settlement in New South Wales in 1788, most of the coast, tablelands, western slopes and plains supported a forest cover varying from dense to sparse. As NSW became the first Australian state to be discovered by Captain Cook, it also became the first state where clearing began. As the first European settlers set foot in NSW, clearing had began to make room for farming and development.

For the next hundred years, the forests suffered a progressively intensifying assault from two quarters. In one quarter, the forest was seen as an inexhaustible source of wood for local or export needs. In another quarter, a people in need of food, either for local use or as a source of exports, saw the forests only as an obstacle to the cultivation of the soil and the grazing of domestic animals.

However, by 1870 there was concern that the poorly controlled cutting of trees on crown land would soon leave no land for permanent production of wood. To save areas of good quality forest from settlement so that the commercial timber would not be destroyed, reserves for the preservation of timber were first made in 1871. It could be said that the first step by forestry in Australia towards forest conservation had been taken in that year.

Government's performance on this issue

When Bob Carr became the NSW Premier in March 1995, he promised to 'save the forests'. The beginning seemed promising with the Government undertaking welcome steps - an interim ban was put on wilderness logging, old growth logging was reduced (but not ended), some significant new National Park was declared and the implementation a moratorium to protect those forest thought to be the most important. The Carr Government had also promised to end woodchipping by 2000.

Despite Carr's personal promise to a healthier environment, NSW has seen a notable decrease in each of its important resources: air, native vegetation, water and soil. The clearest failure of the Carr Government is the inability of their policies and strategies to deliver outcomes for the State's natural heritage:

  • Land clearing approvals 80,000+ ha/yr

  • Areas revegetated over the three year reporting period were estimated at 1591 ha

  • Inland rivers were on the point of ecological collapse, exceeding recommended levels of algae, phosphorus, turbidity

  • Ozone levels were dangerously high and the potential for human health risk from exposure, particularly in Western Sydney was high

Nevertheless in 2000, the NSW Government granted official approval to the clearing of approximately 78,000ha of native vegetation. Thousands of hectares more were destroyed under exemptions and illegally, due to poor enforcement of clearing control laws.

The Carr Government is planning to clearfell and woodchip the Badja State Forest. Badja is the largest old growth forest in NSW and contains more threatened species than any other tableland or escarpment forest in Southern NSW. Logging will begin soon in Badja State Forest. Despite Premier Bob Carr's promise to protect this State's significant old growth forests, his Forestry Minister Kim Yeadon is planning to log this icon biodiversity hot spot with a total disregard for Bob Carr's stated policies. Badja is part of a long-standing community reserve proposal which was left unprotected in April 2000's Southern Forest decision by the Carr Government. The Government also broke the 1995 promise to discontinue export woodchipping by the year 2000 and now we find woodchipping driving the destruction of this precious area.

On June 2001, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) claimed that the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, Richard Amery, had failed to obtain more than three 'fair' grades for his role in decreasing the alarming rates of land clearing in NSW (estimated to be as high as 100,000 hectares per year). NCC has constantly argued that land clearing is the most vital environmental and economic issue facing regional NSW, given its impact on salinity, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and biodiversity loss. NCC rated the Minister's performance and the performance of the State Government across a range of criteria seen as crucial to bring land clearing under control in NSW. Of these criteria, the Minister had a failing grade in the rate of land clearing, his response to salinity, biodiversity loss, compliance with the Native Vegetation Act, and long term projections for native vegetation loss. The Minister is still rejecting the actuality of a problem despite evidence from within his own Department, and despite information such as the latest NSW State of the Environment Report that identifies land clearing as one of the most damaging forces facing the State today.

The Causes of Clearing


Fire is a significant modifier of the Australian environment, but since European settlement fire regimes have changed dramatically. Before European settlement, several small fires occurred throughout each year. After settlement, this pattern changed to large, infrequent summer fires that had a homogenizing effect on the vegetation. Smaller fires left small pieces of land in different stages of recovery, giving more habitat and food variety for the wildlife, as opposed to one big, less diverse environment that can not support as much wildlife.


Kimberley water plant and Forests - new south wales, australia. Image by Information for Action, a website for conservation and environmental issues offering solutions

At present, clearing is largely taking place in the Coolabah-Black box woodland of the Darling Riverine Plains Bioregion (Moree-Walgett/Nyngan regions) for wheat and cotton, and Riverina Bioregion for rice. Clearing on a smaller scale occurs elsewhere, for example for pine plantations on the south-western slopes, for eucalypt plantations on the north coast and for cropping in the Western Division.


The introduction of millions of sheep and cattle along with feral animals (eg goats, rabbits) has led to a huge decrease in native vegetation. In the last century and early this century, huge sections of NSW were over-grazed. As a consequence of removing groundcover, sheet and gully soil erosion is occurring. Although the management of grazing has improved, most vegetation remnants west of the Great Dividing Range have been affected by stock grazing at some period and this is likely to continue to be a problem. Continuous grazing hinders the regeneration of plants and replenishment of new vegetation.

Logging and mining

Many areas on both public and private land have been significantly altered due to intensive and frequent logging. Approximately 43% of forests have been cleared between 1788-1995. As a result of unsustainable logging and firewood cutting practices, the age structure and viability of many forests and woodlands have been dramatically altered. Coastal sand mining that occurred between 1950s - 1980s disturbed huge sectors of coastal dune vegetation including littoral rainforest.

