7. Other work needed to understand social and economic impacts

​​As identified in Section 2.0, the set of recommended indicators provide a useful but limited understanding of the social and economic impacts of forestry in Australia. Indicators are necessarily limited to data which can be regularly monitored and measured over time and compared across regions. They do not provide the in-depth data needed to better interpret and understand the diversity of ways forestry activities impact different individuals and groups.

Eight key areas of research are needed in particular to complement the recommended indicators, and to enable improved interpretation and use of the indicators. A brief review of each is provided in the following sections, with some recommendations on the types of research needed:

  • Indigenous capacity to undertake work in the forest industry;
  • Perceptions, attitudes and values;
  • Indirect impacts on employment and spending;
  • Studies on subjective experiences of impact;
  • Studies examining resilience and adaptability of forest-dependent communities;
  • Social and economic characteristics of forest-dependent communities and forestry workers;
  • Rate of road accidents attributable to forest industry-related road use; and
  • Community engagement studies.

7.1 Indigenous capacity to work in the forest sector

Involvement and employment of Indigenous people and communities in Australia's forest industry has been encouraged and supported through Australia's State of the Environment Report 2003 (BRS), and more specifically, the National Indigenous Forestry Strategy (NIFS) (DAFF, 2005). It is acknowledged that this involvement can take many forms, and that while there is no single Indigenous attitude towards forestry, it can create opportunities for economic development that complement cultural objectives (Feary, 2008).

The type of Indigenous involvement in forestry will depend on the individual. Capacity and preference depends on factors such as education and skill level, location, the sector of forestry preferred (with preferences spanning from native forest production to non-wood uses), and preferred level of independence. The NIFS suggests that potential types of Indigenous involvement in the forest industry include:

  • independent Indigenous business enterprises;
  • business partnerships that combine Indigenous land ownership and employment with mainstream industry capital and business planning;
  • partnerships between plantation companies and Indigenous communities;
  • managing tree crops to produce timber for pulp and paper production;
  • wage-based employment opportunities in natural forest management, timber transport and timber milling; and
  • managing forest resources including on culturally significant sites (DAFF, 2005: 13 of 20).

It has also been suggested that Indigenous involvement in forestry can include many roles outside the forest industry, with forests providing important sites for cultural and social activities, as well as gathering a range of non-timber products.

The ability of Indigenous people to benefit from employment in the forest sector may be limited by their available skills and resources. The 2006 Census found that 966 Indigenous people worked in the forestry and logging or wood and paper product manufacturing industries. This represents 1.3% of all employees in these industries. The current low level of Indigenous participation in the forest industry is influenced by factors such as the low base of relevant skills, experience and ownership of forests or businesses (DAFF, 2005: 11). A study completed in 2007 found that key barriers to Indigenous employment in the industry include a lack of self esteem, skills and business culture in Indigenous society, and in some locations, reduced size of the native forest industry due to forest closure (Loxton, 2007: 52).

Increased capacity to participate in forestry is necessary to increase Indigenous involvement in the forest sector. This may require increasing skill levels, as well as overcoming cultural barriers and prejudice (Feary 2008: 281). Recent studies have identified successful examples of Indigenous involvement in the forest industry (Loxton 2007, Feary 2008), however further research is required to better identify:

  • current and potential opportunities for Indigenous people in the forest industry;
  • the gap between current and required capacity levels to take up these opportunities;
  • potential methods to increase capacity (including skill levels); and
  • the success of measures to increase involvement.

Each of these is discussed in turn below.

Current and potential opportunities

Work is required to identify the areas, jobs and positions Indigenous people are currently employed in, and other as yet unrealised opportunities. These opportunities include Indigenous-specific and general roles in the forest industry. Analysis of existing examples of Indigenous involvement should focus on assessing factors which make them more, or less, successful in terms of skill enhancement, long term employment or ongoing opportunities, and encouragement. This knowledge can then assist in designing future employment opportunities.

Identifying as yet unrealised opportunities is also important. Assessment of these opportunities can provide understanding of the limiting factors that prevent Indigenous people from taking employment in these areas. These limiting factors may then be acted upon through education of both potential employees and employers, and other practical assistance.

This research needs to both gather data on the current extent of Indigenous involvement in the industry, and its nature, and also to identify the more in-depth understanding of when, why and how opportunities exist and are realised.

Many of these questions were raised by the Scoping Report for a National Indigenous Forestry Strategy (see DAFF, 2005: 140).

The gap between current and required capacity levels

Once potential opportunities are identified, the gap between an individual's or community's capacity to undertake the employment can be assessed. Capacity involves the skills required to manage and undertake a task, including financial, practical and leadership capacity.

