Valuing our native forests

Boy hugging a large tree in a forest

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Walking through a native forest of enormous ancient trees, you can’t help but experience a sense of awe and wonder in the shadow of such giants. Giants that have stood for hundreds of years. 

Aside from capturing our imagination, research shows that old-growth forests are key to our survival. 

The benefits of native forests include, but extend way beyond, the production of essential oxygen, habitat for thousands of species, and tourism. And yet native forests continue to be logged for short-term products such as woodchip, paper and pallets.

A clear-felled forest with only large tree stumps remaining.
Native forests continue to be logged for short-term products such as woodchip, paper and pallets. Canva.

The $ value of native forests

When it comes to measuring the benefits of our native forests, the numbers don’t lie. Scientists have applied ecosystem accounting methods—where the services (the benefits for people) obtained from ecosystems are measured and translated into monetary terms. Using this method they found that native forests are proving to be more valuable when left standing.

This makes ecosystem accounting an important tool for policymaking.

Using this method, scientists from Australian National University (ANU) reported in the Journal Nature Ecology and Evolution that:

“Native forests would provide greater benefits from their ecosystem services of carbon sequestration, water yield, habitat provisioning and recreational amenity if harvesting for timber production ceased, thus allowing forests to continue growing to older ages.”

Keith, H., Vardon, M., Stein, J.A. et al. Ecosystem accounts define explicit and spatial trade-offs for managing natural resources. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1683–1692 (2017).
Rider on mountain bike in a forest, speeding around a corner- native forests more valuable left standing.
Forest mountain bike trails attract invaluable tourist dollars. Canva.

Furthermore, in an article for the Land journal, ANU researchers David Lindenmayer and Chris Taylor present a case study of the mountain ash forests in the Victorian Central Highlands. These forests are vital in providing most of the water for the city of Melbourne. They are also important for tourism, biodiversity and play a significant role in carbon storage. 

Applying an ecosystem accounting method, it was shown (as seen below) that all services from these forests, when left standing, provided greater value than those from logging for the native timber sector.

Column chart comparing economic contribution of sectors of Central Highland of Victoria: native forests have higher value.
Economic contribution to the Victorian economy from key economic activities in Victoria’s Central Highlands . Graph: Land Journal.

It’s evident then, that ending logging of native forests presents multiple advantages.

Among these advantages, one of the most important is the potential for the capture and storage of vast amounts of carbon—making native forests crucial in our efforts to mitigate climate change.

For example, in Tasmania’s recent history, the logging industry was the primary source of Tasmania’s greenhouse gas emissions. But in a paper for the Environmental Research Letters, scientists reported that when a substantial decrease in the logging of native forests occurred, a significant reduction in carbon emissions resulted. In fact, the reduction in emissions was so large that Tasmania became a net carbon sink.

There is no measure for the value of native forests for our well-being—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. But, when it comes to protecting our planet, there are numbers that can’t be ignored—leaving our native forests standing makes economic sense. It is critical in climate change mitigation and will ultimately be key to our survival.


Accounting for Ecosystems.

Diversifying Forest Landscape Management—A Case Study of a Shift from Native Forest Logging to Plantations in Australian Wet Forests. Lindenmayer, D., & Taylor, C.

Ecosystem accounts define explicit and spatial trade-offs for managing natural resources. Keith, H., Vardon, M., Stein, J., Stein, J., Lindenmayer, D.

Introduction to Ecosystem Accounting.

Net carbon accounting and reporting are a barrier to understanding the mitigation value of forest protection in developed countries. Mackey, B., Moomaw, W., Lindenmayer, D., Keith, H.

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