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Growth in plantations not all good news: ABS

WHILE plantations are considered environmentally friendly because they reduce the demands on native forests, the environmental impact of a plantation can vary significantly, depending on the previous use of the land and the choice of site.

An environmental study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that plantations may not always be as beneficial to the environment as the plantation owners lead us to believe.

Compared with a natural forest, plantations have very shallow ecosystems, with fewer species of plants and wildlife.

Exotic tree species also may not support the native vegetation, fauna and micro-organisms that are common in natural forests. On steep slopes and unstable soil, the harvesting of plantations is likely to cause erosion

While plantations constitute less than 1 per cent of the total forest area, they are an important source of timber, supplying more than 50 per cent of Australia’s wood requirements. The domestic industry now uses more plantation-grown wood than native forest timber.

Of the $6 billion worth of forest products produced in Australia during 1996-97, 65 per cent was derived from plantation wood. Australia has a total plantation area of about 1.3 million hectares, with about 250,000 hectares in WA. During 1999, about 84,600 hectares of hardwood were planted, compared with 19,100 hectares in 1995.

During the same five-year period, the area of softwood planted annually decreased slightly although it still accounts for more than 70 per cent of the total plantation area.

Yet the plantation industry still remains hostage to domestic consumption, particularly in the housing sector.

Structural wood consumption fell 13 per cent in the March quarter as a result of a decline in housing commencements.

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