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Report No. 53

Rainforest Restoration Activities in Australia's Tropics and Subtropics

Research Report
Carla P. Catterall and Debra A. Harrison
ISBN 0 86443 769 2

Large areas of Australian rainforest were converted by European settlers to pasture and cropland, with undesirable environmental consequences. This report describes the nature of efforts to restore rainforest cover to the eastern tropics and subtropics, where the largest rainforest areas were found.

Since around 1990, a complex array of government-sponsored schemes has provided financial subsidies to encourage and assist restoration. A striking feature has been the high level of community involvement. Most projects targeted the banks of creeks and rivers, and were less than five hectares in area. Total areas reforested region-wide were modest (less than 1% of the area of past clearing). The unit cost of vegetation reinstatement was around AU$20,000 / ha, but costs of projects below 2.0 ha in area often greatly exceeded this. The value of such small-scale projects may be in community engagement, whereas good ecological outcomes are more likely with larger-scale projects. The cost of reinstatement is also related to the need to achieve a closed tree canopy as rapidly as possible, which requires closely spaced plantings.

Achieving a substantial increase in rainforest cover will require reforestation over much larger aggregate land areas than have been replanted to date. The scale of current funding budgets is insufficient for this goal. To reinstate forest over larger areas at lower unit cost, the management of naturally established (autogenic) regrowth deserves further consideration. The future development of revegetation strategies requires soundly designed, quantitative and well-documented monitoring of the outcomes of different types of project, together with centralised and stable record-keeping, and collaboration between scientific researchers and the broader community in experimental management.

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