The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) has welcomed the publication of a draft sandalwood biodiversity management programme, but has expressed concern that time is fast running out to protect these native trees.
The draft document, released by the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions(WA (DBCA) on Tuesday, setting out the proposed next steps in the state government’s conservation plans for native sandalwood. The Santalum spicatum (Sandalwood) Biodiversity Management Programme (Sandalwood BMP) is the first such plan to be produced by a state government and it is hoped that it will form part of a framework for processes to conserve, protect and manage wild sandalwood.
Santalum spicatum (commonly known as sandalwood) is a native Western Australian aromatic sandalwood species which grows wild in the Wheatbelt and rangelands of WA. The species is also found in South Australia where it is listed as vulnerable and under protected under conservation laws.
It has been used as a source of food and medicine by Aboriginal communities for many thousands of years. Shortly after the arrival of European settlers, sandalwood became a profitable commodity for export, with millions of trees being sent overseas for use in incense and to create sandalwood oil. Unsustainable logging of sandalwood since the early 1800’s has pushed the species to near extinction in many parts of WA.
Sandalwood continues to be harvested primarily from wild trees with harvests from plantations representing less than a quarter of overall sandalwood industry production, making wild distributions of the trees a top priority for conservation. At present, approximately 35,000 mature wild trees are harvested by the Forest Products Commission - the WA government body responsible for sandalwood industry on state-owned land - each year.
A draft plan was first indicated for release by DBCA in 2016 and was scheduled to be released within a period of six months.
Maggie Wood from CCWA, said that this delay was cause for concern:
“While we welcome this first step in greater measures to protect native sandalwood, it is unfortunate that the plan has not been produced much sooner.
“Had DBCA released this draft for consultation when it originally stated it would - no less than six years ago - there would have been a far greater window of opportunity in which scientists, conservationists, Traditional Owners, industry and government could have worked together to develop a sustainable plan which protected WA's sandalwood.
“As it is, the impacts on wild sandalwood have only increased during that time. Where before, a gradual transition away from wild sandalwood take, towards a greater reliance on plantation, might have been possible, now far more stringent protections are necessary.
“We are pleased to note DBCA’s intention to consult with stakeholders – including CCWA and its affiliated groups – ‘in a meaningful way’ and that it values the ‘knowledge and opinions of others as part of its decision making process’.
“For many within the field of conservation in WA, the protecting of wild growing sandalwood has been a life’s work. We hope that we will have the opportunities to bring those voices to the fore as we work with the state government on this vital programme.”
Environment Matters Forum: Our Declining Native Sandalwood - CCWA will host its latest Environment Matters forum on Wednesday 2 November, with guest speakers including leading conservationists, scientists, Traditional Custodians and industry leaders. Find out more, here.
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies on 08 9420 7291 or by email, [email protected]