Urban expansion

Urban expansion of cities and towns has resulted in the destruction of vegetation and the secondary impacts of weed invasion, nutrification and other pollution of waterways from urban sources. Intensive recreational activities have also assisted the destruction of vegetation and pollution of waterways.

The Costs of Clearing

In some regions of NSW, such as the Central woodland belt, up to 90% of the original vegetation cover has already been cleared for agriculture. This is the area where NSW is now experiencing rapid decline in biodiversity, and massive land degradation. Some vegetation types, such as the box woodlands of the South West Slopes, have been almost fully removed. Yet land clearing continues, with 61% of all clearing in NSW occurring in the central woodland belt of NSW. The remaining extent of native vegetation is also being severely depleted through timber extraction for firewood and fencing. As a result woodland birds and tree-dwelling mammals, such as possums and gliders, are in serious decline.

The following describes the current state of native vegetation in the various regions of NSW:

  • Eastern Division: Figures show that the comparitively least disturbed ecosystems is located on the Eastern Escarpment and on the less productive soils of the coast. Nevertheless, coastal areas have a high proportion of cleared land.

  • North East: 51% has been cleared, and 26% of the remaining vegetation is hugely disturbed.

  • South East: 51% has been cleared and 11% of the remaining vegetation is disturbed.

  • Central West: Up to 90% has already been cleared. Remnants are mainly small and isolated. For example, in the Forbes-Cargello district, only 16% of the original vegetation remain. Of this, 83% shows signs of grazing, 60% shows evidence of damage by feral animals, and 70% has been partially cleared.

  • Western Division: Although about 90% of vegetation cover remains, much has been dramatically altered due to intensive grazing by stock and feral animals. On the eastern boundary of the Western Division, there is substantial clearing due to cropping.

Most clearing are undertaken in catchments that already have large regions affected by salinity or have been identified as having high salinity risk. Clearing approvals are being given without reference to salinity risk. Dire scenarios for the next 50 years have been predicted. These predictions suggest that we will see an 8 fold increase in the area at risk from salinity in the Murray Darling Basin. Much of this is productive agricultural land that is now being used for grazing and cropping. The cost, in terms of lost production and rehabilitation, for rural communities and NSW as a whole is massive.


The Conservation Reserve Proposal

This proposal, developed by conservation groups and organisations, gives a comprehensive solution for protecting NSW forests in a viable manner, for most parties concerned.

The proposal:

    Black brack and Forests - New South Wales, Australia. Image by Information for Action, a website for conservation and environmental issues offering solutions
  • accomplishes a comprehensive reserve system by adding about 50,000 hectares of State Forests to the National Park System

  • promotes ecologically sustainable forest industries and other sustainable employment

  • provides for effective public participation in forest management

  • responds to vast community support for native forest conservation

  • meets the Government's commitment to a viable sawmilling industry by providing 20,000 m3 of sawlogs.

A summary of the proposal can be seen at the South East Conservation Council Website:

The Carr Government needs to embrace this proposal.

Tourism in Wilderness Areas

In recent years, the huge potential economic benefits of native forests as tourists attractions has become evident. As the number of wilderness areas of the planet continue to diminish, the value of these forests is only likely to increase over time. Given the waning employment in the hardwood (native forest) timber industry and other extractive rural industries, tourism is becoming a progressively more viable alternative for the significant wilderness areas of NSW.

End Woodchipping of Native Forests

Woodchipping has produced a voracious demand for timber (and not only low grade timber), yet contributes remarkably little to the economy in terms of employment or tax revenue. The majority of the Australian public is against woodchipping with opinion polls repeatedly showing that over 80% of Australians oppose woodchipping of native forests.

Woodchipping is becoming more and more responsible for maintaining and even increasing the unsustainable logging of native forests. The glaring reality is that woodchip mills now supplies the only growing market for wood from NSW native forests.

NSW conservation groups has long argued that the wood needed by the pulpmills should be provided from plantations, recycled fibre or other sources - not from the precious native forests.

Premier Bob Carr needs to fulfil his promise to end the woodchipping of native forests!


Tree and Forests - New South Wales, Australia. Image by Information for Action, a website for conservation and environmental issues offering solutions

NSW's native forest-based timber industry has been successful in scaring the public with tales of mass unemployment that would occur unless it retains logging rights to public native forests. But this is utter nonsense!

The reality is that plantations have already overtaken native forests as the main source of timber from the States forests - and the dominant employer within the timber industry. Whereas the native forest sector of NSW's timber industry is in long-term decline and has been shedding jobs for many decades, the plantations sector is experiencing extraordinary expansion.

The NSW Government needs to pour more money into the expanding plantation-based industry and less money into the waning native forest sector.

What you can do

Support NSW forest conservation groups by donating your money to them or by volunteering your time to help their cause.

Make sure the timber you buy are from a plantation. Do not buy timber products that have come from the logging of native forests.

Recycle all your discarded paper. Make sure you use paper that is recycled.


Green Sowers solutions


Search our database for the contact details of organizations and green groups directly addressing Forests in NSW, Australia.

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