Forestry: 46.2 % of the entire territory of Austria is covered by forest; the distribution of forest land varies widely by region. In the last few decades forest areas have been cut down in order to build roads, power plants and residential areas, as well as for recreational facilities; however, in total the entire forest area is growing annually by around 2,000 hectares (until the mid-1980s by as much as 6,000 ha) due to the scattering of seed into Alpine meadows, reforestation of marginally productive soil, etc. The significance of Austria's 3.88 million hectares of forest (as of 1990) lies in the production of raw materials as well as in non-economic gains such as soil and water protection and recreational value. Approximately 3.33 million hectares are production forests (commercial production forests, high timber forests, usable portion of protective forests, regrowth forests). Almost one-fifth of Austria's forested lands is classified as protected forest area. The percentage of protected forest area amounts to 46 % in Tirol, 42 % in Vorarlberg and 32 % in Salzburg.
In terms of farm size 53 % of the forested area is small forest property (up to 200 hectares), 32 % is large forest property and around 15 % belongs to the Austrian Federal Forests ( Bundesforste (OeBF)). With regard to forest ownership, the land registry shows 65.1 % as private forests, 13.6 % as communal forest land (co-operatives 9.5 %, churches 4.1 %) and 21.3 % as public forests (e.g. OeBF, provinces, municipalities).
According to the permanent inventories kept since 1961 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, production forests contain (as of 1990) over 972 million m3 solid in standing timber corresponding to 292 m3 solid per hectare, giving Austria the largest forest stocks in Europe after Switzerland. Average annual growth amounts to 31.4 million m3 (9.4 m3 per hectare). As increasingly less is cut down than grows back, Austria's forest reserve is steadily growing. Between 1981 and 1990 use of the forests for timber came to only 19.4 million m3, 70 % was final felling, 30 % due to thinning and incidental usage. To illustrate the small-lot character of forest cultivation, it may be pointed out that only 33 % of the cutting operations consist of clear-felling, i.e. felling in areas larger than 500 m2.
Employment in the forestry industry has been in steady decline, amounting to just over 5,000 forestry workers, 3,600 salaried staff and civil servants in 1993. A large portion of forestry work is done within the context of farming. The intensity of forest cultivation and the rationalisation measures in forestry work (including management of the protective forests) depend on the degree to which roads connect the forests to the outside world; including public roads through the forests themselves, forest roads amount to 42 metres per hectare on average.
The Forestry Law of 1975, amended in 1987, provides the legal basis for the supervision of Austria's forests. The task of the Forestry Service, a supervisory agency of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, is to secure the sustainability of all material and non-material effects. The Forestry Law also regulates the public use of the forests for recreational purposes. In order to drive on the roads running through forested areas, permission from the proprietor of the land is required. Protection from mountain torrents and avalanches, including structural measures come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. In order to correctly cultivate the forest lands, timber companies with more than 500 ha forest land are required to be headed by a forestry service. Smaller timber companies receive technical support from experts from the Chambers of Agriculture.
On average 12.6 million m3 of stripped wood is harvested in Austria every year. 83 % is pine-wood, 17 % deciduous wood. 21 % of the felled trees are used for firewood, 79 % timber, much of which is in turn further processed in sawmills. While around 4.3 million m3 untreated wood is imported to Austria, Austria exports only 0.6 million m3 solid.
Austria's sawmills produce almost 7 million m3 in cut timber, an additional 0.7 million m3 cut timber is imported. Austria exports a total of just under 4 million m3, up to two-thirds is exported to Italy. Austria's timber processing industries (pulp, paper and chipboard industry) are heavily dependent on exports and process 5.7 million m3 wood on average annually, of which 60 % is taken directly from the forest and 40 % is waste wood from the sawmills; in addition approximately 1.4 million t recycled paper is reprocessed corresponding to a raw wood equivalent of 4.1 million m3 roundwood. Employment in the timber processing industry has been declining slightly (differing by sector); the sawmills registered 10,000 workers, the paper and pulp industry just under 11,000 in 1993; the remaining timber processing companies had 26,000 workers.
Despite the density of tree cover in Austria and the rate of regrowth, forestry accounts for only around 0.5 % of GDP; including the timber industry, the ratio amounts to 4.2 %. The timber export rate totals between 12 % and 15 % of Austria's total exports. For Austria's trade balance these figures translate into an annual surplus of around ATS 20 billion.