Logging: a highly subsidised industry

Allocations of Public Resources for Logging

There are 918,145 ha of State forests in north east NSW (Lower and Upper North East RFA regions). A total of 306.472ha (33%) of these forests are zoned for protection in Forest Management Zones (1, 2, 3A) which prohibit logging. Some 40,338ha is claimed to be hardwood plantations and 37,048ha is pine plantations.

These forests belong to the people of NSW and are managed by the Forestry Corporation of NSW (AKA Forestry Commission, State Forests and Forests NSW). In the 1970’s the intent was to cut over the forests of the coastal plain and dramatically reduce logging until the regrowth matured in 2020-2040, keeping up sawlog supplies by one-off unsustainable logging of oldgrowth forest in steeper country and on the tablelands until pine plantations matured in 2010.

In the 1980’s the coastal forests began to be over-logged to maintain revenue and pacify sawmillers, while community alarm at the depletion of oldgrowth forests initiated campaigns to stop the liquidation logging of oldgrowth. The 1990’s saw a greater emphasis on reducing logging to a sustainable level while creating an adequate reserve system encompassing most oldgrowth forest and wilderness. The reserve system was doubled and most oldgrowth and wilderness protected on public lands.

In the 2000’s the State and Commonwealth Governments ignored evidence that yields were over-estimated and issued Wood Supply Agreements to millers for free at intentionally unsustainable levels. Since then NSW taxpayers have spent tens of millions of dollars helping mills modernise, paying compensation to millers for inability to supply, buying back commitments from millers for timber that never existed, buying timber from private land to meet commitments, and establishing plantations. Despite this sawlogs from public native forests continued to decline and the predictions were that the 2020’s will see massive reductions. (see The Battle for Sustainable Yields is Lost).

In 2014 the yield predictions for the next 100 years were inexplicably doubled. Previously predicted dramatic declines in yields in 2023 and again in 2065 were converted into increasing yields over time. How the parameters underlying the modelling were changed to achieve this have not been identified, though it is partially attributable to increasing logging intensity and treating native forests like plantations. Despite this dramatic turn-around the NSW Government separated the yields from native forests and hardwood plantations to change a modelled resource surplus into a deficit to justify major wind-backs of environmental constraints, and the opening up of oldgrowth and rainforest protected in the reserve system for logging. (see 2018 Timber Review).The proposal to remap oldgrowth and rainforest for logging was abandoned after the fires in 2020.

In 2019-20 wildfires burnt through half on north-east NSWs State forests, causing widespread tree deaths, with estimates that at least a third of the region’s State Forests were significantly affected, with a loss of 10-50% of large sawlog sized trees over 30 cm diameter at breast height, and 50-100% of smaller trees. Overall, across both burnt and unburnt north coast State forests, the Forestry Corporation estimates are there was a loss of around 10% of sawlogs and 25% of smaller trees. North from Coffs Harbour these losses increase to 15% of sawlogs and 35% of smaller trees. Despite this the Forestry Corporation unbelievably claimed short-term losses of only 4% and long-term losses of just 1%. (see NEFA 2021 Submission into the forests and forests product industry).

The outcome was that in 2022 the NSW Government extended Wood Supply Agreements due to expire in 2023 for a further 5 years at existing levels.


Export woodchipping began from north-east NSW in the 1980s and because of the massive volumes, low manufacturing coasts and quick returns proved to be very profitable for millers. It was stopped in 2013 due to competition from overseas eucalypt plantations and an inability to get independent environmental certification for north east NSWs logging. Now there is the even bigger threat of burning native forests in furnaces for electricity (see A History of Export Woodchipping from North East NSW). In 2018 the Government offered new commitments of low quality logs to overseas buyers in 10 year agreements, including reassigning all hardwood plantation resources as low quality for export. (see 2018 Timber Review). As at 2022 the biggest threat is the resumption of woodchipping as biomass to generate electricity, with a proposal to repurpose the closed coal-fired Redbank power to burn 850,000 tonnes of wood per annum.

Creative Plantations

After 1980 the Forestry Corporation (in all its previous incarnations) abandoned the concept of plantations, intensively logging where they wanted, and throwing around seed or planting jiffy pots in an ad-hoc manner. In 1990 the Forestry Corporation decided they needed hardwood plantations so began progressively reclassifying native forest as hardwood plantations based on often flimsy evidence that they had seeded areas or planted jiffy pots in some part of intensively logged areas (including many areas logged in the 60s and 70s not previously claimed as plantations). This reclassification continues today. (see Creative Hardwood Plantations)

Transition Strategy

Frontier Economic’s 2022 report ‘Transition support for the NSW native forest sector’ prepared for WWF estimates that a generous government-funded structural adjustment package for the 1,000 workers affected by stopping logging of all NSW's public native forests would only cost $302 million, with this cost likely outweighed by a range of positive budget impacts. (see Frontier Economics Transition Plan 2022).


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