Regulatory Impact Statement: National Approach to Firewood Collection and Use in Australia
Environment Australia, 2001
- The Problem
Please note: this electronic version of the Regulation Impact Statement does not include public submissions
- Conclusion, Implementation and Review
The National Approach to Firewood Collection and Use in Australia provides a policy framework or 'toolkit' of policy options that government, industry and the community may adopt to address the detrimental impacts of firewood collection on remnant woodland ecosystems and the habitats of threatened species. It provides a national framework for each jurisdiction to draw upon in developing tailored Action Plans appropriate to their circumstances.
There is now a recognised need to address some impacts of Australia's firewood industry, especially collection of firewood sourced from private land in drier regions where there has already been a large amount of clearing for agriculture and related biodiversity losses. The loss of woodland birds in south-eastern Australia has been linked to collection of firewood (Reid, 1999). In some regions, over 85% of Australia's woodland communities have been cleared for traditional agriculture, particularly the box-ironbark woodlands in the 'wheat-sheep' belt of Victoria and New South Wales. Coincidentally, revegetation of these areas is considered essential for dryland salinity control and restoring landscape biodiversity. It could also provide a useful carbon sink and the basis for sustainable regional firewood industries.
Firewood collection is of concern in these areas because old and dead trees (often with hollows) and fallen timber are preferred sources of firewood, as these tend to burn well and produce less smoke. However, these same trees also provide crucial habitat and food, nesting hollows, perching places and forage substrate for birds and arboreal mammals including some of Australia's most threatened and dwindling ecological communities and wildlife species, for example birds like the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. It is often not appreciated that old standing trees with hollows, and dead wood on the ground, provide an important source of food and habitat for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates as well as playing an essential role in maintaining forest and woodland nutrient cycles. In fact, the deadwood component is at least as important as the living overstorey, leaf litter and soil components for the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecological processes.
Most firewood users and many suppliers are unaware of the ecological consequences of firewood collection. It is often mistakenly seen as just 'cleaning up' the forest or keeping the farm tidy, and a part of good land management. There is a general perception that deadwood is expendable.
Data on the precise amount of firewood collected each year is variable and scarce, but it has been estimated that approximately 6 million tonnes of firewood is harvested annually in Australia (FTSUT 1989). This amount is close to double Australia's current export of 3.6 million 'bone dry' tonnes of eucalypt woodchips per year (ABARE, 2000), so can be considered to be of significant scale.
Firewood is collected from both public and private land. The firewood 'industry' involves a number of groups including commercial, semi-commercial, private and own-use collectors and suppliers, public suppliers, and consumers. Firewood collection from native forest on public land is recognised as a legitimate and regulated use. It is estimated that approximately half of the firewood supply in Australia is collected privately from local forest and woodland occurring on private property, roadsides and travelling stock routes. Much of this firewood is sourced from remnant vegetation in inland agricultural areas of the south-eastern states and is transported across state borders. There is increasing concern about the impacts of firewood collection from privately owned woodlands in drier regions on populations of fauna including several threatened species (Driscoll et al., 2000; Wall, 2000).
There is a strong case for encouraging a sustainable firewood industry in regional Australia because it has the potential to deliver a number of benefits in addition to the conservation of biodiversity. Compared to other fuel options (eg oil, gas, electricity) firewood can be managed as a renewable resource and provide associated greenhouse and dryland salinity benefits and may create regional economic and job opportunities. A well-managed industry could provide real market-based incentives for landholders to retain native forest and woodland, which might otherwise be degraded or cleared for other uses. It might also promote the establishment of firewood plantations, thus reducing pressure on native vegetation and wildlife habitat.
From an air quality perspective, in order to reduce particle emissions, it is important to educate the community to burn only well-seasoned timber and encourage adoption of cleaner, more energy efficient wood heaters.
The market for firewood in Australia is located mainly in the south-east of Australia, in line with the location of population and cold climates in this area (Chudeligh and Zoretto, 1999). These cold climate areas are predominantly in mid-low rainfall zone with high quality woodlands. The two key factors in determining the economic viability of firewood plantations are distance to markets and the retail price of wood. In order to be sustainable and viable, new plantations would need to be established close to larger urban or rural centres where firewood is consumed, for example Armidale, Bathurst, Canberra, Wagga, Bendigo, Ballarat, Adelaide and Melbourne. Once established, these plantations could be more economically viable than more distant remnant vegetation from which much firewood is currently sourced. There are also potential benefits from establishing multipurpose/ firewood plantations irrigated with municipal sewage effluent in mid-low rainfall areas including improved timber production rates and reduced nutrient loads in inland rivers.
