Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program

Independently overseeing and advising on a state-wide monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement program for adaptively managing NSW forests across tenures in an ecologically sustainable manner




The Premier has asked the Commission under a terms of reference to independently oversee and advise on a state-wide monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement program for NSW forests.

The Program will improve the evidence-base for decision-making for forest management across tenures.

This will strengthen the NSW Government’s ability to strategically and adaptively manage forests over time, including state forests, national parks, private native forests and crown forested land.

Forest monitoring projects

The program has now invested over $2.5 million in projects with nearly 20 partners including leading universities, Aboriginal community groups, consultancies and NSW agencies.

The project will deliver monitoring and evaluation to support improved outcomes for NSW forests. The program will soon seek opportunities to link projects to citizen science data. Stay tuned for project updates and findings.

People and forests

Forest-dependent jobs

Synergies and Verterra will identify available data and develop and pilot methods to estimate forest-dependent jobs. Professor John Mangan, University of Queensland and Dr. Glenn Dale will lead the work. This work will address the state-wide evaluation question on the social and economic well-being forests deliver for people.

Aboriginal culture and renewal - Coordinator

Firesticks will coordinate a process to asses Aboriginal cultural values and renewal in post-fire forests. This role will help guide and support assessment case studies in different forests and fire-impacted areas of the state. This will deliver on-ground cultural and economic support for local Aboriginal communities. Firesticks was invited to submit a proposal on advice from a cross agency and community Aboriginal culture working group. Oliver Costello, CEO at Firesticks and a Bundjalung man from northern NSW, will lead the Firesticks team. This work will address the state-wide evaluation question on Aboriginal forest management and decision-making.

Aboriginal culture and renewal – Case study

The Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council will lead on-ground cultural values and renewal assessment in the Coffs Harbour area. It will assess issues such as cultural values pre-and-post the 2019-20 wildfires. Actions will be identified to support cultural restoration and renewal in the forests. This case study is part of a broader approach to develop a model to assess cultural values across forest tenures, through Aboriginal-led, Country-based assessments, monitoring, and research.

Forest health and carbon

Baselines, drivers and trends for forest extent, condition and health

Spatial Vision and the NSW Department of Primary Industries Forest Science Unit will lead a consortium including RMIT University, University of New England, PF Olsen, University of NSW, NSW Forestry Corporation and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to deliver baselines, drivers and trends for forest health across tenures. Stephen Farrell and Dr Christine Stone will lead a team of over twenty eminent scientists. This work will address state-wide evaluation questions on forest extent, condition and health.

Post-wildfire impacts and recovery

The Steering Committee approved this project in October 2019. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will deliver the tools and methods to rapidly assess the immediate effects of wildfires across tenures and identify where mitigation and recovery actions need to be implemented. Project collaborators include the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Bushfire Management Research Hub at University of Wollongong. Dr. Rebecca Gibson, NSW Energy, Environment and Science will lead the team. This work will address state-wide evaluation questions on forest extent, condition and health.

Carbon balance of NSW forests

The Mullion Group will quantify the carbon balance of NSW forests. This will provide a baseline for the program to forecast the carbon balance change under different policy, management and climate scenarios. Dr Robert Waterworth, a lead IPPC author and former Eureka science prize winner will lead the work.

Native animals and plants

Baselines, drivers and trends for species occupancy and distribution

The University of New England and the NSW Department of Primary Industries Forest Science Unit will deliver baselines, drivers and trends for species occupancy and distribution in NSW forests across tenures. Over 15 leading scientists will form the team including scientists from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment who will adopt indicators and modelling from the NSW Biodiversity Indicators program as part of the work. Professor Nick Reid, University of New England will lead the project. Dr. Rod Kavanagh will coordinate investigators across the project. This work will address state-wide evaluation question on species distribution and occupancy.

Fauna monitoring on north coast forests

The Steering Committee approved this project in October 2019. The NSW Forestry Corporation of NSW and the NSW Department of Primary Industries will monitor, analyse and report trends in fauna species occupancy since 2015 in north coast state forests and reserves. It will also assess the changing status of koala population as measured by occupancy, including changes in koala density after recent wildfires on the NSW north coast. Project collaborators include the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local Land Services and the Science Division in the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Dr. Chris Slade, senior ecologist Forestry Corporation will lead the team. This work will address state-wide evaluation question on species distribution and occupancy.

