Find out more about the forest management plan.

What is a forest management plan?

Western Australia's south-west forests are valued for many reasons. They have a rich natural and cultural heritage, are the catchment areas for water supply for most of Western Australia's population, and a major recreation and tourism drawcard.

A forest management plan accommodates multiple values and uses and provides for a balanced delivery of biodiversity, conservation, and forest-based industry outcomes, including recreation, water, tourism, apiary and mining.

Our national parks, conservation parks, nature reserves, State forests and timber reserves are vested in the Conservation and Parks Commission and managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) under 10-year statutory management plans developed in consultation with the community. The process of developing management plans includes the preparation and release of a draft plan for public comment.

A forest management plan (prepared in accordance with the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984) provides the overall policy framework for protecting and managing forests on public lands in our south-west. Find out more about forest management plans on the DBCA website.

Why is a new forest management plan required?

Under the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (CALM Act), management plans have a maximum term of 10-years.

The current Forest Management Plan 2014-2023 will end on 31 December 2023. The next plan, Forest Management Plan 2024-2033, is expected to commence on 1 January 2024.

The CALM Act requires the Conservation and Parks Commission, through the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), prepare area management plans to guide policy and operations for all public lands and waters vested in the Conservation and Parks Commission.

Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 will be more concise and readable, with an increased focus on Noongar values and the drying and warming climate of the south-west.

How will traditional owners be involved in managing south-west forests?

As part of the South West Native Title Settlement, Noongar Traditional Owners and DBCA will enter into formal agreements to manage the South West Conservation Estate together, including the south-west forests.

These new co-operative and joint management partnerships mark a new era for collaboration and will ensure the south-west forests are cared for using Noongar and Western methods.

Why will logging in native forests cease?

In September 2021, the McGowan Government announced a decision to end the logging of native forests from the commencement of the Forest Management Plan 2024-2033. This will take effect from 2024.

The decision to preserve a minimum of at least 400,000 hectares of karri, jarrah and wandoo forests from commercial-scale timber harvesting was based on ever-increasing impacts of climate change, the importance of maintaining biodiversity and forest health, the need for carbon capture and storage and declining timber yields.

From 2024, timber taken from our native forests will be limited to forest management activities that improve forest health and clearing for approved mining operations.

While this decision will mean an end to large scale commercial logging operations there will still be forest management activities undertaken for forest health.

Following this announcement, the focus of the Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 will shift from commercial timber harvesting to forest health and resilience.

Read Premier McGowan’s announcement.

Why are south-west forests so important?

South-west forests are important for biodiversity, conservation, habitat, recreation, tourism, industry, and water supply.

These forests:

  • are significantly spiritual and for customary use by the Noongar Traditional Owners
  • are important for a rich diversity of native plants and animals
  • are a major recreation and tourism drawcard • have rich natural and cultural heritage
  • are the catchment area for most of the State’s population’s water supply, and
  • support a range of forest-based industries.

Read more about our forests on the DBCA website.

Why do we need to manage our forests?

Forest management needs to adapt to the prevailing climate to ensure forest health is maintained, biodiversity and habitats are conserved, and wildfires are more manageable.

This change in management approach will have the added benefit of carbon sequestration in our native forests as well as new opportunities for eco-tourism.

The key goals of forest management are:

  • the conservation of biodiversity
  • the recognition and protection of Aboriginal and other Australian cultural heritage
  • sustaining the health, vitality and productive capacity of ecosystems
  • the protection of soil and water resources
  • sustaining the contribution to global carbon cycles
  • managing the wide range of social, cultural and economic benefits valued by the community consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable forest management.

Read more about our forest management on the DBCA website.

What are the protected areas in the forest management plan?

Western Australia’s protected areas includes the national parks, conservation parks, nature reserves, State forests and timber reserves that are vested in the Conservation and Parks Commission. Of the approximately 2.5 million hectares of these lands within the FMP area, 1,311,600 hectares are in existing or proposed formal reserves and 1,204,100 hectares in State forest and timber reserves.