The objectives of the national approach are to:
- Protect remnant native vegetation, threatened ecosystems and habitat for threatened and declining wildlife species.
- Encourage ecologically sustainable firewood collection from native forest, woodland and plantations.
- Contribute to broader environmental objectives, including improved air quality, ameliorating dryland salinity, and contributing to carbon sequestration.
This initiative arises from Resolution 422 of the 19th meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council which tasked the Standing Committees on Environment Protection and on Conservation to jointly establish a task force to 'develop a national approach to commercial and private firewood collection by December 2000.' All States and Territories (except the Northern Territory) and the Standing Committee on Forestry are represented on the task force.
This national approach to firewood collection and use in Australia proposes a toolkit of actions for Governments to encourage a more ecologically sustainable firewood industry, which contributes to the protection of remnant woodland vegetation and threatened woodland species. Six strategies are proposed - designed to target ecosystems at most risk without unnecessarily regulating or imposing additional costs on those parts of the industry which are already operating in a largely satisfactory and sustainable manner. It does not aim to present a separate and new 'strategy' as such; rather, it presents an approach that draws upon and integrates with existing policies, programs, institutions and regulatory arrangements as far as possible, especially those applying to native vegetation management. If endorsed by ANZECC, each State, Territory and the Commonwealth will develop an action plan to implement the agreed national approach to firewood collection and use. The Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council will monitor development and implementation of the action plans.
The impact and operation of the firewood industry differs in every state and across different regions. As firewood collection and use involves a range of collectors, suppliers and consumers operating in a variety of ways, different policy approaches need to be used to influence their respective behaviours. For example, private users are more likely to collect firewood near where they live, thus creating a 'regional firewood footprint' around major cities and towns, whilst commercial merchants often obtain wood in large quantities from areas quite distant to the markets they supply. In targeting firewood collection on private land, each group will respond to different policy settings. Consequently, this national approach does not intend to provide a blanket solution that will cover all jurisdictions equally, but provides a framework in which tailored plans of action may be developed.
The national approach to firewood collection and use recognises:
- the need to target most effort to firewood collection on privately owned woodland in drier regions;
- the need to better understand the location and characteristics of public and private forest and woodland ecosystems most affected by firewood collection so that policy actions may be effectively targeted to areas of concern;
- that ecologically sustainable firewood collection is a legitimate use of forests and woodlands (ie where remnant vegetation is managed in a way that conserves biodiversity and threatened species);
- the varying approaches to regulation of firewood collection across Australia and to regulation of native vegetation clearing and management;
- the costs and difficulties of enforcing regulations on private land and activities of small scale itinerant firewood suppliers;
- the merits of adopting a nationally consistent, voluntary, code of practice for the firewood industry, based on the ACT model, to set out best practice standards;
- the need to work in partnership with the industry, local government and the community;
- the need for educating the community, consumers and collectors about the impacts of unsustainable firewood collection on biodiversity;
- the potential for establishing and expanding an industry based on fuelwood plantations;
- the links between wood heater use, air quality, and remnant vegetation conservation; and
- that consumers have a strong preference for firewood from box ironbark and other slow growing woodland species.
According to the most recent information (Driscoll et al. 2000) the Australian firewood market is dominated by small time collectors who do not have established premises while a further 50% of the firewood consumed is collected by people for their own use. A summary of the firewood market in Australia is contained in Table 1. This summarises the extent of our current knowledge of the firewood market in Australia.
|Other private land||35.4%||31.6%||23.4%||44.0%||29.4%||26.3%||59.8%||32.1%|
|Other Crown land||0.0%||0.6%||0.0%||0.0%||1.5%||0.0%||0.0%||0.3%|
The strategies presented here are taken from "A National Approach to Firewood Collection and Use in Australia". These strategies are:
- Improve the information base
- Educate the community
- Implement market mechanisms
- Increase effectiveness of regulations
- Develop a sustainable firewood industry, encouraging plantations,
sustainable management of native forest and use of residues.
- Firewood Use Efficiency and Alternative Fuels
As the firewood industry is a decentralised, low profile industry that has been little investigated there is not the information to make even the most rudimentary quantitative assessment of the impacts of increased regulation. Therefore, a qualitative assessment of the impact of the various strategies is presented in the following paragraphs.