D. Driscoll, G. Milkovits and D. Freudenberger,
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems,
Environment Australia, November 2000
About this report
The report provides a national perspective of the extent and impact of firewood collection. The report reviews existing information and provides new survey results from Australian households, firewood merchants, and state government agencies.
Between 4.5 and 5.5 million tonnes of firewood were burned in Australian households over the past 12 months. When industrial firewood use is included, the total amount of firewood used in Australia was between 6 and 7 million tonnes. Although capital cities contain 2/3 of households in Australia, they consume only 1/3 of the firewood.
The four most commonly burned tree categories, in order of popularity, are
- River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis 1.1 million tonnes),
- Jarrah (E. marginata 0.61 million tonnes),
- Red Box and Yellow Box (E. polyanthemos, E. melliodora 0.54 million tonnes), and
- Ironbark (E. sideroxylon 0.47 million tonnes)
Three quarters of the people who collect their own firewood gather fallen timber, but they also take live and standing dead timber.
Approximately half of the firewood burned in households is collected by the residents, and 84% of the timber is obtained from private property.
Established wood merchants who advertise in the Yellow Pages ® or have a business premises account for only about one quarter of firewood that is purchased. Merchants obtain the preferred timber species, such as red gum and box, from distant sources and often transport the wood 400 kilometres or more.
Most firewood is purchased from small suppliers (60%), and smaller amounts are bought from friends (10%). These small suppliers represent a completely unregulated part of the market that is worth about $260 million/year.
Inland forests and woodlands in lower rainfall zones appear to be the ecological communities most threatened by firewood collection, because they comprise popular firewood species, have been most extensively cleared for agriculture and have very slow growth rates. However, because of the paucity of research, direct evidence to support this conclusion is available only for River Red Gum forests in the lower Murray-Darling catchment and the Armidale area, NSW. Up to 80% of fallen timber may have been removed from red gum forests. Roadsides and other public land have been badly degraded by firewood collection near Armidale and up to 80% of green timber has been removed.
Inferential evidence suggests that firewood collection has an impact on the whole spectrum of biodiversity. Of particular concern are probable effects on ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and plant establishment, because of the potential loss of highly specialised species of invertebrates and fungi.
Few studies test for the effects of firewood removal on wildlife, although there is mounting evidence that at least 20 bird species are threatened by it. This does not imply that birds are more sensitive than other vertebrate groups, only that birds have received more research attention.