Most of the blackwood timber currently available comes from the harvesting of public native forest in Tasmania. Timber harvested from Tasmania’s public native forest is currently certified under the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) which is recognised by the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). Does this mean there is a sustainable supply of blackwood timber from these forests? Not one that I can yet determine!
Anyone interested in understanding the issue in more detail is encouraged to read the Forestry Tasmania Special Timbers Strategy 2010 (8.7MB pdf). Pages 16-21 of this report are particularly relevant. Table 2 on page 21 of this report provides the current estimate of the annual sustainable supply of blackwood from public native forest in Tasmania with an figure of 10,000 cubic metres of Category 4 and Utility sawlog. This estimate in fact comes from a 1999 report:
Forestry Tasmania (1999). Review of the sustainable blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) sawlog supply from Tasmanian state forest. Forestry Tasmania, Hobart.
This brief 10 page report is not publically available and for copyright reasons I cannot make it available. The 1999 report does not appear to be part of any corporate management process since:
- The 1999 report in fact states that the current estimate of sustainable annual blackwood sawlog harvest is 8,500 cubic metres until approximately 2030 (p. 8), when production from IFM blackwood and blackwood plantations was expected to become available to boost annual supply to 10,000 cubic metres.
- From what I understand the 880 ha blackwood plantations established by Forestry Tasmania have in fact been written off as having failed, and the actual performance of the IFM blackwood program has yet to be reported.
- Forestry Tasmania does not separately report its blackwood production, either in total or by supply zone, so the accuracy or veracity of the 1999 report cannot be assessed. Instead blackwood production is included in the total Special Species production figures.
- The 1999 Report states that the 1996 Regional Forest Agreement had already set an annual production target of 10,000 cubic metres of blackwood sawlog per year.
- Since 2000 the annual special species sawlog production by Forestry Tasmania has averaged 15,900 cubic metres, which is 27% above any official estimate of sustainable yield.
- The 1999 report provides almost no detail on how the blackwood sustainable yield estimate was determined nor any estimate of its accuracy. There is no estimate of current standing blackwood volume by age/size-class/forest type, and little discussion about the growth models used to predict future volumes.
- The 1999 report does not include any verification or performance process or reporting to determine the accuracy or veracity of the sustainable yield estimate. The report does provide for a review of blackwood sustainable yield estimate in 2007 which as far as I’m aware never happened.
Therefore the transparent process of planning, executing, managing, reviewing and reporting the sustainable blackwood sawlog production from public native forest is clearly not up to the task, and the current estimate of 10,000 cubic metres of blackwood sawlog in the 2010 Strategy appears to be in error.
In summary even before the current changes associated with the Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA) have been implemented, the situation with the public blackwood resource was anything but clear, with actual production over the past 13 years almost double the estimated sustainable yield.
Sustainable supply << production target << actual production.
A review of the sustainable blackwood sawlog supply from Tasmanian public forest and the associated management and review processes is urgently needed. A review of the supply estimate is currently proposed under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement but not any review of the associated management processes, unless these are addressed as part of the FSC application.
It may take 12 months to 2 years before the next post-TFA estimate of sustainable blackwood sawlog supply from public native forest is available. Will it again be superseded by another production target? What will be the relationship between blackwood theory and blackwood practice?
If the management of commercial blackwood production from public native forest is in need of improvement, then the blackwood timber resource on private land in Tasmania is in an even worse situation. There is no estimate of current standing volume, and while harvest volumes are comparatively low a significant but unknown extent of the current harvesting occurs outside private forestry regulation and control due to its small scale. Blackwood is very common and widespread on private land in Tasmania, but the resource is basically unmanaged and as such any harvesting of private blackwood cannot currently be considered sustainable.
Timber harvesting on private land in Tasmania is regulated by the Forest Practices Authority, while annual private forest harvest statistics are published in the Annual Reports of Private Forests Tasmania. Unfortunately the harvest statistics do not list by separate species so there are no official private blackwood harvest statistics.
Only a very small number of private forest owners in Tasmania currently have certification under either the Australian Forestry Standard or the Forest Stewardship Council.
The public resource is supposed to be managed to provide both a commercially (approximately consistent supply over time) and ecologically sustainable supply of blackwood timber. By comparison the hundreds of small private blackwood growers can only individually manage their resources to achieve an ecological sustainable supply. The commercial supply from private growers will vary over time according to availability. A growers cooperative would increase that availability.
Therefore any current claims of a sustainable blackwood timber supply from Tasmania must be treated with caution.
With the blackwood industry standing on such demonstrably shakey ground it’s future is looking very uncertain. What is certain is that production from the public native forest will drop dramatically with the implementation of the TFA. This should have a dramatic positive impact on blackwood sawlog prices, and provide a major commercial opportunity for existing and potential private blackwood growers.
The TFA may address some of the current problems with the public blackwood resource; but this proposal to establish a Blackwood Growers Cooperative is the only know plan to improve the situation with the private blackwood resource. Private blackwood growers provide the only opportunity to rebuild Tasmania’s iconic blackwood industry. The coop will help put Australia’s premier timber species onto a fully commercial, certified and sustainable footing.
Is anyone interested? Comments welcome.