AS WE LOOK BACK OVER THE PAST 100 YEARS,
WE CAN ONLY WONDER WHAT THE GENERATIONS OF MEN,
WOMEN AND CHILDREN WHO LIVED, WORKED AND PLAYED
IN THESE FORESTS BEFORE US WOULD MAKE OF OUR FORESTS TODAY.
Would the first commissioners rally behind the conservation techniques of today? Would
early 20th century axemen revel in the air-conditioned comfort of today’s harvesters? Would
families living in simplicity and isolation within yesteryear’s forests understand why our
towns and cities are today ringed by beautiful forests?
We can’t know what their answers would be, yet we can be certain that they would
be proud to see that the vision they had, and began creating 100 years ago – to strike a
balance between environmental conservation, community access and sustainable timber
production in NSW’s forests – is being realised today.
As a slide in the 1926 film Forest Wealth, produced by the then Forestry Commission
of NSW, said:
The lesson history teaches is that forest preservation and national prosperity go hand
in hand. With conservation management, our forests can be made to serve the needs
of both present and future generations.1
We are those future generations the Commission referred to when setting a faithful
course towards ensuring that our forests are around for generations to come. The legacy of
that work lives on today.
While the vision of sustainable forest management has remained consistent for the past
century, we are constantly refining how to achieve this fine balance.
After centuries of active management by the first Australians, particularly using small,
cool fires, NSW’s forests were transformed by European colonisation. Forests were the main
source of material for buildings, bridges, boats, fences, furniture and firewood. Farmers,
galvanised by the forces of industry and growth, cleared forested land to create farmland
for wool, beef and crop production. Unfortunately, the forests paid a heavy price for this.
The clearing dramatically and permanently reduced the amount of forested land in NSW
and with it the habitats of many native species. However, in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, the first steps were taken to undo the damage. More than two million hectares of
forests were sequestered in reserves following a Royal Commission into forest management
and the passing of the Forestry Act 1909, which aimed to enshrine environmental
conservation as a goal for the management of our remaining forest areas.
Less than a decade later, the Forestry Act 1916 further strengthened these first efforts at
achieving sustainable forest management by establishing clearer guidelines for preserving
species, improving business practices and establishing the NSW Forestry Commission. This
was a time of great change in our understanding of forests. No longer were forests viewed
as a short-term resource. Instead, as the newly federated nation continued to draw on the
forests to build the roads, railways and towns for the next generation of Australians, the
Forestry Commission took a longer-term view of forest management and conservation and
started bolstering the native forest estate through plantations of exotic pine.
With World War II came the boom in production of planes, ships, rifles and building
materials demanding large supplies of timber and accelerating production pressures.
Despite establishing pine plantations to meet the growing need for local timber, by the end
of the war our native forests were under severe stress due to intense production pressure.
After the war, the State forest estate expanded, growing to more than three million
hectares and incorporating native, or naturally occurring, forests, timber plantations and
conservation areas. The Forestry Act 1916 had set up the Forestry Commission to manage
the forest for multiple values – sustainable management of the long-term timber resource
balanced with conservation of important forest features like soil, water, flora and fauna. The
recreational use of forests had been part and parcel of State forests for many years and in
1973 this was formally recognised with the Forestry Act amended to include the promotion
and encouragement of recreation.
Management of forested land in NSW was complemented with the establishment of the
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1967. The Commission continued to manage
both harvestable and non-harvestable areas of forest and the Commission’s successor
Forestry Corporation of NSW (Forestry Corporation), continues to do so today.
Throughout the mid 20th century, the Commission sharpened its focus on sustainable
management of production forests and began increasing the scientific rigour of the harvest
planning process by drawing on forest research and environmental sciences.