Forestry Corporation is the largest manager of softwood timber plantations in NSW, managing approximately 225,000 hectares of public softwood plantations. Softwood timber plantations are managed on long-term cycles and for most of the plantation’s life, they are open and freely available for the community to use and enjoy. However, every 30 years or so, plantations are harvested to supply renewable timber and replanted for the future.
Plantations are forests that have been planted specifically to produce timber. In NSW, softwood timber plantations are predominately planted with radiata pine, which is native to north America, as well as some southern and hoop pine.
Softwood plantations in NSW
The softwood plantation estate is concentrated around the Central West, near Oberon, Bathurst and Orange, South West Slopes near Tumut and Tumbarumba, Walcha and Nundle on the northern tablelands, Grafton on the north coast and Bombala in the south of the state.
The plantation cycle
Plantations are established on the same land again and again. Forestry Corporation has production nurseries in Tumut and Grafton where millions of seedlings are grown every year. These seedlings are dispatched to plantations that have been harvested in previous years so the same plantation can be replanted for the future. Site preparation is carried out before planting, including using fire and/or heavy machinery to remove debris from the last harvest and cultivate the ground and weed control.
Once planted, plantations will rapidly regrow a forest. About 15 years after planting, some of the smaller and weaker trees may be removed or ‘thinned’ to allow the remaining trees more space, light and water to grow.
Around 30-40 years after planting, the trees are ready to harvest. The typical radiata pine tree grows up to 35 metres tall and half a metre across at chest height when harvested.
After harvesting, plantation areas are replanted with around 1000 seedlings per hectare, starting the cycle again for the next generation.
Where the timber goes
The main product to come from these plantations will be structural timber used in house framing, each tree can produce a range of different products. The narrower sections towards the top are used to create products like timber panels for kitchen cupboards and benchtops, engineered timber products and paper products. It takes about six mature radiata pine trees to make one timber house frame.
The Ultimate Renewable
Renewable timber sourced from sustainably managed forests is a key part of the climate solution.
Taking into account the energy required to transform raw materials into building products and the fact that timber stores carbon for the whole of the product’s life, timber has a much smaller carbon footprint than other popular building materials like steel or concrete.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.
Every time a tree is harvested from a State forest pine plantation, another tree is planted in its place, making timber a sustainable, renewable resource for future generations – the ultimate renewable.