Monday, December 17, 2018

Trees are worth billions to Australia's economy — but how we value them is changing

How much is a tree worth?
In economic terms, your answer depends on how you value them.
Forestry exports contribute $3 billion to Australia's economy; its manufacturing, sales and service income make up around $24 billion per year.
Increasingly, agroforestry and carbon abatement initiatives also provide an economic benefit.
So while money might not grow on trees, they are becoming more profitable.

The money tree

Forestry makes up less than 1 per cent of Australia's economy, which is not an insubstantial figure at a regional level.
And forest scientist Rowan Reid says the branches of the tree economy spread wider than you may think.
"It's a matter of what the trees give you over their lifespan, which is biodiversity, erosion control... and shelter for livestock," says Mr Reid, who owns a tree farm in Victoria's Otway Ranges.
"It gives you those values as it's growing.
"At the end, you cut a tree down, you've got the value of the timber. That's the cherry on top."
Andrew Jacobs, from plantation-based forestry company Forico, says it's not possible to put a dollar value on a single tree.
"It depends how old the tree is, depends a bit on where it is," he says.
Forico operates 185,000 hectares of land in Tasmania; more than half of that is plantation forest.
Mr Jacobs says an individual tree can cost anywhere between $1.50 to $2 to plant, and much more in maintenance.
In return, softwood trees "range from $70 to $175 per green metric tonne at the mill door," he says, while hardwoods range from $100 to $140.

Are we valuing trees appropriately?

Peter Kanowski, a professor of forestry at the Australian National University, says we need to change the way we value trees to assess their full benefit.
Like Mr Reid, he says a tree's profitability is about more than the wood sales it generates; they deliver "a much wider range of ecosystem services".
This includes "carbon sequestration [and] water catchment values, depending on the tree's biodiversity".
"Our mechanisms for valuing those other than carbon are still pretty rudimentary," he says.
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