Potential methods to increase capacity

Methods to increase capacity can include on-the-job training, apprenticeships, community-organised, or locally-based training courses, as well as other forms of education such as TAFE or university courses. The type of education, as well as the practical experience required, will depend on the future expectations of the individual, the type of skills being learnt, and the availability of trainers.

Research is needed to identify what types of assistance are needed to help build capacity for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that can assist achieving growing Indigenous employment in the forest industry. Capacity building may go well beyond training and education to identifying key social and cultural constraints which may be presenting barriers to entry into forestry employment by Indigenous people.

The success of measures to increase involvement

Evaluation of the measures used to increase involvement in the forest industry is required to help guide future opportunities and ideas. Quantitative measures of success may include the length of time required to find a job, the number of people in new employment, or positions, and average income. Qualitative measures are equally important, and include the perceptions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about the success of measures to increase employment. Topics to be examined might include:

  • How many Indigenous and non Indigenous people does the business/forest sector employ compared to ___ years ago?
  • What is the annual production and turnover statistics for Indigenous owned/managed businesses?
  • What is the staff turnover rate?
  • How happy are employees, how has their health/wellbeing/outlook changed?
  • Are employee's families or friends keen to become involved?
  • Which methods have been most successful in increasing Indigenous people??s capacity to work in the forest sector? and
  • To what extent have Indigenous people benefitted both culturally and economically from land over which they have recognised rights?

Research methods

A combination of methods is required to examine the issues discussed above. The method chosen will depend on the scale at which the data is required and the type of data collected. Methods include both collection and analysis of quantitative data and qualitative data, through mechanisms such as surveys and qualitative focus groups and interviews, and observation of successful involvement.

These methods provide differing levels of detail, and require differing levels of input. Statistical data can provide data at a broad scale, but does not give an explanation of the reasons for the data, whilst at the other end of the scale, interviews give a deep understanding of the data but are time and cost intensive. Due to the diversity of Indigenous communities - their values and aspirations, capacity, and demographic and geographical characteristics - studies at a small scale cannot be expected to capture all the issues affecting Indigenous people's involvement in the forest industry, but will provide a deeper understanding of what is occurring in the local area which are missed when using large scale data.

In addition to new research opportunities, previous research - such as the case studies completed as part of the scoping study for the National Indigenous Forestry Strategy -provides a good basis for follow up studies. The case study approach used community consultation and site visits. Follow up to identify whether these cases have had ongoing success would provide useful data.

Limitations that may affect qualitative data collection are the costs involved, particularly given the remote areas in which some communities are located, illiteracy, and the risks of over-researching communities. There is also a risk of generalizing issues, and Indigenous culture often dictates who may give information about certain issues, so individuals can be uncomfortable about speaking for a group, particularly if they believe somebody else is more informed about the topic.

7.2 Perceptions, attitudes and values

A considerable amount of work has been undertaken studying the attitudes and values held about forests and forestry by different people. Common methods used to assess people's attitudes and values include paper and telephone surveys, interviews, focus groups, media analysis and written submissions.

Past research concerned with attitudes and values relating to forestry production and development can be divided into four themes relating to:

  • Scenic beauty and perception;
  • Acceptability of forestry practices;
  • Perception of forest-industry impacts; and
  • Perceptions and expectations of forest use and management.

Scenic beauty and perception: The ranking of scenic beauty using photos or slides is a common method used to evaluate landscape and forest management preferences (Anderson, 1981, Clay and Daniel, 2000, Ribe, 2002, Silvennionen et al, 2001). Sometimes this is based on photos of 'real' landscapes, while some studies have examined simulated landscapes which are manipulated to identify potential outcomes of different forest management practices (Ford et al. 2005). Previous studies have developed a range of theories about the factors that influence perceptions of forest and forest management. For example, Ribe (2002) found that notions of acceptability and beauty were related to whether a respondent had productionist, protectionist or intermediate/nonaligned values regarding use of the environment, and found that perceptions of acceptability of forestry practices were not correlated to respondents?? perspectives of scenic value.

Acceptability of forestry practices: The acceptability of forest practices have been evaluated in several studies. Work by Ford et al. (2005) tested the acceptability of a range of harvesting techniques, and explored the underlying values on which acceptability is based on. They examined whether providing information on the consequences of each technique had an influence on a participant??s level of acceptance of harvesting practices. The study used computer-simulated pictures depicting different harvesting plans within the same landscape. Participants were asked to rate their acceptance of each picture. Half of the participants received information on the consequences of each harvesting type, and all participants were classified depending on their values, beliefs about harvesting and the intrinsic, non-use and use value of forests, and acceptance of harvest systems. This study covers several themes addressed by the above section on scenic beauty, suggesting that underlying values are a key factor in influencing perspectives on both the acceptability, and beauty, of forestry management and harvesting.

