‘Dying out’: Calls to protect wild sandalwood after 175 years of harvest and export

‘Dying out’: Calls to protect wild sandalwood after 175 years of harvest and export

As a young man, Badimia elder Ashley Bell made money from collecting sandalwood, today he’s so concerned about the sustainability of wild sandalwood he’s requiring a restriction on eliminating it from his traditional lands.

Bottom line:

  • Sandalwood has actually been shipped of Western Australia since 1844
  • There are require greater preservation of wild sandalwood trees
  • The plantation market says it is all set to fill the sandalwood market with its trees

Native Australian sandalwood, Santalum spicatum, is a little, slow-growing hemiparasitic tree consisting of important heartwood which grows in the southern half of Western Australia.

Wanted by incense and oil markets, sandalwood has been commercially harvested in the state for 175 years, however concerns have actually been raised about the sustainability of wildwood populations under present government management plans.

Years back, like many individuals, Mr Bell and his dad made an income harvesting and selling sandalwood.

A man wearing a blue shirt with grey hair looks at a tree.

Ashley Bell desires wild sandalwood to be a safeguarded species.( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

” I’ve remained in the sandalwood industry considering that I was14 I used to go out sandalwood [harvesting] and assist with the barking and the packaging, and the pulling of the sandalwood,” he said.

He’s now concerned wild populations of the aromatic tree are on a path towards termination.

” A lot of the senior citizens that have remained in the industry have actually done [sandalwood harvesting] for a task for several years and years, and they were never, ever told the truth about the plant getting near to extinction,” Mr Bell said.

Research study casts doubt on sustainability

The WA federal government’s Forest Products Commission (FPC) is accountable for the commercial harvesting, regeneration, marketing and sale of wild-growing Australian sandalwood.

Each year, 2,500 tonnes of sandalwood is lawfully collected throughout the state’s rangelands, bound for oil or incense markets all over the world.

Leading grade heartwood can bring $15,000 a tonne.

” Their management practices of collecting wild sandalwood … I think it’s more for the money and does not accompany what the science says,” Mr Bell stated.

A sandalwood tree growing in red dirt surrounded by wildflowers

After 175 years of harvest and exports, concerns have been raised over the future of WA’s wild sandalwood trees. ( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

Research ecologist Richard McLellan has actually invested the past three years examining the science around sandalwood regeneration and mortality.

He said the approximated wild population of Australian sandalwood had actually decreased by as much as 90 per cent.

” The bottom line is that no-one knows how much is left, we feel in one’s bones it’s not restoring and is therefore declining in numbers through natural mortality and harvesting.”

A man wearing a wide brim hat and glasses looks at a sandalwood tree leaf

Richard McLellan thinks sandalwood is being gathered at an unsustainable rate. ( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

He said there had actually been no regeneration of sandalwood “for possibly 80 to 100 years” and most of the sandalwood plants were in between 100 to 200 years old.

” In the [sandalwood industry] parliamentary query in Western Australia between 2012 and 2014, it came out there that may be a sustainable rate of harvest would be perhaps 200 tonnes a year,” he stated.

” We’re collecting at an unsustainable rate and yet is not hiring or regenerating at anywhere near that rate.”

Mr McLellan stated federal government developed regeneration and reseeding programs were not working.

” The [state government’s] sandalwood gathering proposition stated we ‘d produce about 100,000 seedlings a year. FPC is saying, ‘Well, perhaps now we can just produce 50,000 a year’, however the annual reports show that they’re not attaining that,” he stated.

” That’s largely because we’re not getting the rainfall that they require in the Goldfields and the Great Western Woodlands to help them,” he said.

Mr McLellan’s research was just recently published in the Rangeland Journal.

A pile of sandalwood branches.

The sandalwood is used to produce incense and oil.( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

In a written statement, a state federal government spokesperson said harvesting of wild sandalwood was handled under rigorous sustainability criteria.

They stated half of all wood harvested had actually already passed away naturally and the FPC was working to increase wild sandalwood regrowth and was establishing young sandalwood trees.

” The FPC actively plants more wild sandalwood than it gathers, sowing between 5 and 10 million wild sandalwood seeds every year, throughout an area equivalent to the range in between Perth and Karratha,” the statement said.

