1. RECYCLED TIMBER OR NON-TIMBER MATERIALS
Use recycled timber in preference to new timber whenever possible. A wide variety of recycled timbers are available. They can be used for a much broader range of building applications and are often more sound, efficient and durable than can, say, plantation softwoods.
Use natural non-timber materials, such as mudbrick, rammed earth, cob, clay, bamboo, hemp, etc - in preference, whenever possible, to energy-intensive, newly manufactured materials such as steel, concrete, aluminium, glass, plastic, etc. (See Non Timber Building Materials, in the section Building Without Timber).
2. PLANTATION TIMBER
i. Certified timber from a 'well managed' plantation
'Well managed' according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles [see footnote]. This could be either softwood or hardwood species, and can be considered the most ethical form of harvested timber. (Note that there are no certified timber sources in Australia yet, but with some collective will displayed on the part of the community, the green movement and industry, this could eventuate in the near future.)
ii. Timber from a mixed species plantation
Many, if not most trees grow in species-diverse communities in the wild. A mixed species plantation can therefore more closely approximate this natural growing community than can a monoculture 1 (ie, single species cultivation). There are only a few tree species which grow naturally in almost pure stands of their own species.
iii. Plantation Hoop Pine or Plantation Eucalypt
Hoop is our only native pine timber available in large commercial quantities. It is also one of the few Australian rainforest timbers to be successfully grown in plantations. Plantation Hoop Pine originates mainly from Queensland and NSW.
iv. Exotic Plantation Softwoods or Hardwoods
This should only be used for internal building applications (where it may still require either borax treatment and/or painting to protect it), or for wood pulp.
v. Plantation-sourced CompositeTimber Products
These include particle boards, fibreboards, composite beams, laminated timbers, finger-jointed timbers, plywood, veneers, etc. (Always opt for boards which are formaldehyde-free).
3. CERTIFIED TIMBER FROM A 'WELL MANAGED' FOREST (FSC)
This should generally be interpreted as regrowth forest rather than plantation and is theoretically less desirable (see footnote). As above, in point 2.(i), there are not yet any local producers of certified timber.
Note: There are some operators who harvest and/or mill timber from forests on private land and whose operations may well qualify as 'sustainable' or 'well managed', etc, and who do not deserve to be vilified for taking timber according to their own conception of 'best practice' forest management techniques. They may in fact merit our collective praise as models of sustainability(!?). The Good Wood Guide encourages such operators to approach the Certification bodies, as these bodies come on-stream as accredited groups. In the interim, it is up to them to convince the consumer and the general public that their claims of sustainability, etc, are justified.
(See the article Native & Exotic Timbers - a Word of Caution, in this section, regarding the case for harvesting dieback from Regrowth Forest.)
4. CERTIFIED IMPORTED DURABLE TIMBER
(See Timber, Certified, in the Alternative Directory)
5. CERTIFIED IMPORTED AUSTRALIAN EUCALYPT, ETC
This would include mature South African and Indian plantation-grown Australian Eucalypt - which is available NOW. It would provide an ideal interim source of durable timber, and its use would be preferable to, and environmental cost lower than that for exotic, chemically-treated radiata or slash pine, etc.
Again, this is just an interim measure. We do not mean to imply that other countries growing non-indigenous species is somehow okay, but as an interim source of hardwood which can help ease the pressure on our native forest hardwoods, it makes sense, especially considering the amount of softwood Australia already imports from New Zealand and the USA, etc.
6. ETHICALLY-SALVAGED TIMBER
'Ethically Salvaged'should imply that the timber has been sourced from a forest or streetscape only where it would otherwise go to waste. Such timber may come from wind-thrown trees after storms, or trees fallen across water courses or access-ways, or trees which have outgrown their usefulness/functionality in an urban area. Exotic species are always preferable to natives as salvage material.
Please remember that not all fallen timber in a forest is 'waste'. Logs and branches are important habitat sites for animals and plants. Rotting timber releases important nutrients for the soil. Millable butts, stems, branches and thinnings from forestry operations are often best left on site to mulch the soil and not leave it exposed to leaching, erosion, disease, dehydration, weed invasion, etc.
(See also Salvaged Timber from Urban & Rural Sources).
7. LAND-CLEARING RESIDUE
Such residue should only come from allowable/legal land-clearing operations where the timber would otherwise go to waste and where a program of regeneration of indigenous tree species is part of the overall management plan. A camphor tree, say, which has been removed to make way for native species is certainly a great source of quality timber, oil or chip.
However, wholesale clearing of entire areas or ecosystems for the sake of logging, cropping, grazing or land 'developing' is certainly not ethical in this day and age. There is already too much degraded land, abandoned pasture, overgrazing and over-cultivation happening without adding to it.
The above, numbered recommendations are like layers which must be peeled off to reveal the ideal timber for your needs. We realise that they may appear overly complex to someone who just wants to walk into a timber yard and buy some wood.
However, there presently appears to be no way to further simplify this list of priorities for the consumer. All we ask is that you do your best to use timber in accordance with the highest attainable numbered category on this list.
1. There are a few timber tree types which actually do thrive naturally in single-species stands, but always these occur within the context of a greater ecosystem which holds a vast array of plant and animal types. Some of these pure stand types include: Alpine Ash (Eucalyptus delegatensis), Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata).
(Note that Jarrah normally grows on bauxite-rich soil. In the past, Jarrah forests have been 'mined' prior to mining companies moving in to extract the underlying bauxite to make aluminium. It is not surprising that it is a vastly over-exploited species.)