Perception of forest-industry impacts: Many perceptions studies have examined perceived impacts of forestry activities. In Australia, several studies have focused on perceptions related to the impacts of plantation forestry. Pickworth (2005) assessed the perceived benefits and disadvantages of plantation development linked to a variety of factors, while Schirmer (2002) focussed on identifying how differing perceptions led to social conflicts, and how this was mediated by different interventions aiming to achieve shared perceptions across different groups. Perceptions of impact may be examined at multiple scales - for example, different impacts of plantations may be perceived to occur at the individual property scale and the regional scales (Spencer and Jellinek 1995). Other studies on perceptions of impacts of forestry have been completed by Barlow and Cocklin (2003), Tonts et al (2001) and Kelly and Lymon (2000), as well as Heer et al (2003) who focussed on the role of knowledge and behaviour. Several of the social assessments undertaken for the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) assessed public perceptions about impacts of native forestry.

Perceptions and expectations of forest use and management practices: Some studies have focused on comparing the values and expectations of different stakeholders regarding forestry (Hendee and Harris, 1970, Wagner et al, 1998). Comprehensive Regional Assessments undertaken as part of the RFA process examined issues such as local resident's opinions about forestry management and the industry (Western Research Institute and Illawarra Regional Informational Service, 2005), perspectives on desired future uses of forested land, values placed on land, and opinion of social or environmental issues (NSW Southern: Social Assessment Report, 2000), and the perceived potential impacts of suggested future management scenarios (NSW Southern: Community Case Study Report, 1999).

Key research needs

While many studies have been undertaken on perceptions, few have been undertaken at more than one point in time, and as a result there is little understanding of how attitudes and values towards forestry are changing over time. Relatively few studies have examined in detail why people hold particular views, and further studies are also needed in this area.

Perceptions can be examined to some extent using media analysis, but this provides only a reasonably limited understanding of the varied perceptions held about forests by different people. For this reason, it is recommended that any ongoing indicators involve a survey which repeats the same questions about perceptions of forestry over time, and which is undertaken using a consistent sampling and survey delivery approach to ensure survey results can be compared over time.

Previous studies provide a comprehensive list of potential questions that can be asked related to attitudes, values and overall perceptions of forestry in Australia. The following are suggested as key topics that should be incorporated into a survey. The exact wording of questions and topics require further work and may need modification for different regions within Australia to ensure locally relevant terms are used. The following represent a subset of all questions that could be asked, and should be accompanied where appropriate by benchmark questions which enable comparison of forestry and non-forestry issues within a particular topic:

  • Acceptability of forestry:
  • How acceptable are the following types of forestry - native forestry, plantation forestry - softwood, plantation forestry - hardwood, plantation forestry - Managed Investment Scheme, plantation forestry - non-Managed Investment Scheme;

  • How acceptable are the following types of native forest management - clearfelling, selective logging, aggregated retention (some large areas remaining uncleared), dispersed retention systems (many small areas remaining uncleared), no harvest;

  • How acceptable are the following types of forest-based activities - conversion of farm land to pine plantations, conversion of farm land to blue gum plantations, conversion of farmland to housing development, conversion of farmland to other land uses such as vineyards, conversion of cleared native forest to pine plantations, conversion of cleared native forest to blue gum plantations, allowing cleared native forest to naturally regenerate;

  • Which of the following factors increase the acceptability of forest industry activities (respondent may be asked to rank or rate each) - Job creation for local residents, Improved working conditions/lifestyle including wages, Encouragement of new residents, Good communication by forest industry companies, Minimisation of environmental impacts, Improvement to roads, Support of local services, sporting groups, retail and activities, Design of forest plantations/management (visual amenity), Development and diversification of local industries; and

