The Plantation Future for Hoop & Bunya Pines & Mixed Species Plantations
Sydney Blue Gum Growing Trees with Treated Effluent
NSW State Forests 1 (ex Forestry Commission) defines a Eucalypt Plantation 2 as "an area that has been established after full site-clearing, with full or at least good stocking of Eucalypts, by planting or direct-sowing of seed". The definition includes "land which was previously cleared for farming". This does not always appear to be the reality, however...
Many State-managed plantations in NSW were planted amidst the burned ruins of the original forest after it had been logged. Forest regeneration was and is then controlled for selective species and maximum timber-yield, turning wild forest into tree farms, leading to loss of biodiversity. The predominant species in these plantations are Blackbutt, Flooded Gum, Blue Leaved Stringybark, Silvertop Stringybark and Sydney Bluegum 3.
The still-current practice of "species-shift" plantation-establishment is by no means an acceptable method. The species-shift method involves firstly the extraction of a majority of viable sawlogs and then leaving seed-producing trees of only desired species. Fire is used to kill-off all other unwanted species, leaving only the very few adult specimens to propagate themselves and thus replace the original, diverse forest ecosystem with a virtual monoculture. This attack on the biodiversity of our native forests is still continuing!
quote from Permaculture Journal, October 1982
CURRENTLY, THE MOST ETHICALLY-ACCEPTABLE NATIVE TIMBER IS GROWN IN PLANTATIONS ESTABLISHED ON DEGRADED FARMLAND 4
Only plantations in the forest-management area of Urunga-Coffs Harbour are reclaimed farmland. Other plantations have been grown on cleared native forest.
The Coffs Harbour-Urunga area is located on the NSW mid-North Coast. Plantations here are situated in both coastal and hinterland forest, but the majority of the plantations are located at lower elevations in the coastal environment. In 1958, Australian Paper Manufacturers established Flooded Gum plantations on land that had previously been used for dairy farming in the Coffs-Urunga Area. Sydney Blue Gum and Blackbutt are also grown in plantations in these areas.
UNFORTUNATELY, A LOT OF PLANTATION EUCALYPT IS GENERALLY USED ONLY FOR PULP AND PALLETS 5
The timber industry is currently being subjected to enormous public pressure to make more plantation and regrowth forest sawn timber and veneers available. The industry is slow to respond, despite the efforts of State Forests to encourage full utilisation of all millable/processable plantation timber. Their collective problem is that the industry, as it is now structured, is reluctant to invest time and energy because of the difficulty of competing pricewise with imports of rainforest timber, oregon and pine.
It was never originally conceived that, with this continent's potentially vast and once-verdant tree-growing areas, we would ever find it necessary (let alone more economically viable) to import non-durable pine, etc, from other countries!
The most shocking consequence of this bizarre scenario, is that many BIG, centralised hardwood sawmills are appeasing their apparently insatiable appetites by continuing to cut old growth timber from the nearby, last-remaining native forests. All the while, large quantities of utilisable softwood plantation timber - often within a 100-kilometre radius of the mills, is wasted because of the miller's inability or reluctance to move the operation and/or adapt machinery to process and market softwood and simultaneously compete with the cheaper, imports of Asian, South American and New Zealand softwoods.
There is a fear in the environment movement that our new-found appreciation of the aesthetic and structural qualities of Australian hardwoods could stimulate demand for these timbers locally and from overseas. With plantation supplies being inadequate, this could lead to even more rapid destruction of our ancient forests.
In 1982, the then Forestry Commission decided to discontinue its hardwood plantation programme, as it was deemed by a Government Taskforce that the cost of establishment was too high and the operation could no longer be justified on economic grounds. (Cheap imports again!) Eucalypt plantations were from then on managed as native forest areas (until recently, when eucalypt stands were reclassified as plantations). Consequently we have a big gap in our eucalypt inventory in NSW. However, a new assessment has begun, which will work out how much eucalypt plantations we do have and their relative value.
Supply of native plantation timber should increase in the future, as the State Government in 1993 injected six million dollars into the establishment of Eucalypt plantations in a targetted total area of 10,000 hectares. In early 1995, NSW State Forests allocated $200 million towards expanding total plantation area by a further 37,000 hectares, with 13,500 hectares of this to be for eucalypt species.
