The RIC Good Wood Guide

Australian Native Timbers - Use Your Discretion

- from the RIC Good Wood Project

As a general rule, The Goodwood Guide does not recommend the use of Australian native timbers from public forests...

One reason for this is that there is no commercial logging carried-out on a sustainable basis in the state forests of NSW, despite claims of NSW State Forests to the contrary. In most cases, the use of commercially-available native timber just helps to further deplete and devitalise our forest ecosytems. The most notable means of preventing this scenario is through the use of plantation-grown or salvaged native timber in place of old growth timber.

In an effort to encourage better forestry practices, the North East Forest Alliance and other environment groups, promote the production and use of sawlogs from regrowth forests, even though harvesting procedures are still far from ideal. They are advocating the use of regrowth forest for our timber needs in preference to logging old growth forests. Timber taken from regrowth forests is certainly more ethically-acceptable than that from old growth forest or other areas of high conservation value.

Unfortunately, once timber is sawn-up and sitting at a retail outlet, those pieces that are from regrowth forest are not easy to accurately differentiate from old growth timber. It is this difficulty, rather than a total aversion to any logging in our forests, which explains why we currently recommend the use of plantation pine in preference to native timbers.

An independent environmental certification and labelling system for timber in Australia could solve this difficulty, enabling consumers to choose timber from well-managed regrowth forest or from native species plantations.

White Cypress Pine

This is a durable softwood timber often seen as flooring, decking and weatherboards in old houses. Although not a true pine as such, Cypress has similar appearance to trees of the Pinus1 species. It has been successfully grown commercially in South Africa for about 80 years, but there are no Cypress plantations established in Australia.

'Cypress Pine' is a collective name for several native Australian tree species of the genus Callitris (Callitris glauca, Callitris columellaris, etc). Of these, White Cypress is the main commercially-exploited tree. (Small quantities of Black Cypress [Callitris endlicheri] are also logged). It is obtained from the semi-arid areas of north-western NSW and central southern Queensland. Commercial quantities of the timber mostly come from state forests. Foresters justify the ongoing harvesting of Cypress from native forests due to its ability to vigorously regenerate from seed dispersed by 'seed trees' which are reserved from logging2.

Some Cypress may also originate from land cleared for grazing. Where this occurs, the constant grazing of livestock prevents any natural forest regeneration.

Unless the source is known to be ethical, Cypress Pine is not therefore recommended. Timber-users in Southern Qld may be able to locate acceptable private sources of Cypress - for example, from areas dedicated to Cypress production, where cattle are excluded and the natural biodiversity of the forest is not jeopardised.

Cypress is a useful, durable timber, as it has a natural resistance to insect attack. Resistance to termites is a particularly attractive quality. It can be used for decking, flooring or structural uses, but generally we recommend that consumers avoid use of the timber.

Mallee Timber

Mallee timber comes from various deep-rooted, small-in-stature trees eucalypt species. There are certainly no plantations of any of them, since they are so small and slow-growing. The Mallee regions of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland are fragile, semi-arid environments, which have been severely damaged by clearing and grazing. In the past, these areas were cleared to obtain Mallee Roots, often used for firewood, and Broombrush (Melaleuca uncinata), which is used for brush fencing. The taking of Broombrush at one time constituted the greatest threat to theVictorian Mallee wilderness. Mallee Roots are much-prized by woodworkers. Their purchase, along with Broombrush, should be avoided unless commercially-grown on previously cleared farmland.

Karri and Jarrah

(to be updated)

1. The many Pinus species are native to countries in America, Europe, Asia and Africa, but not Australia.

2. It is a great shame that Australia does not already have substantial quantities of plantation Cypress. Foresters to date have considered it to be unsuitable as a plantation species, due to its tendency to "lock-up" - ie, for each Cypress tree to put out an exudate through its roots and leaves which inhibits the growth and dominance of its neighbours, thus stalling the overall growth of the whole population. Cypress is not a natural monoculture tree, however. When European settlers first arrived, they would most likely have found Cypress species forming part of an open woodland mix with Eucalyptus and other species. In such a natural forest situation, Cypress would be less prone to antagonising its neighbours, because they would more than likely be of a different species and therefore not a "threat" to its existence. It may be that we have not given the species a chance to demonstrate its growth potential.

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