Reassessing old growth mapping on coastal state forests

Independently overseeing a program to reassess old growth forest mapping on coastal state forests

In November 2018, the Premier asked the Commission to independently oversee a program to reassess old growth forest mapping on coastal state forests. The Commission worked with the Environment, Energy and Science Group’s (EES) Science Division, within the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to develop an assessment and decision making framework.

Old growth reassessment program suspended

The NSW Government has suspended the program to reassess old growth forest mapping on coastal state forests.

The draft old growth reassessment framework was delivered to the NSW Government in August 2019 for their review prior to community consultation. At that time, the program was temporarily placed on hold to allow Forestry Corporation of NSW to conduct further modelling of total hardwood wood supply, including hardwood plantations.

You can access the draft framework that we developed here.

Since then, the 2019-20 fires burnt over 5 million hectares of New South Wales, including 890,000 hectares of native state forest. On the NSW north coast, over 100,000 hectares of mapped old growth in state forests was burnt.

Working with 2Rog Consulting, the Commission looked at the impact of the fires on mapped old growth forest. This assessment used spatial data only, including the burnt area mapping prepared by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. We then considered the implications for applying the proposed methods in the draft old growth reassessment framework.

You can access our desktop assessment of the 2019-20 fires on mapped old growth forest here.

The Commission determined that the draft framework could no longer be implemented in accordance with the timelines and funding under the Premier’s terms of reference. This is because the proposed old growth assessment method would have applied remote sensing techniques to assess canopy cover and structural maturity. Where the fires burnt the forest canopy, the remote sensing approach proposed cannot be accurately applied. Our assessment found that over 45 percent of mapped old growth in north coast state forests experienced full or partial canopy burn in the 2019-20 fires.

The Commission advised the NSW Government we would be unable to continue in accordance with the terms of reference.

Based on this advice, the NSW Government has now suspended the program and approved the remaining funds being repurposed to the Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program.

Expert panel now disbanded

The Commission had established an expert panel to advise on the development of the assessment method and framework. The expert panel has now been disbanded. The members included:

  • Professor Jerry Vanclay, Director, Forest Research Centre and Head of School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University
  • Associate Professor Philip Gibbons, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
  • Associate Professor Craig Nitschke, Senior Research Fellow, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne.

Project background

Click here to read the Premier's Terms of Reference for the project.

Click here for the project fact sheet.

What are old growth forests?

Old growth forests are ecologically mature forests where the effects of disturbance are now negligible. This is a nationally agreed definition that has been in place since 1997.

Watch this short video to find out what makes a forest an old growth forest.


The project would have:

  • identified, mapped and protected old growth forest, including unmapped old growth forest
  • identified areas of incorrectly mapped old growth that could have been rezoned
  • field verified all areas of incorrectly mapped old growth ahead of any decision on rezoning
  • only reassessed a small proportion of old growth mapping to address a verified wood supply shortfall – other incorrectly mapped areas would not have been reassessed, leaving them to transition to mature forests in time
  • protected site and landscape environmental values and maintained conservation reserve targets.

The project would not have:

  • lead to old growth forest being harvested
  • reassessed rainforest mapping or lead to rainforest being harvested
  • reassessed old growth mapping in national parks or on private land
  • lead to an erosion of environmental values.

Why reassess old growth forest mapping?

In March 2018, the Commission advised there are significant errors in current old growth forest mapping on state forests.

This means there are areas of forest that have been mapped and protected as old growth forest that aren’t old growth forest. It also means there could be areas of old growth forest that haven’t been mapped and protected.

Watch this short video to find out what the Commission was going to do under the program.

Rezoning incorrectly mapped forest could have allowed these areas to be harvested. If impacts on wood supply were to arise from new settings in the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, rezoning a small proportion of incorrectly mapped forest could have addressed any verified shortfall in supply.

This would have maintained the NSW Government’s twin commitments for no net change in wood supply and no erosion in environmental values.

Read more on the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval page.