The ‘Auria Arid Region Forestry Research Project’ was established to develop techniques that would enable sustainable and profitable forestry to be undertaken in areas where forestry has previously been discounted out of hand.
Initially the motivation was to address dry land salinity, hence the name ‘Auria’, which is derived from the word ‘Australia’, by the removal of ‘salt’. ‘Auria’ has been undertaking arid-region forestry research in Western Australia since 2001.
Much of Western Australia is classified as ‘arid’ or ‘semi-arid’ (100mm - 400mm/annum rainfall zone) and has soils that are among the most impoverished on the planet. We all recognise that trees need moisture and nutrients to grow, yet remarkably, trees with outstanding physical qualities that endear them with considerable value, grow here naturally under these challenging conditions. The challenge was to emulate Nature.
Due to a simple error-of-judgement by early settlers, the native trees were thought to be too slow-growing for commercial forestry projects, and that stigma has never been questioned. What was not recognised was that the native trees have evolved so they can grow under particularly hostile conditions. In any 12month period, deciduous trees in the settlers homelands, experience just one period of ‘summer growth’ and one of ‘winter dormancy’, resulting in the production of one growth ring per year. By contrast, trees that have evolved in arid regions, go in and out of partial dormancy, many times a year in response to moisture availability, producing a misleadingly high number of growth rings. Some trees have been observed to produce well in excess of 10 growth rings per year, this piece of wood was cut from a 3 year old tree, at a height it would have reached after one year, so these rings were produced over a two year period.
Aware of this, the challenge at ‘Auria’ has been to demonstrate to the world at large that forestry can be both successful and sustainable in arid and semi-arid regions. For this to be achieved, methods had to be developed that would enable trees to be established successfully and economically in a hostile environment. By implementing some very simple and logical techniques, this can now be achieved consistently.