Fauna call recognisers

NSW Department of Primary Industries, in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology, NSW Forestry Corporation and Victorian University of Wellington will develop fauna call recognisers for a range of forest dependent species such as large forest owls and frogs. Automated tools will rapidly and reliably process large volumes of data generated by acoustic recorders. A national and international team experienced in forest monitoring, acoustic technology and computer science will deliver the work including Dr. Brad Law, Department of Primary Industries, Professor Paul Roe, Queensland University of Technology and Dr. Nirosha Priyadarshani, Victoria University of Wellington. This work will address state-wide evaluation question on species distribution and occupancy.

Koala and habitat response post-wildfires

Building on the Commission’s koala research program, researchers from the Australian National University, University of Western Sydney, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will investigate how koalas, and their habitat – for example, occupancy and nutritional content of regeneration trees - respond in a post-fire landscape on the NSW north coast.

Water catchment and soil health

Baselines, trends and drivers for forest water catchments

The University of Melbourne will deliver baselines, drivers and trends for water quality and quantity in NSW forest catchments. The work will also identify data gaps and key metrics to track thresholds and support modelling future outcomes under different scenarios. A team of eminent researchers will deliver the work including Professor Andrew Western and Associate Professor Angus Webb.

Baselines, trends and drivers for soil stability and health in forest catchments

A consortium including the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, University of Sydney and University of New England will implement a project to deliver baselines, drivers and trends for soil stability and health in forest catchments. Over ten eminent scientists will contribute to the project including Dr. Jonathon Gray, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Associate Professor Brian Wilson, University of New England and Associate Professor Thomas Bishop, University of Sydney. This work will address state-wide evaluation questions on soil stability and soil health in forest catchments.

Evaluating forest road network to protect forest waterways

Alluvium, in partnership with the NSW Soil Conservation Service, will assess the effectiveness of forest road network to protect in-stream water quality and minimise soil erosion. Dr Peter Nyman will lead the technical work covering forest hydrology, geomorphology, catchment modelling and spatial analysis. This work will address state-wide evaluation questions on water quality and quantity in forest catchments and soil health in forest catchments.

Projects to improve evidence based decision making

Data services

Spatial Vision will analyse data management practice and management standards, support developing appropriate data architecture and infrastructure for the program, and source and integrate data. The work will build on, and link to existing data infrastructure such as the NSW SEED data portal. Dr Zaffar Mohamed-Ghouse, a former Director at FrontierSI (previously CRC for Spatial Information), will lead the work. This work will support the program to address all state-wide evaluation questions.

Bridging the gap between data capture and decision-making

Professor Brendan Wintle is leading a research team from the University of Melbourne that will advise on how existing data and analysis can better inform adaptive decision making for forest management in NSW. The team will deliver opportunities to improve effective use of evidence for decision making in the short-term, and those that will require longer-term commitment and adjustments.

Citizen science – Connecting with community

The NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee has established a citizen science strategy to harness the power of the citizen science community to inform ecologically sustainable forest management.

The committee is seeking to connect the citizen scientist community to the program by:

  • using existing citizen science data for evaluation and analysis
  • scaling-up existing or investing in new citizen science projects
  • strengthening participation in evidence-based decision making.

Working with the Australian Citizen Science Association

The program is partnering with the Australian Citizen Science Association to help it connect with the citizen scientist community.

A citizen science strategy sets out the objectives and actions for the program. The Australian Citizen Science Association will help implement the strategy.

Working with the Australian Citizen Science Association and its networks, the program will soon partner with existing citizen science groups to integrate their data with program projects.

Keep up-to-date with the program by joing the mailing list.

Program update

The first annual progress report of the Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program explains the program’s achievements and delivery to-date, and the priority next steps for the year ahead.

Communiqué 6: Steering Committee Meeting

This is a communiqué from the NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee, which oversees the NSW Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program. The Steering Committee includes NSW government agencies and independent scientific experts, as outlined under the Program’s Terms of Reference.

Coastal IFOA monitoring program

The Steering Committee endorsed nine monitoring plans for the Coastal IFOA monitoring program.