  • Which of the following factors decrease the acceptability of forest industry activity (respondent may be asked to rank or rate each) - Local jobs not given because they are not created, or are fulfilled by contractors/itinerant workers, Reduced working conditions/lifestyle including wages, Population losses associated with forest industry activities, Poor communication by forest industry companies, Environmental impacts, Damage to roads, Lack of support to local services, sporting groups, retail and activities, Visual impacts of forestry, Reduced development and loss of local industries;
  • Values and beliefs:
  • A range of scales which aim to measure underlying values which may correlate to perceptions of acceptability of forest practices may be used; see Ford et al. (2005) for recent work;
  • Perceptions about forestry activities:
  • These questions would ask about perceptions of what occurs as part of forest industry activities, to identify if perceptions correlate to actual practices undertaken by the industry. For example, questions might ask whether the forest industry typically uses selective logging in a region or clearfelling, to identify if perceptions match the reality of the type of logging undertaken;
  • Information dissemination and communication:
  • Where do you obtain information about forestry in Australia (newspaper, radio, television, neighbours, friends, family, local government, state/federal government, other);
  • How much do you trust each of these sources of information?
  • How effective have community consultation measures by the forest industry been (very effective to not effective)?
  • Have you made an effort to communicate with forest industry companies? If yes: Have you received a response? And: Have your issues been addressed adequately (very adequately to not adequately)?
  • What forms of communication have been used by forestry companies to communicate with local residents: None, Letter, Public meeting, Newsletter, Radio, Local newspaper, Posters, Scientific-based report, Internet, Other; and
  • Which measures of communication would you prefer that forest companies use to inform you of their activities? and
  • Socio-demographic characteristics of respondents (usually including age, gender, education, links to forest industry if any, income).

7.3 Indirect impact of forest industry on employment and spending

Like any economic activity, the forest industry generates 'flow on' (or 'indirect' or 'upstream and downstream') expenditure and employment in local and regional communities, which is generated as a result of spending by forestry businesses and workers. There is currently limited information on the downstream impact of employment and spending by the forest industry for many Australian regions, and almost none which separates the impacts of native forests and plantations.

Indirect impacts are usually measured using one of two related economic impact assessment methods: input-output models, and general equilibrium models.

Input-output (I-O) models model the linkages between inputs and outputs of different industries for an entire economy. This enables modelling of the extent to which a change in one industry would lead to changes in other industries. From this it is possible to derive what are usually termed 'multipliers' which indicate, for a given type of change in employment or expenditure by one industry and a defined region, what the flow-on effect of a chance in a particular industry generates through the rest of the economy.

I-O studies have important limitations. I-O models are 'static' and assume relationships in the economy remain relatively unchanged by a change in one industry. I-O models operates based on key assumptions of homogeneity (that all products of a sector are perfect substitutes or are produced in fixed proportions, and there is no substitution between products of different sectors in the model) and proportionality (the model assumes changes in the output of an industry lead to proportional changes in the inputs required by that industry) (Schirmer et al. 2005a, Appendix 3).

General equilibrium models (GEMs) aim to provide a dynamic model of input and output flows, in which a greater range of assumptions are built into the model about how different sectors respond to change. In theory this ensures the model provides a more realistic assessment of the indirect effects of a change to a given industry. As GEMs are highly expensive to build and run, they are not reviewed further here.

Many input-output studies have been undertaken to identify downstream impacts of the forest industry as a whole for a defined region, but this has still resulted in reasonably limited coverage of different regions, and has rarely examined the downstream impacts of native forest and plantation related activities separately. See Hayter (2003) for a review of relevant studies and discussion of their findings.

Further work is needed to extend coverage of regions, and to specifically examine downstream impacts of different forest industry sectors. In particular, methodological studies are needed to identify the extent to which it is possible to separately model downstream impacts of native forestry versus plantation forestry, and to better identify the typical range of indirect impacts for differently sized regions.

7.4 Studies examining subjective experiences of impact

Communities and individuals may experience a diversity of positive and negative social and economic impacts as a result of forest industry-based activity. Many attempts to assess impact have focussed on identifying independent data on impacts, such as undertaking analysis of statistics that indicate how socio-demographic characteristics of a community change when there is a change in the forest industry (see for example Schirmer et al. 2005a,b).

However, the way people experience impacts depends on their perceptions and understandings of those impacts. It is their perceptions of impact that will drive their response - not whether that impact is 'real' or not. For example, if rural residents believe plantation expansion will lead to loss of rural population in their area, and that this will in turn lead to loss of some rural services, they may decide to respond by shifting from the area. The perception of change drives behaviour, whether or not the perceptions about population change are statistically correct.

The same type of change will also be experienced differently by different people. If plantation expansion leads to an increase in rural land prices, some people may experience this as a positive impact - for example, those wishing to sell land, while others may experience it as a negative impact - for example, those wishing to purchase land.

Complicating matters further, people's experiences are influenced by the different changes occurring at a single time in their lives, of which changes relating to forestry are likely to be only one of many.

The complicated nature of human experiences of impacts of change mean that studies which aim to objectively measure change through analysing statistics can only be partly effective in assessing the social impact of changes to forestry.