In addition, under Forest Management Plan 2014-2023 there are approximately 194,000 hectares of informal reserves (including old-growth forest, river and stream zones, diverse ecotype zones and travel route zones), and 48,400 hectares of fauna habitat zones.

The Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (CALM Act) and the WA Regional Forest Agreement both require the establishment of a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system. Protected areas are the basis of the CAR reserve system, which is the primary mechanism to provide for the protection of biodiversity, old-growth forests and wilderness values.

Further additions and changes to the system of protected areas will be recommended and implemented through the Forest Management Plan 2024-2033.

How can I source firewood for domestic use?

From 2024, timber taken from our native forests will be limited to forest management activities that improve forest health and clearing for approved mining operations.

As a result of these land management activities some wood products will still be available such as firewood. In addition, some native timber will also be available from approved mine site operations which will also provide a source of firewood along with other timber products.

Currently most areas designated for public firewood collection are restricted to State forest located in the Perth Hills, South West and Warren regions.

Find out about buying or collecting firewood in your area, by selecting your region on the DBCA website.

What is the McGowan Government’s forest policy direction?

On 8 September 2021, Hon Mark McGowan MLA, Premier of Western Australia, announced that large-scale commercial timber harvesting will cease in south-west native forests from 2024.

This announcement included provision for timber to be taken from the forests for activities that improve forest health and clearing for approved mining operations.

The State Government has committed to ensuring long-term forest health through active forest management techniques.

Importantly, the renewed focus on maintaining forest health through active forest management will provide for targeted thinning of south-west forests.

Why was the independent silvicultural review panel convened?

The Forest Management Plan 2014-2023 includes a management activity requiring an independent expert panel review current and proposed silvicultural guidelines and practices.

The purpose of the silviculture review is to fulfill the review requirement, and to assist development of silvicultural settings for the subsequent draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033.

The expert panel reviewed current and proposed silvicultural guidelines and practices within an ecologically sustainable forest management (ESFM) context. The silvicultural practices and guidelines for Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 need to be reviewed and re-set to focus on forest health and improved resilience outcomes.

Who were the panel members and why were they chosen?

The independent panel comprised four members with advanced expertise and practical experience in forest ecology, forest hydrology, eucalypt silviculture, and forest fire management practices.

DBCA considered the available expertise across Australia to conduct the silviculture review, with an emphasis on forest ecology, silviculture and hydrology skills in the Western Australian setting.

Australia-wide there is a limited field of potential candidates, and even fewer women or Aboriginal people, with the required level expertise and experience. Travel and other restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic also influenced the availability of experts.

The four panel members were:

  • Dr Neil Burrows ASFM (Chair) is an internationally recognised expert on Western Australian forest ecology and fire management, with 247 publications and reports on forest ecology, fauna, flora, and fire in forested and rangeland landscapes of WA. Dr Burrows was a key architect of the ForestCheck monitoring program, having spent 42 years in the research/ science division of the department, including 14 years as Science Director.
  • Professor Richard Harper is from Murdoch University. His research, captured in 90 refereed publications, explores the science and policy aspects of carbon mitigation in natural and agricultural systems, with the aim of producing environmental and production co-benefits. He is particularly interested in how investment in carbon mitigation can be used to remedy an array of intractable soil, water and biodiversity management issues. Several recent studies have explored water yields and carbon storage in WA’s forests. He was a Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment report, founding-chair of the International Union of Forest Research Organization’s Task Force on Forests, Soils and Water, and is a current member of the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
  • Professor Patrick Baker is a Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology at the University of Melbourne. He is also currently a Charles Bullard Research Fellow at Harvard University. His research focuses on how climate and disturbances shape forest dynamics and how that understanding can inform better management practices in native forests. He has published three books and 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Professor Baker has expertise in dendrochronology, forest ecology and management, palaeoclimatology, and statistical modelling and has extensive research and work experience in the forests of Australia, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
  • Associate Professor Richard Silberstein specialises in catchment and groundwater hydrology, in particular the interactions between vegetation and hydrology, and the responses of forests and agricultural vegetation systems to changes in land use and climate. He is currently a consultant hydrologist and part-time at the Centre for Ecosystem Management at Edith Cowan University. Associate Professor Silberstein has over 80 publications on hydrology and vegetation interactions, and was previously a Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Land and Water Division developing simulation models for groundwater and surface water management in forested catchments. He was the lead researcher for the WA Water Foundation project investigating stream flow and vegetation dynamics under a changing climate and forest management across 42 catchments in the south-west, including the 31-Mile Brook/ Wungong catchments in the northern jarrah forest.