Under the oversight of the Coastal IFOA Technical Working Group, four cross agency design teams with technical expertise from the Environmental Protection Authority, the Forestry Corporation Authority of NSW, Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Environment, Energy and Science developed detailed monitoring plans to implement the program.

The plans detail how the program will be implemented using scientific robust principles and methods. They include, for example objectives, monitoring and analytical methods, responsibilities and timing.

Steering committee members - Professor Patrick Baker, Professor Phil Gibbons and Dr Peter Hairsine – provided subject matter reviews. In addition, Professor Jerry Vanclay reviewed landscape-scale trends for wood supply.

The Chair commended all parties for their effective and collaborative approach to deliver the monitoring plans.

Citizen science strategy

The Steering Committee endorsed a final strategy for citizen science developed in partnership with the Australian Citizen Science Association.

The program will harness citizen science to advance the knowledge base for improved forest management outcomes. It aims to enhance the ability for the citizen science community and their data to influence evidence-based decision making.

As a first step, the program will seek to work with citizen groups and integrate their data into current program projects.


The Premier's request

Through a terms of reference, the Premier has requested the Commission to oversee the Program’s governance, design and delivery. In addition, the Commission is required to ensure the Program delivers open and transparent information in a timely manner and commitments are tracked and delivered.

The Commission will provide independent advice by reviewing forest monitoring data, evaluation and research, drawing on a diverse range of expertise and information from both within the NSW Government and outside of government. The Commission will deliver clear and practical recommendations to NSW Government agencies and forest managers on both emerging challenges in forest management, such as forest health issues arising due to the effects of climate change, and on opportunities to improve the management of forests in NSW.

About the program

Program outcomes and aims

The Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program will deliver evidence to adaptively manage NSW forests across tenures in an ecologically sustainable manner.

The Program aims to:

  • focus on the information required to improve the adaptive management of NSW forests
  • provide the public with independent, accessible and robust evidence of forest management performance
  • be adaptable to changes to both research priorities and forest monitoring methods
  • be cost effective by employing efficient mechanisms to meet program objectives
  • satisfy NSW’s obligations to national and international forest management reporting.

Program scope

The Program will include forest monitoring, evaluation, research and reporting on both public and private land across NSW. Information will be generated to improve adaptive management of NSW forests, including state forests, national parks, private native forests and crown forested land.

Specifically, the Program will incorporate requirements for the monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement of forest management and environment protection under the three NSW Regional Forest Agreements and four NSW Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals. This includes NSW’s obligation to report against indicators for ecologically sustainable forest management.

The Program will build on a range of existing forest monitoring, evaluation and research initiatives and provide opportunities for coordination and partnership.

The Steering Committee

As required under the terms of reference, the Commission has established, and will independently chair a cross-agency Steering Committee to oversee the design, implementation, review and continuous improvement of the program. The Steering Committee will develop a Program Framework to guide delivery, and lead and coordinate reviews of the Program.

The draft Program Strategy describes the governance for the program.

The Commission has appointed four independent experts to the Steering Committee:

  • Professor Patrick Baker, Charles Bullard Fellow, Harvard Forest, former Australian Research Council Future Fellow and School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne
  • Associate Professor Phillip Gibbons, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
  • Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer, Institute for Applied Ecology and Health, University of Canberra and Senior Fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
  • Dr Peter Hairsine, Centre for Water and Landscape Dynamics at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University.

NSW agencies will implement the approved Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program Plan, including the collection, procurement, analysis and sharing of data and reports for forests on all tenures. NSW agencies remain responsible for the ongoing implementation, administration and adaptive management of the RFAs and IFOAs.

A governance charter describes the governance arrangements for the Program.

Program framework

The Program Framework 2019-2024 sets out aims, principles and deliverables over the next five years. It also describes how the program will be improved.

Recently, the Steering Committee has proposed a program to the NSW Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Primary Industries - Forestry to monitor the effectiveness of the Coastal IFOA. We have also funded projects to deliver more robust fire severity maps to support post-fire recovery efforts and monitor fauna on the north coast, including koalas.

The Program will soon announce evaluation questions to guide further investment in forest monitoring, research and analysis. Once the evaluation questions are finalised, a second tranche of funding proposals will be called for via an open expression of interest.

The Steering Committee has finalised a plan to evaluate program performance and learn how to improve.

