Making Plantations the Growth Industry

Ecos, July-September 1999 | Go to article overview

Making Plantations the Growth Industry


Dr Glen Kile forsees a future in which sustainability grows on trees, thanks to continuing advances in forest and plantation management practices.

Looking into the crystal ball, I foresee increasing public support for production forestry in coming decades, with a greater emphasis on plantations. With larger areas of native forest protected in reserves, and less land clearing for agriculture, loss of forest habitat should become less of an issue. At the same time, the environmental benefits of growing trees will be increasingly recognised.

Developments around the world and in Australia have set the scene for change. Internationally, a Forests Convention is under consideration and initiatives such as the Montreal Process are developing sustainable management principles for forests. Clearing of natural forest still occurs at an unacceptable rate in many countries and particularly in the tropics -- the current global estimate is about 15 million hectares a year -- but pressure is building to halt the destruction from uncontrolled exploitation. Some developing countries have already taken decisive action: India has banned wood harvesting from native forests and China has imposed a similar ban in the Yangtse River basin.

In Australia, the implementation of management systems based on principles of ecological sustainability is proceeding through the Regional Forest Agreement process, updating of Codes of Forest Practice and other strategies. An encouraging aspect of all this activity has been requests from the Federal and state governments for extensive scientific input. Interest among policy-makers in obtaining scientific information has been noticeably greater in the 90s than in earlier years, and CSIRO is heavily involved in providing it.

Scientific developments in recent years have helped to make sustainability more than a mere catchword, and ways to monitor it are improving rapidly. Ongoing research will further enhance the ability of forest managers to preserve biodiversity and other environmental values.

For example, developments in remote sensing from satellites and aircraft are making it possible to more accurately measure the extent of forest cover and monitor the health and productivity of the trees and understorey. Even the suitability of areas for different types of wildlife can be assessed. Remote sensing technologies are improving rapidly; the increasing resolution available will raise their value in forest management planning and monitoring.

Biotechnology also has much to offer. Using genetic `markers', scientists can now measure the genetic diversity within a tree species and its distribution through the tree's natural range. The resulting knowledge is valuable for conservation management, and can aid the selection and breeding of trees for plantations. Researchers are making use of such information in developing strategies for planting spotted gum (Eucalyptus maculata) in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Another important application of genetic markers is in assessing the effects of harvesting and regeneration systems on forest genetic diversity. A recent pioneering study concluded that forest management practices in East Gippsland are unlikely to adversely affect the genetic diversity of silvertop ash (E. sieberi).

In native forests, a growing proportion of timber production is likely to come from relatively small areas of managed regrowth. Research has shown that yields can be increased greatly, and ongoing work will refine management systems for sustainable high productivity.

The trend, though, will be for an ever-increasing proportion of wood production to come from plantations of introduced pines and, increasingly, native species - mainly eucalypts and acacias. …

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