” The FPC’s wild sandalwood replanting program is presently profiting of this year’s winter season rainfall, with seed that has actually stayed dormant due to dry spell conditions, now sprouting up to five years after it was sown.”

Press to prohibit harvest on standard lands

Ashley Bell and his family have actually formally requested that no sandalwood be drawn from their residential or commercial property, Ninghan Station, in WA’s Mid West.

Mr Bell stated he wanted harvesting of wild sandalwood banned on Badimia land, and he thinks all Australian sandalwood must be categorized as a threatened species.

While it’s deemed a forestry wood in WA, sandalwood is safeguarded and noted as “susceptible” in South Australia.

A sandalwood tree with the sun setting behind it.

Richard McLellan thinks most sandalwood trees staying in WA’s rangelands are old trees.( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

” It is among the fastest disappearing plants in our landscape at the moment, and it’s been greatly collected for it for hundreds of years,” Mr Bell stated.

” A lot of the little animals that utilized to bury the seeds as well that have gone from the landscape.

” They ‘d collect the seeds and bury them like a squirrel would and come back later on and eat them later on, and they’ve become extinct.

” There’s few of them left, however we try and take care of the ones that are left.”

He stated any young plants that did germinate were rapidly eaten off by livestock and native animals.

The plant has actually been a vital part of Native culture for countless years.

” We were taught in our culture that it’s a food source and medicine and used in smoking ceremonies, and it’s a plant that we do not actually want to see go out of the landscape,” Mr Bell said.

A pile of logs sit under a white dome.

Plantations of Australian sandalwood in the Wheatbelt are readying for harvest.( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

Transition to plantation harvest

Both Ashley Bell and Richard McLellan are urging the WA federal government to support a shift from wild collecting to plantation farming.

WA Sandalwood Plantations (WASP) handles 13,000 hectares of native Australian sandalwood trees growing in plantations throughout the WA Wheatbelt.

This year WASP began complete clear-fell of a few of its plantation trees.

WASP managing director Keith Drage wants government to honour a dedication he said it made 20 years ago to develop the plantation sector, and then shift into it, far from wild harvest.

A close up shot of a man looking off camera.

WASP managing director Keith Drage desires the quantity of wildwood drawn from WA’s rangelands considerably lowered. ( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

” I believe the biggest frustration is simply that when we got into this market back in the very early 2000 s, it was supported with some good federal government policy around, incentivising personal market to invest in the Wheatbelt, in numerous woodland types, however especially sandalwood,” he said.

” And it featured a really well-articulated policy around government allowing that process.

” The Forest Products Commission were the agency that was appointed to work within that process, but with a clear desire that gradually there would be a shift into a brand-new world of reduced wild harvest to complement this sustainable plantation resource.”

This year WASP will harvest about 400 tonnes of plantation sandalwood, and by 2023 that collect total could increase to 4,000 tonnes per year.

A machine plucks a sandalwood tree out of the ground.

Thousands of hectares of Australian sandalwood growing in plantations in the Wheatbelt will be prepared for harvest over the next years. ( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

The business was one of 12 signatories to a letter sent out to the WA state federal government last year detailing concerns about the sustainability of wild sandalwood populations.

It likewise warned of the possible cost collapse, with additional tonnes of plantation wood getting in the market which has previously just dealt with wildwood.

Keith Drage and WASP co-founder Ron Mulder are likewise part owners of wildwood distillation company Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils.

The Kalgoorlie-based company is 50 per cent owned by Indigenous Australians and provides valuable employment opportunities for standard owners to work on nation.

WASP is lobbying government for a reduction in the state’s wildwood harvest, but with some harvest permitted by Indigenous groups.

A piece of cut sandalwood showing the heartwood in its centre.

The heartwood of sandalwood consists of a valuable fragrant oil. ( ABC Landline: Chris Lewis)

The FPC likewise manages 6,000 hectares of plantation Australian sandalwood.

In a just recently released report, it said it planned to begin harvest of its plantations in2026

A WA federal government representative stated the yearly sandalwood harvest quota would be examined prior to 2026.

They said due to decreased international demand, the FPC’s complete quota of wild sandalwood was not presently being gathered.

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