Coastal IFOA Monitoring Program

The Coastal IFOA Monitoring Program 2019-2024 has been submitted for joint approval by the Chief Executive Officer of the Environment Protection Authority and the Director General of the Department of Primary Industries.

Development of the monitoring program was led by the Commission, in collaboration with a technical working group of agency representatives established by the Forest Monitoring Steering Committee, with input from independent scientific experts.

Nine regional workshops were held with environmental and industry representatives in Grafton, Port Macquarie, Eden, Batemans Bay and Sydney to inform the design of the monitoring program.

The proposed program was exhibited for public comment between 18 October and 8 November 2019, resulting in 14 submissions from a range of community, environment, industry and government agency stakeholders.

Following approval of this program, a detailed monitoring plan will be developed for its implementation. This will include detailed design of the nine monitoring strategies proposed under the monitoring program.

Foundational projects

A key deliverable under the Program Framework 2019-2024 is to establish foundational projects that provide early building blocks for the program by end-2019.

The Steering Committee has approved funding for two foundational projects.

Supporting post-fire ecological resilience and recovery planning in NSW forests

This project will provide the tools and methods to rapidly assess the immediate effects of wildfires and identify where mitigation and recovery actions need to be implemented. With this accurate and timely information, forest managers will be better equipped to plan, monitor and report on post-fire ecological recovery over time.

This project is led by the Science Division in the NSW Planning, Industry and Environment and NSW Rural Fire Service. Project collaborators include the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NSW Bushfire Management Research Hub at University of Wollongong.

Click here for more information about this project.

Monitoring fauna in forests with acoustic technology in northern NSW

This project will monitor, analyse and report trends in fauna species occupancy since 2015 in north coast state forests and reserves. It will also assess the changing status of koala population as measured by occupancy, including changes in koala density after recent wildfires on the NSW north coast.

This project is led by the NSW Forestry Corporation of NSW and Forest Science Unit in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Project collaborators include the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local Land Services and the Science Division in the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

Click here for more information about this project.

Consultation and engagement

Stakeholder and Community Engagement Plan 2019-2021

The Commission and the NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee will engage with the community, environment and industry stakeholders on the Program design, implementation, annual reviews and major reviews.

The Program seeks to work with a wide range of partners, including community organisations, Indigenous groups, and universities to draw in monitoring, research, data, and evaluation skills, and convening and consolidating experience from across the state at local and regional levels.

Public reporting of the Program results and progress will be made available, including any recommendations of the Commission and the NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee for any suggested changes to the Coastal IFOA, RFAs or the NSW Forest Management Framework.

Submissions on the draft Program Framework

The following submissions are published in line with the Commission's submissions policy.

Aboriginal stakeholder engagement plan

The Commission and the NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee will engage and work with Aboriginal people during program design, implementation and reviews.

Aboriginal people are important stakeholders in their role as forest owners and managers in NSW. Forests provide economic opportunities and connection to Country for Aboriginal people. Around 15 percent of forests in NSW are owned or managed by Aboriginal people.

The Commission worked closely with Aboriginal Affairs NSW, NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Aboriginal Executive Network in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to develop an Aboriginal stakeholder engagement plan for the program. The plan aims to establish ongoing, meaningful and respectful engagement with Aboriginal stakeholders and communities.

State-wide evaluation questions

The Steering Committee has endorsed a set of state-wide evaluations questions to guide the future delivery of the program.

The questions will link monitoring, evaluation and research to government, stakeholder and community needs about the ecologically sustainable management of NSW forests.

The program will use a range of scientific approaches to generate evidence for each question. For example, retrospective analysis and prospective analysis, research, effectiveness and field monitoring and remote sensing.

A short methods statement explains how the Commission developed the evaluation questions.

How can I get involved?

The program will use a wide range of existing data and expertise both inside and outside of governments. Research organisations and community organisations are expected to be partners in projects. Projects will be commissioned by mid-2020.

The Commission called for proposals from interested parties. The proposals are now closed.

The program will evolve and adapt over time and respond to new information needs from decision makers and the community. The Steering Committee is seeking feedback about the state-wide evaluation questions. Feedback will be explored at stakeholder annual forums.

Stay informed

The Commission will be updating this webpage as the project is implemented. If you would like to receive updates on this program, you can sign up to our mailing list.