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 tranquillity and their management has been the most divisive issue in Tasmanian society.
Forestry Tasmania, a state-owned corporation, controls 1.5 million ha of publicly owned forest, 73 per cent of which is managed for wood production. These working forests are all outside the 44.6 per cent of Tasmania’s land area that has been set aside for conservation purposes. Forestry Tasmania is often criticised, but it achieved Standards Australia endorsement in 2007 - following a three-year review - for the Australian Forestry Standard (ASF) it uses in managing native forests.
Private-sector operators, dominated by Gunns Ltd, have progressively shifted from native forest management to the expansion of eucalypt and exotic softwood plantations. Gunns manages 276,000ha of freehold land in Tasmania, but only 39,356ha of this is productive native forest. The company has set aside a greater area of its native forest holdings (45,000ha) for conservation purposes. In 2010, Gunns' major Japanese customers were granted Forest Stewardship Council approval for woodchips supplied from specific areas of Gunns' estate.
The economic contribution of the forest industry is six times greater in Tasmania than in
Tasmania's plantation timbers are somewhat less contentious, whether exported as woodchips or value-added locally in a variety of applications: innovative engineered products, flooring; and lightweight veneers for contemporary furniture for homes and offices.
Speciality timbers – mainly from the forest under-storey - are sought after by discerning buyers world-wide. Huon Pine grows only in Tasmania and deserves its cult status. The unique mellow tones that age to a luminous gold are used for furniture, carving and boat building. Myrtle from the temperate rainforest ranges in colour from light orange-pink through to a rich, almost crimson red. Celery-top pine’s colour variations are admired; the lightness and softness of King Billy pine revered by craft workers; the variations of blackwood and the swirling grain of sassafras all offer unique qualities to woodworkers. Contemporary furniture, delicate musical instruments, traditional wooden boats and striking craft objects are the outcome.
Forestry and woodworking are entwined in Tasmania’s history and continue to mould the way many people think about the state of islands.