Why were there no restoration ecologists on the panel?

Restoration ecology is a branch of the broader ecology discipline. Both Dr Burrows and Professor Baker have significant forest ecology expertise.

Forest ecologists and other scientists, including those with restoration expertise, have been and will continue to be provided with opportunities to have input into the development of the plan, including the participation of focus groups and an online survey.

Later in 2022, the draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 will be released for public comment for two months, providing a further opportunity for all sectors to have a say.

What was the panel asked to do?

The panel was asked to work within the context of the Government’s September 2021 announcement, with a focus on advising on silviculture practices to deliver forest health and resilience outcomes. They were asked to have regard to historic and projected future trends in climate for the south-west and the Montreal criteria as a framework for assessing ecologically sustainable forest management (ESFM).

Specifically, the panel was asked to:

  1. examine national and international trends on forest practices applicable to enhancing forest health, to identify those relevant and practical for application in south-west jarrah, wandoo and karri forests;
  2. undertake field inspection of contemporary silvicultural practices, bushfire or other salvage operations, historic silvicultural experiments and adaptive management trials that inform catchment management and ecological thinning;
  3. consider the DBCA draft proposed approach to ecological thinning and recommend practical changes or refinements necessary to deliver improved forest health outcomes at the local, stand and landscape levels;
  4. review current silvicultural guidelines and procedures and recommend adjustments and improvements necessary to prioritise enhanced forest health within an ESFM context; and
  5. provide recommendations on silvicultural research and integrated monitoring programs to inform progressive adaptive management and evaluation of ecological thinning outcomes.

What did the panel recommend?

The independent panel has made six recommendations. They are:

  1. In jarrah forest, it recommended a program of thinning across dense young regrowth stands be implemented, using density management principles to prioritise stands and guide development of a thinning program within an adaptive management framework.
  2. For karri forest, the panel noted thinning is generally less of a priority but may still be desirable to maintain water balance, enhance fire resilience, promote faster development of hollows and provide greater security of carbon stores.
  3. The panel did not recommend thinning operations in wandoo forests but noted it may be required to maintain water balances for key environments, such as riparian communities of high conservation value.
  4. For forest areas rehabilitated post mining operations, the panel recommended that areas planted with non-WA native species be converted to native forest ecosystems, and that areas planted with a jarrah-marri mix be thinned to reduce stand density, increase individual tree growth and increase variation of tree age and species present in these areas of forest.
  5. The panel recommended that thinning operations should be integrated with fire management strategies, such as prescribed burning, to mitigate the risk of additional flammable fuel loads arising from thinning operations.
  6. Four recommendations were made related to research and development to inform and guide ecological thinning, including:
    • Development and application of density management guidelines to underpin identification of areas suitable for ecological thinning
    • Operational scale experimental thinning trials in each major forest type
    • Monitoring to evaluate the outcomes of thinning
    • Modelling the costs and benefits of ecological thinning to inform and provide guidance on implementing different prescriptions.

How will the panel’s advice be used?

The report and recommendations of the Independent Silvicultural Review Panel is one of many inputs contributing to the development of the draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033. DBCA and the Conservation and Parks Commission (CPC) will now consider the report and each recommendation, including how they may inform the silvicultural settings and practices in the draft plan.

The overall scope and approach to forest management activities that improve forest health, including ecological thinning, will continue to be canvassed through the development of the plan.

What is silviculture?