Further work is required to gain a greater understanding of how perceptions of impact relate to measurable social and economic changes, and whether the impacts identified are solely a result of forest industry-based activities, or a greater array of factors. This can assist policy makers, the forest industry and communities in better understanding the impacts of forestry - both positive and negative - and how to maximise positive and minimise negative impacts.

These studies may use a range of qualitative and quantitative methods to gain a more in-depth understanding of how different people experience and understand the impacts of changes to forestry in Australia.

7.5 Studies to better understand the adaptability of forest-dependent communities

A considerable body of work currently suggests that communities that have particular social and economic characteristics are more readily able to adapt to changing circumstances, such as change in the forest industry; and that some characteristics make communities relatively unlikely to change.

However, there has been relatively little study of the applicability of these theories in the context of the forest industry. Studies are required to better understand the multiple attributes which influence the adaptability of forest-dependent communities, and to assess the adaptability of communities based on the presence or absence of these attributes. A greater understanding of the requirements for adaptable communities would allow the comparison of suggested attributes to traditionally used proxy indicators, such as those suggested in the indicators recommended in this report, to assess their reliability and usefulness.

Work is needed to identify the most appropriate methods for undertaking this type of study. A longitudinal study would be best for identifying whether proxy indicators believed to indicate adaptability are present in communities that have adapted successfully to changes.

7.6 Social and economic characteristics of forest-dependent communities and forestry workers

The use of objective data to assess the social and economic characteristics of communities (eg total population, unemployment rate, median age, gender) can identify how communities are changing, but does not assist in understanding why they are changing, or the impacts of the changes observed.

Similarly, the recommended indicators can provide a detailed profile of how the forestry workforce is changing - for example, whether the overall workforce is ageing, or the gender balance is shifting - but do not necessarily help to understand the impacts of these changes.

In-depth qualitative studies can generate an understanding of the meaning of social change, both in forestry dependent communities and in the forestry workforce. This analysis can then assist in more meaningful interpretation of the recommended indicators.

It is therefore recommended that, to accompany recommended indicators, occasional studies be undertaken which explore the meaning of change in social and economic characteristics of forest-dependent communities and forestry workers. For example, such a study might undertake focus groups of forestry workers and employers to identify whether ageing of the workforce is associated with any positive or negative outcomes for forestry businesses. This would ensure that indicators can be interpreted appropriately over time.

7.7 Rate of road accidents attributable to forest industry-related road use

A perception sometimes reported in the public media and in previous research is that log-truck traffic is associated with decreased road safety in rural areas (see for example Schirmer et al 2005a,b).

Further examination is needed of the potential to develop indicators comparing the rate of forest industry-related road accidents and other road accidents, in order to determine whether forest industry vehicles are more or less likely to be involved in road accidents than other road users. The exploration of currently available data undertaken for this consultancy indicates that adequate data may not be available to assess this issue.

Assessing the question of safety would require comparing the rate of accidents for forestry-related traffic to that for general traffic of the same vehicle types. Currently most national and state databases of road accident data differentiate accidents by vehicle type, but not by the industry that vehicle is involved in.

Further work is needed to assess if it is possible to identify appropriate indicators on the issue of road safety and forestry-related traffic.

7.8 Community engagement

While not directly related to improving understanding and interpretation of the recommended indicators, community engagement is essential to any impact assessment process. Community engagement refers to processes in which stakeholders with an interest or 'stake' in an issue engage in dialogue about that issue, sometimes with a goal of sharing information as a way of achieving shared perspectives on the issue being discussed, and sometimes with a goal of developing shared strategies to address the issue.

Community engagement has become a catchphrase, with most primary industries expected to incorporate some form of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders into their practices. It also forms an important part of many impact assessment processes, as stakeholders generate creative strategies to mitigate negative impacts and maximise positive benefits of an activity.

Community engagement research is needed to improve communication and understanding between the stakeholders who have an interest in Australian forestry. However, while commonly promoted, surprisingly little research has actively evaluated the success of different approaches to community engagement. Community engagement is commonly recommended as a way of generating strategies for maximising positive and minimising negative social and economic impacts of forestry activities, but few studies have examined which types of community engagement techniques are most effective for Australian forestry.

In addition to the lack of evaluative studies, the types of stakeholders involved in discussions over forestry issues change over time, indicating a need for regular studies to ensure community engagement strategies evolve over time to meet the changing needs of stakeholders involved in forestry in Australia.

Studies are needed to evaluate the benefits and costs of common community engagement strategies for addressing different forestry issues at different scales, and to identify and trial new community engagement strategies. They are also needed to ensure community engagement methods are adapted to changing circumstances over time.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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