In debates about native forestry, it’s common for the industry to claim its activities are sawlog-driven and carbon neutral. But as this infographic shows, a hard look at the data shows that most of the biomass affected by harvest operations is left to rot (or burn) on the forest floor, or ends up as woodchips and processing waste …

In fact, on average, every 100 tonnes of trees that are felled make three tonnes of sawn wood and wood-based panels. A further four tonnes out of the 100 becomes domestic paper products, and 23 tonnes are exported as woodchips. The remaining 70 tonnes is waste: 65 tonnes in every 100 is left on the forest floor as harvest residues (harvest slash) and five tonnes becomes wood processing waste that is burnt for energy or turned into mulch.

Contrary to the claims of the industry, the main “product” from native forestry is waste. This is one of the reasons why state forestry agencies struggle to make a profit from a resource they don’t pay for.

Other reasons for the demise of the native forest sector include the high Australian dollar, subdued international woodchip prices and a shift in consumer preferences away from native forest products. Ironically though, the final nail in the industry’s coffin could come from the valuable carbon credits that could be generated by not harvesting native forests. While it has been spoken about for decades, the day has come where native forests are more valuable standing up than chopped down.

Indeed, we recently claimed the latest deal to protect Tasmania’s forests will deliver the Commonwealth government around 7.4-8.2 million forest management credits per annum over the next 20 years, which are likely to be worth between $6-$7 billion in current dollars. In exchange, Tasmania is being offered $378 million to compensate forestry workers and help prop the industry up for another few years. It’s worth noting that Tasmania’s upper house yesterday delayed the implementation of the forests peace deal, sending the bill to a committee.

In recent days, Malaysian forestry company Ta Ann has threatened to shut down its existing mills if the forest deal is not endorsed by Tasmania’s upper house. This adds a twist to the story. With Ta Ann gone, and the Triabunna woodchip mill closed, the native forestry industry is likely to collapse, leading to the cessation of harvesting in public native forests. This would lead to the Commonwealth getting a further 6.1-6.7 million forest management credits per annum over the next two decades.

Combined, ending harvesting in public native forests in Tasmania would result in the Commonwealth getting around 13.2-14.6 million forest management credits every year for the next 20 years. In total, these credits are likely to be worth $11-$12 billion in current dollars; or an average of $550-$611 million per annum.

By propping up the forestry industry and ensuring continued harvesting in native forests, the Tasmanian Forest Agreement could end up costing both the Australian and Tasmanian governments billions in foregone carbon revenues.

The infographic helps explain how his could be the case. With only 3% of the biomass affected by harvest events being converted into long-lived wood products, most of the remainder is waste and much of the carbon in that waste ends up in the atmosphere.

*Andrew Macintosh is the associate director of the ANU Centre for Climate Law & Policy and Richard Denniss is the executive director of the Australia Institute. The data and graphics are drawn from a new Australia Institute report: Tasmanian Forest Agreement 2012: Who is the winner?