Sandalwood - conservation

The conservation status of sandalwood in India is not good. Overharvesting and deforestation have led to a serious decline in wild populations. The plants are in danger of extinction and there still seems to be little control over illegal logging and the government is not providing enough support for the establishment of plantations.

Population decline

This has led to a decline in the total quantity of sandalwood extracted and a loss in traditional skills. Despite the pressure, there is little or no quantitative information available on which to judge the extent of destruction.
Round pastilles of various shape,made from sandalwood oil.
The sandalwood tree is endangered due to overharvesting for its aromatic oil.

Natural forests have few mature trees. Conservation of the plants in the wild is almost impossible since it needs 24-hour guarding. The only solution is the establishment of properly managed plantations. However cultivation of sandalwood in India has had limited success.

Australia, on the other hand, has established sandalwood plantations which may take over the world market. Australian plantations are of the western Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum). Hawaii, Fiji and Indonesia are also exporters in the sandalwood trade.

Sandalwood trees freely produce seed and natural regeneration occurs both via seedlings and vegetatively via the roots. If left to mature, the trees can regenerate fairly quickly. The absence of heartwood in young trees provides little reason for felling trees less than 20-25 years old. However destruction of younger trees does occur and the age of trees that are now harvested has dramatically reduced. This is reflected by the quantities of oil in the wood. In the 1970s, 10 trees could provide 1 ton of sandalwood, but now more than 1000 trees are needed to produce 1 ton of wood.

Threat from disease

The greatest threat to Indian sandalwood trees may be loss through disease rather than oil production. Trees of all ages and sizes are liable to be infected. These usually die within 3 years.

Despite controls, as sandalwood is a source of one of the most valuable oils in the world, it attracts illegal trade and smuggling which is seriously threatening the long-term future of the species.