Western Australian sandalwood

Western Australian sandalwood is an important part of the State’s forestry strategy, supplying high-value products and contributing to the growth and development of regional communities.

The Western Australian sandalwood story is one of our oldest – the Aboriginal people have used this resource for thousands of years, understanding both the healing properties and its use as a food source.

Western Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is a slow-growing hemiparasitic, long-lived small tree which occurs naturally in the southern two thirds of Western Australia.
The sandalwood industry is one of the oldest export industries in the State, with the first exports recorded in 1844. Today, there is still a strong demand for Western Australian sandalwood both locally and overseas, for its use in incense, perfume, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.

Sandalwood Dreaming

Sustainable management

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The Forest Products Commission (FPC) is responsible for the commercial harvesting, regeneration, marketing, and sale of wild WA sandalwood from Crown land (including land subject to pastoral leases).

We also manage about 6,000 hectares of sandalwood plantations located in the South West, Wheatbelt and Mid-West regions. These plantations have not yet reached maturity and will likely be included in harvest plans in 2026 when the oldest plantations are at least 25 years of age. 

The commercial harvesting of sandalwood on Crown land is controlled under the Forest Products Act 2000 and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.

We harvest up to 2,500 tonnes of wild sandalwood each year, mainly from the semi-arid and arid Rangelands areas of the state. This harvest consists of approximately 50 percent green sandalwood (or live trees) and 50 percent dead sandalwood. 

Wild sandalwood harvested by the FPC is certified to the international standard for Environmental Management Systems (EMS ISO 14001). This means that our practices have been through a rigorous, independent environmental review process. Certification provides customers with assurance that their sandalwood products originate from responsibly managed forests.

Wild sandalwood is also retained through conservation reserves, comprised of approximately 21 million hectares managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA). This area occurs within sandalwood’s natural distribution.

Regeneration

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Our objective for wild sandalwood regeneration is to establish a cohort of young trees in natural vegetation, including areas which are currently subject to harvesting operations, and additional areas previously subject to harvesting or where sandalwood is in decline.

For more than 50 years, the natural recruitment of wild Western Australian sandalwood has been poor due to overgrazing, drought and the widespread disappearance of small marsupials, such as the woylie, from predation by feral cats and foxes. 

The FPC and Murdoch University researchers investigated the role of woylies in the regeneration of sandalwood. In 2005, they confirmed that the animals were collecting and hoarding seeds in shallow diggings, a behaviour known as scatter-hoarding. 

Based on this knowledge, the FPC designed a mechanical process to mimic the role of the woylie in seed dispersal. This process evolved into an annual regeneration program named Operation Woylie. Each year, we plant more than five million seeds in over 1,000 kilometres of mechanical rip-lines. Additionally, we engage Aboriginal contractors to plant sandalwood seeds in a range of environments and land systems in the Rangelands.

Sandalwood Dreaming

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Our Aboriginal engagement vision is to deliver healthy forests and communities through collaborative First Nations relationships to create Aboriginal economic development opportunities in the timber industry. Sandalwood is a significant component of the State’s timber industry and occurs throughout traditional Aboriginal lands. Aboriginal peoples from the Western deserts to the coast have a holistic connection to sandalwood in culture, healing and sustenance. 

Sandalwood Dreaming is an initiative of our Reconciliation Action Plan to engage Aboriginal owned businesses and traditional owners to plant sandalwood seeds and harvest dead sandalwood as part of our sustainable harvesting operations. It aims to continue the ancient Western Australian sandalwood story by providing economic opportunity today and regenerating the sandalwood resource for generations of traditional owners to come.

Illegal harvesting

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The illegal harvesting and theft of sandalwood impacts the sustainability of the resource, and has caused significant disruption to the markets and reputation of the Western Australian sandalwood industry.

The harvesting of sandalwood is managed under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. It has replaced the Sandalwood Act 1929 and the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950, and it significantly improves the State Government's ability to protect native species and important biodiversity assets.

The Act increases the penalties for the illegal harvesting of sandalwood and under the new legislation, the maximum penalties for illegally harvesting wild sandalwood are $200,000 for individuals and $1 million for corporations.

The FPC has commenced work on revising policies and procedures and developing systems and processes to allow for the achievement of AS 4707:2014 Chain of Custody for forest products. This will provide confirmation to our customers that the wood products they purchase have been sourced from legally verifiable supply areas and produced in a sustainable way.

Page reviewed 18 September 2020