What is it about forests that you value?
State Forests are part of the public estate effectively controlled by the will of the people of NSW.. Along with National Parks, Nature Reserves and State Conservation Areas, and numerous schools, hospitals, sporting, camping and recreation areas, State forests are Crown lands. State forests are public lands that have been allocated for timber production under the control of the Forestry Corporation.
The community has the right and responsibility to ensure that State forests are managed in the community’s best interests. The community has repeatedly identified that they place a very high value on native forests for wildlife, beauty, water and recreation, compared to a relatively low value for logging, mining and shooting. For example the Community Attitude survey for the Upper North East Comprehensive Regional Assessment (McGregor et. al. 1997a) established that the priorities respondents gave to “various activities with relation to public forests” were;
protecting native plants and animals (100%),
maintaining sites of natural beauty (99%),
maintaining water quality (96%),
aboriginal sites (89%),
protecting wilderness (87%),
camping (79%), and
Exploitative uses of public lands received a lot less support (timber production 24%, woodchipping 7% and mining 13%), with the highest opposition being to mining (72%), hunting (70%) and woodchipping (65%).
In response to the question “what is it about forests that you value?”, those values ranked highest were aesthetic (80%), conservation reasons (46%), spiritual (25%), intergenerational equity (14%) and recreation (10%) as compared to relatively low values for economic/employment (6%) and economic goods and use (5%).
While State Forests have been allocated for timber production, the Forestry Act 2012 requires that they be managed in compliance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development, with timber supply environmentally sustainable, and with regard to the interests of the community.
Large areas of State Forests are still required to be added to the reserve system to satisfy the national reserve targets and protect viable fauna populations (see CAR Reserves), logging is being undertaken at an unsustainable rate (see Over-logging ), and they are not being managed in an ecologically sustainable manner (see Bell Miner Associated Dieback), (Logging Prescriptions). NEFA therefore maintains that they are not being managed in the community’s best interests.
McGregor, A., Gibson, C., Miller, F. and Sharma, K. (1997a) Thinking About Forests, community attitudes towards forests in the Upper North East CRA region. Unpublished report prepared Department of Geography, University of Sydney, for the NSW CRA/RFA process.
Forests Increase Rainfall and Store Water
Forests are key components of the earth's water cycle. Forests do not just respond to rainfall, they actively generate their own. They recycle water from the soil back into the atmosphere by transpiration, create the updrafts that facilitate condensation as the warm air rises and cools, create pressure gradients that draw moist air in from afar, and, just to be sure, release the atmospheric particles which are the nuclei around which raindrops form.
Forests have been described as 'biotic pumps' driving regional rainfall because their high rates of transpiration return large volumes of moisture to the atmosphere and suck in moisture laden air from afar.
While most of our rain originates from evaporation of the oceans, it is estimated that 40% of the rain that falls on land comes from evaporation from the land and, most importantly, from transpiration by vegetation. Recycled water vapour becomes increasingly important for inland rainfall.
Having created and attracted the water vapour, the plants then make it rain. Plants emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as plant scents and the blue haze characteristic of eucalypt forests. They play an important role in communication between plants, and messages from plants to animals, and also between plants and moisture-laden air. They oxidise in the air to form the cloud condensation nuclei around which waterdrops form.
The transpiration of vegetation also results in evaporative cooling whereby the surface heat is transferred to the atmosphere in water vapour. The resultant clouds also help shade and cool the surface.
Forests store water in their tissues, in the soil amongst their roots and in the protected microclimate beneath their canopies, releasing it over time to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration and to streams through the groundwater system. Forests are a vital component of our hydrological cycle and due to their roles in attracting and recycling rainfall, reducing temperatures and regulating runoff they provide immense economic benefits to human societies. Their importance will become increasingly significant as climate change results in more erratic rainfalls and intense dry periods.
There is abundant scientific evidence that deforestation and degradation of vegetation causes significant reductions in rainfall by:
reducing the recycling of rainfall to the atmosphere by transpiration
reducing the drawing in of moist coastal air
reducing updrafts of moist air
reducing rooting depth and the recycling of deep soil moisture
increasing loss of water from the land by runoff
reducing the organic aerosols necessary for the condensation of rain drops.
