A NSW Government website


Forestry in NSW

The timber industry in NSW adds $2.4 billion to the economy1 and in 2016 directly employed an estimated 16,400 people in the forest sector2. In specific areas, such as the southwest slopes and Bombala regions, the plantation forestry industry not only is a large employer but contributes significantly to the direct net expenditure of industry (estimated at greater than $700 M in 2015-16)3.   Across the state more than 5.6 million cubic metres of sawlogs are processed by 13 softwood mills in NSW every year4. Radiata pine (Pinus radiata) is the dominant softwood forestry product for NSW and of 1,040,000 ha of softwood plantations in Australia, 306,000 ha are in NSW5. The Vulnerability Assessment project will focus on Radiata pine as a critical forestry product for NSW.

Current climate impact trends


The bushfires of the 2019/2021 fire season had a catastrophic impact on the NSW forestry estate.

In New South Wales, around 71,000 hectares of softwood plantations (23% of that estate) and 21,000 hectares of hardwood plantations fell within the fire extent6.

Research has shown a clear trend towards more dangerous conditions during spring and summer in southern Australia, including increased frequency and magnitude of extremes, as well as indicating an earlier start to the fire season, with these changes attributable at least in part to anthropogenic climate change including in relation to increasing temperatures7,8.

Drought and heat stress

P. radiata is endemic to the relatively cool, moist coastal forests of California. As such, hot, dry conditions can lead to a reduction in tree growth. Low soil moisture availability over extended periods of time causes significant tree stress and can result in mortality. Drought conditions also impact on seedling establishment. It is expected that the recent drought conditions in NSW (2017-2020) substantially reduced the growth rates in softwood plantations9.

Future climate change

Future climate change in NSW is projected to exacerbate existing trends by increasing the prevalence of dangerous fire weather and increasing the prevalence and severity of drought10. Extreme hot temperatures that damage sensitive plant tissues are also projected to increase in frequency and intensity11.

Vulnerability Assessment

The NSW DPI Climate Change Research Strategy is working to develop a comparable analysis of climate change impacts for a range of key primary industries across NSW. For plantation forestry, the Vulnerability Assessment project is analysing climate change impacts for the predominant plantation timber species, Radiata Pine. In addition, the project is also looking at modelling changes in NSW’s climate suitability for Dothistroma needle blight (Dothistroma septosporum), an important fungal disease of Radiata pine.

This work will help to provide a picture of potential climate change impacts to the forestry sector across NSW, looking ahead to 2050. It is intended that this work will help identify adaptation needs and priorities that can guide research and development activities over the next 30 years to increase resilience of this critical sector to a changing climate.

Forestry Commodities

The Vulnerability Assessment project will focus on Radiata Pine as a critical forestry product for NSW.


1 https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/forestry/industry-roadmap [Accessed 31/05/2021]

2 Australia’s State of the Forests Report (Criterion 6 – Employment in the forest sector), 2018. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/forestsaustralia/sofr/sofr-2018/criterion6 [Accessed 31/05/2021]

3 Schirmer, J., D. Gibbs, M. Mylek, A. Magnusson and J. Morison, 2017. Socio-economic impacts of the softwood plantation industry in the South West Slopes and Bombala region, NSW. https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/721724/socio-economic-impacts-of-the-softwood-plantation-industry.pdf [Accessed 31/05/2021]

4 https://timbernsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/TNSW-INDUSTRY-Brochure.pdf

5 Downham, R. and M. Gavran, 2020. Australian plantation statistics 2020 update. https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/forestsaustralia/plantation-inventory-and-statistics,  https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/forestsaustralia/australias-forests-at-a-glance [Accessed 1/06/2021]

6 https://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/products/insights/effects-of-bushfires-and-covid19-forestry-wood-processing-sectors [Accessed 21/05/2021]

7 Dowdy, A.J., 2018. Climatological variability of fire weather in Australia. Journal of applied meteorology and climatology 57(2), pp.221-234, https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0167.1.

8 Abram, N. J. et al., 2021. Connections of climate change and variability to large and extreme forest fires in southeast Australia. Communications Earth & Environment 2(1): 8.

9 https://forestrycorporation.com.au/about/pubs/corporate/sustainability-reports [Accessed 1/06/2021]

10 Pinkard, L., et al., 2014. Adaptation strategies to manage risk in Australia’s plantations. Canberra, Australia, Forest & Wood Products Australia: 224.

11 McDowell, N.G., 2011. Mechanisms linking drought, hydraulics, carbon metabolism, and vegetation mortality. Plant Physiology 155: 1051-1059; Mitchell, P.J., et al., 2013. Drought response strategies define the relative contributions of hydraulic dysfunction and carbohydrate depletion during tree mortality. New Phytologist 197: 862-872.