Ending native logging in the Southern and Eden forests of NSW and using them for mountain-biking and carbon farming could be worth more than $60 million to taxpayers, according to economic modelling.
Consultants Frontier Economics and climate risk expert Andrew Macintosh released a report on Tuesday that modelled the economic value of the native hardwood forests when harvested and used for timber products compared with being left untouched as an environmental and recreational asset.
The cost-benefit analysis found an economic benefit of $61.96 million from ceasing native forest harvesting in the areas, even without putting a value on biodiversity benefits from protecting the areas.
Across the states that still engaged in native forestry there was likely to be a similar result, Australian National University’s Andrew Macintosh told AAP on Tuesday.
“Given the nature of the products that they produce, there’s likely to be similar dynamics, and also benefits, from stopping harvesting, particularly on the greenhouse gas emissions side,” Professor Macintosh said.
He said more subsidies and “patient capital” were needed for investing in new hardwood plantations.
“It’s worthwhile looking at trying to promote another way of investment in plantations to help substitute out of native forestry and to provide the incentives people need.”
NSW production in logs is close to the output of Victoria and Tasmania – the other major native forest harvesting states.
Split between pulp and saw logs, southern native forestry in NSW generally accounts for around half the state’s output and much of the high-end decking and floorboards available to builders.
Yet the annual reports of the forestry agencies show their financial performance is not strong and the low financial returns to NSW taxpayers from the important natural resource are a “concern”, the report says.
Danny Price, managing director of Frontier Economics, said NSW could demonstrate strong leadership in removing the taxpayer burden of native forest logging and boosting tourism sector and carbon abatement.
“There is no doubt managing the native forests for conservation purposes provides greater economic benefits than logging,” he said.
“It’s a win-win and, quite frankly, a no-brainer.”
Compared with NSW’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the abatement from stopping native forest harvesting was found to be “relatively modest”.
However, there were unlikely to be many larger single, low-cost abatement opportunities available in NSW or across Australia, the report says.
The employment impact from ceasing to harvest native forests in the Southern and Eden areas was expected to be “very small”, particularly as there are credible, alternative jobs available for workers.
Other job opportunities include plantation forestry and native forest management, including fire management services and control of feral species.
Direct employment in the area associated with native logging has declined significantly in the past 15 years, including native forest management, harvest, haulage and wood processors, the report found.
More than 80 per cent of the forest area could be harvested has been recently affected by fire.
Long-term sustainable timber supply from the south coast forests has been reduced by almost a third since the bushfires of 2019-2020.