At this stage, it is unlikely that we will see any expansion of the Hoop and Bunya plantation estate unless it is through private initiatives or requested by the landowner-partner under State Forests' Joint Venture Scheme.
If you are involved in this scheme, State Forests is going to plant virtual monocultures of eucalypt species on your land, unless specifically told to plant mixed species and/or native softwoods. This is in part because they are trying to increase the plantation estate of (monoculture-grown and clearfelled) eucalypts as a first priority, and secondly, because they don't have much of a track record to go by when it comes to mixed species plantation establishment. Admittedly, they also have little or no research data upon which to base an innovative strategy, but there have been precedents established by Qld Forestry, who have conducted trials of more than one species.
Too many State Forest monoculture plantings are getting sick and dying, because their very lack of diversity leaves them wide open to attack by root fungi such as phytophthora. This fungus attacks hardwood and softwood monocultures alike.
The Northern Rivers-based Subtropical Farm Forestry Association 6 has made submissions to State Forests regarding the planting of rainforest cabinet timber species in Joint Venture projects.
ARE THERE ANY MIXED-SPECIES PLANTATIONS?
The Good Wood Guide recommends the purchase and use of mixed species plantation timber over that derived from monoculture plantations. At this stage, there is no record of the whereabouts of any mixed species plantations - mainly because very few exist. The Queensland Forest Service 7 apparently has some, consisting of two or three species only, in the Gympie area.
SYDNEY BLUE GUM - from a letter from Dailan Pugh
Sydney Blue Gum is an eucalypt extending from the south-east corner of Queensland to near Bateman's Bay in southern NSW, with most of its distribution in north-east NSW. It is typically a species of rainforest ecotones, often with a rainforest understorey and sometimes as an emergent in rainforest. Though it also occurs in drier stands. Often occurs in association with other species, notably Brush Box and Tallowwood.
Generally the forest types within which it occurs are the most problematic to achive regeneration in, sometimes rainforest takes over but often weeds (notably lantana) dominate the understorey. Tens of thousands of hectares of these forest types are currently suffering dieback initiated by sap-sucking psyllids associated with the territorial Bell Miner. Dieback is related to the disturbances associated with logging. Blue Gum is the most succeptible species to dieback. I have seen large areas of dead and dying Blue Gum stems over a weedy understorey as a result of logging. Despite being aware of the dieback problem since the 1950's, State forests are not prepared to alter their management to avoid the problem - their preferred course is to continue logging until only dead trees remain, bulldoze clear the area and plant with non-susceptible species (usually non-indigenous species). Of course the ecosystem is totally destroyed in this process.
We have just been through a forest assessment process in which reservation targets (based upon 15% of the pre-European extent of each ecosystem) were set for each ecosystem. These targets were meant to be achieved in the "formal reserve" system. The Governments included "informal reserves" and "protection by prescription" (which presumably means they can still be logged) in their assessment of target achievement. Sydney Blue Gum occurs in a variety of ecosystems - some of which met targets and some didn't. for example in the upper north east:
Central Mid Elevation Sydney Blue Gum - 72% of target met
Mid North Coast Wet Brushbox-Tallowwood-Blue Gum - target met
Mixed Moist Hardwood - 40% of target met
Northern Grassy Sydney Blue Gum - 87% of target met
Northern Wet Tallowwood-Blue Gum - target met
Open Silvertop Stringybark-Blue Gum - target met
South Coast Tallowwood-Blue Gum - target met
This means that some Sydney Blue Gum will be comming from inadequately reserved ecosystems (no matter how vaguely assessed). Most oldgrowth on public lands is now protected, though there are significant areas still available for logging. There is still no protection for oldgrowth on private lands. So the Sydney Blue Gum may be sourced from oldgrowth, though it is more likely not to be. I need to know the source area to be able to ascertain this.
In addition to this the NSW and Commonwealth Government's set quotas for large sawlogs from public lands in north-east NSW at over 50% higher than the volumes they estimated to be sustainable over a 100 year period. My reviews of the data indicate they have grossly over-estimated the volumes available. At the current rate of logging, I expect public forests in north-east nsw to be virtually logged-out for large sawlogs within 10 years. Private forests are in a more parlous state, with no code of practice applying and over-logging widespread.
So, in summary, Sydney Blue Gum is most likely to come from unsustainably managed forests, which are likely to suffer major regeneration problems, may also come from inadequately reserved ecosystems and could be comming from oldgrowth. I can provide detailed information to back these assertions up if required - though it would help if both the supplier and the source area were known.