Silviculture is the science and practice of managing forests and woodlands to meet the wide range of needs and benefits to landowners and the community, now and for the future. It considers the ecology, establishment, growth, health, use and quality of forests. How a forest grows depends on the characteristics of the tree species, and how they are affected by the soil and climate.

Contemporary silviculture encompasses environmental, economic, and social objectives to achieve ecologically sustainable forest management. It has been applied to achieve a wide variety of outcomes including soil and water protection, forest health, carbon and wood production, catchment management, habitat for wildlife, maintenance of aesthetics, and provision for recreation. The silvicultural method(s) applied are designed to achieve a balance between objectives, and the objectives may differ at the local and landscape scale to achieve the desired balance of objectives for the whole of forest.

DBCA currently uses a series of silviculture guidelines to outline the management principles for the various forest types, and the silvicultural treatments that can be applied to them. The guidelines seek to ensure that a wide range of forest values is catered for at a local scale and complement a range of other measures described by the plan. These guidelines will be revised as part of developing the draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033.

What is ecological thinning?

The State Government of Western Australia is responsible for managing much of WA's native forests and woodlands. DBCA-managed lands in the south-west comprise over 1.89 million hectares of jarrah, wandoo, and karri forest ecosystems. Weather patterns in the south-west areas have shifted to markedly drier, warmer landscapes.

Ecological thinning is a forest management activity undertaken to support forest health and resilience as the landscape continues to become drier and warmer in the future.

Thinning involves reducing the number of trees within an area to reduce the current and future moisture stress on a site for an extended period. The defining feature of ‘ecological’ thinning at the stand or patch scale is the primary objective to increase resilience of the forest to climate change impacts and maintain forest ecosystem health. This remains nested within the landscape-scale objective of maintaining biodiversity conservation outcomes over the long-term.

The number of trees removed from an area (and therefore the number retained) will vary depending on the dominant forest type, the condition of the forest and the characteristics of the site.

The potential benefits of ecological thinning include:

  • reduced moisture stress in forest stands
  • increased soil moisture
  • increased resilience to drought, heatwave events and bushfire
  • reduced fuel loads to mitigate the risk of bushfire
  • faster growth of remaining trees to maturity, reducing the time required to develop suitable habitat such as hollows for fauna
  • long-term carbon storage.

Will there be an opportunity to provide feedback on the report?

Processes are in place to refine the settings and prescriptions of ecological thinning for the draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033.

The draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 will be released for public comment over a two-month period later in 2022. This provides an opportunity for stakeholders and the community to provide feedback before the plan is finalised.

How will we know if ecological thinning is working?

The draft Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 will adopt an adaptive management approach to forest management, which means practices such as ecological thinning will be conducted with sufficient monitoring to determine if it is working, or if changes need to be made over time.

This will likely involve measuring consistency of application with the silvicultural guidelines and indicators of forest health over time, such as the composition and condition of vegetation and hydrological benefits.

The report mentions the forest industry and providing wood to the industry – why if native forestry is ending in 2023?

The State Government’s announcement included provision for timber to be taken from the forests for activities that improve forest health and clearing for approved mining operations. Ecological thinning is a forest management activity that reduces the number of trees within an area to support forest health and resilience as the landscape continues to become drier and warmer in the future.

People will still want to be able to heat their homes with firewood and buy high quality, locally manufactured timber furniture. Timber taken as a by-product of ecological thinning activities should be used rather than going to waste and could contribute to meeting this demand through small businesses and other commercial means.

How do you respond to the claim by some environmental groups that ‘ecological thinning’ is just logging by stealth?

The State Government has committed to ensuring long-term forest health through active forest management techniques. Importantly, the renewed focus on maintaining forest health through active forest management will provide for targeted thinning of south-west forests.

Ecological thinning will be designed to support forest health and resilience as the landscape continues to become drier and warmer in the future. It is most likely to occur in younger regrowth areas, with smaller trees, not the more mature forest with larger trees that the timber industry currently targets for sawlog products.

Page reviewed 20 May 2022