The overwhelming evidence from around the world is that land-clearing has directly caused a significant reduction in regional rainfalls and an increase in land temperatures (See: Clearing Our Rainfall Away). These impacts have been compounded through the release of stored CO2, with land clearing contributing around a third of our CO2 emissions in the past two centuries.
Across drier areas of Australia the removal of deep rooted forests and woodlands has caused water tables to rise, allowing long-buried saline ground-waters to rise towards the surface, with the resultant dryland salinity affecting millions of hectares.
Logging has the opposite effect, with increased transpiration by the regrowth lowering water tables. The generalised pattern following logging of an oldgrowth forest is for there to be an initial increase in runoff peaking after 1 or 2 years and persisting for a few years. Water yields then begin to decline below that of the oldgrowth as the regrowth can consume 50% more water than oldgrowth. Water yields are likely to reach a minimum after 20-30 years before slowly increasing towards pre-logging levels in line with forest maturity. It can take over 150 years to restore the original water yields. (See: How Forests Regulate Streamflows)
Reductions in water yields are dependent upon the rainfall and the amount of water used by the vegetation. When rainfall is low the regrowth can consume most of the water, leaving little surplus for streams. In areas experiencing high rainfalls regrowth has been found to depress annual water yields by some 50%, though with low rainfalls there may be little water left for streams surplus to the requirements of the regrowth.
With declining rainfalls due to clearing, the increased demand for water by the regrowth can dry catchments, cause water stress and kill trees.
Allowing regrowth forests to mature results in significantly increased water yields to surrounding streams and dams. Water yields will go on increasing for many decades. The increase in water yields from maturing forests represents a significant economic benefit to all downstream users, particularly during dry periods.
Fig. 1 from Speer et. al. (2011): Map of Australia highlighting the decline in annual rainfall (mm/10 years) around Australia from, 1950–2007.
Recreation is good for the regional economy
Public land is a highly valued resource, providing the only natural areas for recreation for many local residents. Natural environments are also important components of the recreation and tourism industry and contribute significantly to attracting tourists to north east NSW in order to experience their landscapes and wildlife. Nature-based outdoor recreation is increasingly in demand as urbanisation continues around the world.
You know that exercise is good for you, but did you know its health benefits are greatly magnified if undertaken in a forest? Just standing in a forest taking in the view can improve your mood and cognitive function. Even sitting in a chair looking at a photo of the view is good for you.
And it is not just seeing nature that is beneficial, hearing it helps and smelling it is a form of aromatherapy that has been attributed with improving vascular health, regulating hormones, strengthening immunity, fighting cancer and reducing blood sugars.
Natural settings also provide opportunities for spiritual experiences, enhancing self-esteem, facilitating socialisation and encouraging optimal development in children.
A walk in the bush is not a cure all, but it is good for you in many ways (see Natural Effects).
National Parks make a significant contribution to regional economies and to nearby towns through direct tourist expenditure. The direct expenditure also leads to indirect impacts resulting from purchases from other sectors and induced impacts when workers spend income on goods and services. If tourism is appropriately managed the economic returns generated can be maintained over a long period of time for the benefit of a broad range of local businesses and residents.
As at 2010 the visitation to National Parks and reserves in north east NSW was estimated from a variety of sources as 9.4-10.8 million visits per year. This is an increase of over 250% in visitation since the Forest Reform process started in 1997. Expenditure associated with this visitation has been conservatively assessed as generating a business turnover of some $416-476 million and some 2,642-3,026 direct and indirect jobs in the regional economy. (see: Identifying the Recreational Value of Reserves)
The benefits to visitors can be measured in terms of consumer surplus,. which is how much a visitor is willing to pay above the price currently determined by market forces The consumer surplus of north east NSW’s National Parks is estimated as some $348-399 million.
It is evident that the creation of reserves in the Forest Reform process provides significant health and economic benefits to the residents of north-east NSW.