Not a very wonderful concept from the aesthetic point of view, perhaps. But maybe it's time we changed our attitude to our so-called bodily 'wastes'.
Several Local Governments in NSW have implemented effluent management plans which involve tree growing as a direct means of creating useful and valuable timbers 8, oils and stockfeed products - all from the nutrients in human waste.
Sewage outfalls need to become a thing of the past! All the high technology sewage treatment in the world is meaningless unless it can help make use of what is a valuable resource. Our body wastes should not be wasted!
The technology exists to enable Sydney Water authorities to contemplate using water which is the potable byproduct of sewage treatment in Sydney's supply of drinking water. Likewise, tertiary-treated sewage can now be considered a valuable nutrient source for tree growing, as well as a construction material.
Other countries have had their successes and failures with the reintroduction of sewage waste to the soil. Farmers and residents from Ohio in the U.S. suffered disastrous health consequences from having improperly treated sewage effluent dumped on local farmlands and landfills 9. This was in part due to the U.S. Congress having banned ocean dumping in 1992 without mandating safe alternatives.
Effective and safe effluent management regimes have been used in China and elsewhere for many centuries. Egypt and Hawaii (see above) have implemented safe effluent irrigation programs for plantation trees. Studies have been carried out in the Wagga district of NSW in this regard, as well10.
1. See under Government Departments, in the Directory.
2. Sadly, there are next to no commercial, mixed-species eucalypt plantations in Australia. Most mixed-species plantings to date have been comprised of slower growing but more valuable cabinet timber species. There is a bit of a bureaucratice panic on at the moment to get massive amounts of eucalypts planted and producing in NSW. This may make it even harder for the concept of mixed-species management (and a harvest program which precludes clearfelling) to gain acceptance among orthodox foresters. Some very successful trial co-plantings of Bunya Pine and Qld Maple in Queensland by QFS are an indicator of the possibilities of more bio-diverse plantations, however (see also point 7, below).
3. See under Australian-grown Plantation Species.
4. Plantations established on degraded farmland, etc, are the way to go; but merely replacing a pasture-grass monoculture with an exotic tree monoculture will only serve to perpetuate the existence of an 'ecological desert'. Neglected weedy pasture is at least able to grow ever more biodiverse. Even in the interim, all new plantations must be of mixed species and only selectively logged at maturity (see point 7).
5. Sawmillers in NSW, as in most other states, lack the necessary milling equipment/technology to process smaller logs - whether softwood or hardwood. As a result, a lot of plantation timber is presently used only for low-value applications, such as pallets and crates. This is because millers have either not been encouraged or cannot afford to adapt their processing methods to better utilise smaller logs such as from plantation thinnings.
Therefore, they still only have equipment suitable for cutting big logs from old growth forests. Due to unsustainable practices in the past, we no longer have sufficient 'big logs for big mills'. Consumers wanting to buy sawn hardwood timber presently do not have a huge amount of options if they wish to avoid buying old growth timber (refer to the list Australian Grown Plantation Species).
6. See under Agroforestry Groups - Non Profit (refer also to the SFFA Newsletter, Feb '96; see also Books, Agroforestry)
7. In Australia, the Queensland Forest Service (QFS) is one of the main proponents of mixed species plantations, albeit on a limited scale. They still use chemicals, such as Roundup and/or Atrazine, however.
QFS has begun a program of establishment of a mixed species plantation, which is presently underway on degraded farming land in North Queensland - under the Commonwealth-State Community Rainforest Reforestation Program. Others may follow - in South East Queensland, for example. (The intention is apparently to eventually plant-out 30,000 hectares.)
NSW State Forests appears uninterested in mixed species plantings in its own right, but has created a Joint Venture Scheme with private landholders which hopefully will lead to at least some public, mixed-species plantation enterprise in our state. Greening Australia and the Subtropical Farm Forestry Association (SFFA) have each begun research on mixed species plantation viability in NSW by establishing test plantings and demonstration sites.
8. Mainly eucalypts have been trialled for this purpose in NSW.
9. Refer to the article in the June '96 issue of E Magazine, 'The Sludging of America' - see Books, Journals.
10. See also Groundwater and the Community by B. Myers et al - on the environmental implications for groundwater of effluent irrigation of plantations in the Wagga district. See Books, Plantations.