The State of the Forests Tasmania 2012 was tabled in the state parliament at the end of November 2012.
Although it hardly registered a blip in the media or in the state parliament, the report is an important component of Tasmania’s environmental reporting and provides a key role in the five yearly reviews of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (the next review is due in 2014). It also provides many important facts in regard to forest conservation and management which should of use to those currently debating the Tasmanian Forest Agreement Bill.
The report is produced by the Forest Practices Authority and given to the Minister for Energy and Resources, to be placed before both houses of parliament, pursuant the Forest Practices Act. The State of the Forests Tasmania 2012 reports on a range of environmental, social and economic sustainability indicators for the period 2006-11 and also makes comparisons with the 1996 report when the RFA was signed.
The full report and summary booklet are on the FPA’s website and can be accessed through the news section or the publications page: www.fpa.tas.gov.au
Some findings in the report are surprising and some paint a generally positive picture of the state of our forests e.g.:
- Tasmania retains 63.8 percent or 3,074,000 hectares of the original forest extent
- Over 70% of Tasmania has native vegetation cover
We do not dispute these figures and we all should celebrate the fact that unlike some mainland states Tasmania has much more natural vegetation than cleared land. Having said this, when you drill into the detail in the State of the Forests report many of our threatened and depleted forest communities are not well reserved, are continuing to be cleared and are found primarily on private land and therefore are not likely to be greatly assisted by the reserves proposed in the Tasmanian Forest Agreement Bill.
There is also no comprehensive set of reporting criteria to monitor change in the condition of Tasmania’s forests and other native vegetation, or to monitor effectively at a species level. This failing is probably due to the lack of basic scientific understanding and greater complexity of collecting data at a species level and that funding is not available for a fully comprehensive monitoring program.
The State of the Forests report contains some more easily measurable criteria of vegetation condition such as indicators of fragmentation and area of oldgrowth forest but there are many other criteria which are not included. Also, the report uses very limited and inadequate criteria for assessing change in the conservation or reservation status of threatened species. The criteria include how many species have recovery plans or action statements and changes in number of forest-dependent species on the threatened species lists but these are not very effective indicators.
So when we read that 70 percent of Tasmania has vegetation cover and 63.8 percent of the original extent of forest cover is remaining, this does not tell us how much is highly degraded and how much is in good condition, nor if more species are becoming threatened.
Key findings form the State of the Forests Tasmania 2012
Area of native forest
Tasmania had an estimated 4,822,200 hectares of native forest in 1750 and retains 63.8 percent or 3,074,000 hectares) of this original extent.
3,338,000 ha of Tasmania, half of the state is forested. Native forest makes up 3,074,000 (45.1%) ha and plantations 314,000 (4.6%).
The mapped extent of native forest communities has decreased by 133,000 ha, or 4.1 percent, since 1996, and by 42,000 ha, or 1.4 percent, since 2006. The greatest reduction since 2006 has occurred on private freehold land (30,000 ha including 27,000 ha for of plantation establishment). Broad-scale conversion of native forest ceased on state forest in 2006.
Reservation of native forest
1,513,000 ha or 49 percent of Tasmania’s native forest is now in reserves, compared with 977,900ha or 30.5 percent in 1996. This is an increase in reservation of 535,100 ha above the 1996 area and by 48,000ha since 2006.
The TCT notes that the vast majority of additional reserves since 2006 are a result of implementation of the Crown Land Assessment and Classification Program.
I n 2011 the CAR reserve system comprised 3,064,500 hectares or 45 percent of the land area of Tasmania. In summary this included:
- 135,400ha or just under 2 percent on private land (private reserves, conservation covenants etc)
- 2,929,000 ha or 43 percent on public land.
The DPIPWE web site shows that of the 2,929,000 ha of reserves on public land:
- 2,600,500 hectares or 38.14 percent of Tasmania are formal reserves i.e. mainly national park, conservation, regional reserve and forestry reserves;
- 328,500 hectares or 4.82 percent of Tasmania are informal reserves i.e. mainly areas set aside from logging on state forest which are not formally declared as reserves.
Formal reserves are those reserves on public land that cannot be revoked without parliament. Informal reserves are on public land and are protected through administrative instruments by public authorities. Formal reserves include those which are dedicated for conservation i.e. nature reserves, national parks, state reserves and other formal reserves which may allow industries such as mining and grazing.
Since 1996, 25,300 ha of Tasmania’s oldgrowth forests has been harvested. In 2010 there were 1,221,000 ha of oldgrowth forest (80.4 percent was reserved in 2011).
Loss of forest communities
Forest communities which have been substantially reduced in forest extent or are under-represented in the reserve system are mostly dry eucalypt communities on private land.
The native forest communities for which the largest area decreases since 2006 were recorded were:
- tall Eucalyptus obliqua forest (~ 8000 ha)
- tall E. delegatensis forest (~ 4000 ha)
- coastal E. amygdalina dry sclerophyll forest (~ 6000 ha)
- dry E. delegatensis forest (~ 5000 ha)
- E. amygdalina forest on dolerite (3000 ha)
- grassy E. viminalis forest (3000 ha)
Eight native forest communities decreased in area by greater than or equal to 2 percent since 2006; three of these were wet eucalypt forests and five wee dry eucalypt forests.
Loss of threatened forest communities
Ten native forest communities listed as threatened under Schedule 3A of the Nature Conservation Act 2002 have decreased in area since 2006: two of these are wet eucalypt forests, four are dry eucalypt forests and four are non-eucalypt forests. The threatened forest communities with the greatest percentage loss are:
- Eucalyptus amygdalina forest on sandstone (-1.5 %);
- Inland E. tenuiramis forest (-0.9 %);
- King Island E. globulus / brookeriana /viminalis forest (-0.8 %);
- King Billy pine forest (-0.8 %);
- grassy E. globulus forest (-0.7 %);
- Melaleuca ericifolia forest (-0.6%).
The area losses for each of these communities, while less than 1000 ha, may be significant.
Reservation of forest communities
A total of 44 native forest communities, including all sub-alpine eucalypt and non-eucalypt communities, now have more than 25 percent of their current areas in reserves
Three forest communities have less than 15 percent of their current extent in reserves: all of which are dry eucalypt communities. For all these communities, the majority of remaining extent is on unreserved private land.
Seven communities, mainly from the dry eucalypt group, have less than 7.5 percent of their estimated pre-1750 extent protected in reserves. For most of these communities, the remaining extent is primarily on private land.
Over 70 percent of Tasmania has native vegetation cover (Note: the Tasmanian Together program records this figure at 72.6 percent) and there is a high degree of connectivity across the landscape.
There is a higher proportion of forest in larger patches in Tasmania than occurs nationally. Over 47 percent of Tasmania’s forests occur in patches larger than 50,000 hectares and over 72 percent occurs in patches larger than 10,000 hectares.