The State Government's housing arm, Homeswest, is to embark on an ambitious tree planting program aimed at making better use of its landholdings.
Housing Minister Jim McGinty said the program would `add value' to vacant land and at the same time help reverse land degradation and provide jobs for the long-term unemployed.
Mr McGinty, who is also responsible for the environment portfolio, today launched the scheme at Amarillo, north of Mandurah, where 1,000 hectares will be planted with one million Tasmanian blue gums over the next two years.
Homeswest planned to plant more than two million trees in the next four years at five locations throughout the State.
"The initiative will hopefully act as a blueprint for other land developers to follow on their broadacre holdings," Mr McGinty said.
"In the initial stages, the tree planting will create jobs and training opportunities for at least 50 people.
"The Amarillo project alone will also generate revenue of more than $26 million which Homeswest will use to build extra rental housing."
Mr McGinty said that a further 50,000 trees would be planted on Homeswest land in Albany this year and sites in Esperance, Bunbury and Herne Hill were also being considered for tree farming.
"This is a long-term project which will involve Homeswest planting many millions of trees over the next 10 to 20 years," he said.
"Instead of leaving this land idle, Homeswest is keen to put it to use in a way which benefits the State - helping our environment and providing jobs are at the heart of the initiative."
Mr McGinty said Homeswest had chosen Tasmanian blue gums because of their vigorous growth, their high quality fibre and their ability to lower the water table and reduce the discharge of nutrients into rivers and estuaries.
"Most of the trees will be pulped for export as wood chips to the rapidly expanding Asian markets and some will be milled for structural timber," he said.
"This will provide a boost for the State's timber industry, generate valuable export dollars and reduce pressure on the region's native forests."
Mr McGinty said job start subsidies would be used to employ long-term unemployed for the project - who would also receive training in a range of horticultural and nursery skills.
"The concept has been strongly supported by Murray MLA Keith Read and Peel MLA Norm Marlborough - both are fully aware of the benefits the tree planting and the eventual development of Amarillo will bring to the region," he said.
Amarillo, a 4,000-hectare farm, was purchased by Homeswest early last year and will be developed to provide about 21,000 homesites. However, the subdivision of lots will not commence until the turn of the century.
"There are often substantial lead times between the purchase and development of such large parcels of land and during this time areas can become degraded," Mr McGinty said.
"Tree planting will help prevent land salination, flooding and erosion - while in turn generating income to recover holding costs and provide additional income for home construction.
"It represents adding value in every sense of the word."