Blackwood – the yet-to-be sustainable tonewood

Blackwood also is sourced from forests that are responsibly managed, making it a sustainable wood for guitar making.”

Guitar

This is a quote I recently found in a newsletter published by a major guitar maker.

Regular readers of this blog will understand that “responsible” and “sustainable” are not words I would use to describe blackwood management and production in Tasmania. Not yet anyway.

Not that blackwood is in danger of becoming extinct as a species. Far from it. But in the next 2-3 years it will become commercially extinct; that is the wood volumes available for harvesting will drop to levels that only allow a craft industry to persist. But the forest industry is not yet prepared to admit this disaster, and is currently heading in the opposite direction required to fix the problem.

Nor am I implying deception on the part of the guitar maker. It is easy to be swayed by the official forest industry information into thinking that all is well. But you don’t need to scratch hard to begin finding problems.

Most blackwood timber comes from the harvesting of public native forests that have been the subject of increasingly bitter community conflict over the past 30 years. These forests are managed by the Government forest agency Forestry Tasmania. Blackwood is also a common tree on farmland across northern Tasmania, and while there is a small amount of blackwood timber harvested from private land most farmers do not regard their blackwood as having any commercial value. The forest industry here has traditionally been a Government dominated closed shop so most farmers know not to bother growing trees for wood production.

But the only possibility for restoring responsible, sustainable blackwood supply back to commercial levels is from private land. And the blackwood industry (including guitar makers) needs to understand, appreciate and openly support this.

In three recent blogs I discussed in detail the numerous issues that the blackwood industry currently faces around the public blackwood resource and State forest policy, some of which directly hinder the development of the private blackwood industry. These include:

  • Long term overcutting of the resource;
  • Poor resource management;
  • Major decline in supply in the next 2-3 years;
  • Failed new resource initiatives;
  • Non-profit taxpayer-subsidised business model;
  • Anti-competitive sales and pricing processes;
  • Lack of market competition and transparency.

Meanwhile the blackwood industry sits quietly on it’s hands and says nothing, hoping that a fairy godmother will soon arrive and fix this ungodly mess. Certainly no farmer or anyone else will invest in blackwood under these conditions.

Tasmanian blackwood could be a sustainable tonewood supplying international markets. It is a recognised premium tonewood. It is fast growing. The establishment of a plantation program could see a selection and breeding strategy commenced to grow the best possible blackwood for the tonewood market. But not yet. Under current policy and practice Tasmanian blackwood timber production is anything but responsible and sustainable.

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