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Firewood Collection and Usage Index of Biodiversity issues


    Threatening Processes

        At a glance

        Firewood collection is concentrated in dry sclerophyll and grassy woodland vegetation

        The issue

        In Tasmania, wood is the main source of home heating. Firewood is a decentralised and (conditionally) renewable form of home heating fuel. A survey conducted by Aurora Energy (2001) showed that 50% of homes were using wood as a primary heat source followed by electricity (44%), gas (4%) and oil (2%).

        In 1999-00 Tasmania had the highest consumption rate of firewood per household in Australia, consuming 610,000 air dry tonne of firewood each year (Todd 2001). When industrial fuelwood is included, the total is 770,000 air dry tonne of wood burnt per year. Of the Tasmanian households that use firewood, it has been estimated that 40% collect their own mainly from private land and 60% buy their wood. Most of the wood bought is from small collectors or suppliers (e.g. selling from the back of a truck) (62.5%), or is from friends and relatives (15%). Less than a quarter (22.5%) is bought from firewood merchants with established premises (Driscoll et al. 2000).

        Most of the wood is sourced from native forests. The plant species favoured for firewood collection form part of some of the most depleted and poorly reserved plant communities in Tasmania. The most notable include: inland peppermint (Eucalyptus tenuiramis) forest; inland black peppermint (E. amygdalina) forest; black peppermint forest on sandstone; and cabbage gum (E. pauciflora) forest and woodland.

        The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes. These are processes that threaten-or may threaten-the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological communities. In 2001, 'continued net loss of hollow-bearing trees in native forests and woodlands due to firewood harvesting practices' was listed in the Act. Also in 2001, the State Government introduced a new penalty for cutting, damaging or otherwise destroying a tree on reserved land. Conviction under the section of the National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002 can result in a 'fine not exceeding 500 penalty units ($50,000) or imprisonment for a term not more than two years, or both'.

        This 'At a glance' section provides an overview of the issue of firewood collection and usage. More detailed information is available in the Firewood Collection and Usage Issue Report.

        A recommendation is presented on managing firewood collection and usage. Other related recommendations are presented on Native Vegetation and on Conservation and Reservation.

        The sustainability of firewood collection and usage is also conditional on community acceptance of alternative forms of home heating, and to improvements in domestic wood heater operation in order to reduce the release of particulates from wood fire smoke to the atmosphere (especially in the case of Launceston). The Issue Report on Particulate Pollution and the recommendation on Total Exposure to Air Pollution address this aspect of firewood usage.

        Favourable news

        • A national strategy for firewood collection and use in Australia has been developed (ANZECC 2001). The strategy aims to ensure firewood collection occurs on an ecologically sustainable basis and does not cause loss or degradation of remnant and woodland ecosystems, or the habitat of threatened species. The strategy also aims to provide a national framework that each jurisdiction may draw upon to develop appropriate management strategies for their firewood industry.
        • As part of its commitment to addressing the impacts of firewood collection, the Australian Government, through the Natural Heritage Trust's Bushcare program, sponsored firewood conferences in several parts of Australia. Tasmania held its first firewood conference in 2001 - entitled 'Firewood: A Biodiversity Consumer and Human Health Issue' organised by the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.

        Unfavourable news

        • In Tasmania, firewood collection is heavily concentrated in dry sclerophyll forests and woodland ecosystems, often from remnant patches of vegetation on private land (see map). Of all forest types, dry forests have suffered the greatest disturbance and land clearance since European settlement (see also Land Clearance).
        • Based on information on woodland species with distributions localised in firewood collection zones, 33 species of birds, 15 species of reptiles and 22 mammal species in Tasmania are likely to be threatened by firewood harvesting due to the loss of tree hollows and/or foraging habitat. The large dead hollow-bearing trees and fallen timber are the two timber types most targeted by wood cutters, which puts fauna dependent on these habitats at considerable risk. When a habitat is removed then eventually the affected species may become extinct, either locally or regionally.

        Uncertain news

        • The total tonnage of industrial fuelwood used in Tasmania in 2000-01 was 163,382 air dry tonnes. This amount only includes those industries required to submit data to the National Pollutant Inventory, so there is uncertainty about the actual use of wood fuel by industry.
        • A survey was conducted on the amount of wood sold by merchants in Tasmania. Of the small number of merchants interviewed it was calculated that they sold 5,400 air dry tonnes during the last year or season (1999-00) prior to their interview. However, respondents found it difficult to estimate the quantity of firewood they sold, and in some instances, gave wide estimates (Driscoll et al. 2000).
        • There was no data available on the specific areas where the retailers collect firewood or the specific plant species targeted.
        • Although specific research on the impacts of firewood collection on native habitats is limited, it is expected that firewood collection is causing significant ecological damage, especially in areas where habitats are already degraded.
        • It is difficult to know which invertebrate species are being affected by firewood collection. Instead, invertebrate ecologists and taxonomists have stressed the need for habitat conservation rather than putting resources into particular species.

        The distribution of dry sclerophyll forest and woodland in Tasmania.

        The distribution of dry sclerophyll forest and woodland in Tasmania.

        Caption: Dry sclerophyll vegetation predominates from lowland to upland areas in northern and eastern Tasmania, and subalpine country of the south-eastern central highlands.

        Source: RFA (1997) and TasVeg 2000 data.

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        Last Modified: 14 Dec 2006
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