4. What information is needed about social and economic impacts of forestry?

​​​​​Hundreds of social and economic impacts of forestry could potentially be monitored over time, including the impacts of the forest industry on human wellbeing, employment, local and regional economies, and other aspects of social and economic life in Australia. Each of these categories can be ‘unpacked’ to examine many different types of indicators. For example, monitoring employment impacts might involve the use of any of the following different indicators:

  • Quantity of employment: How many jobs? How many jobs in local versus regional centres? How many jobs during different times of year or rotation? How many jobs per unit area of plantation or native forest or harvested timber?
  • Quality of employment: How many casual, part-time and full-time jobs? How does this compare to other industries? How satisfied are forestry workers with their employment? Average income of employees?
  • Comparative employment: How many jobs are generated by forestry versus alternative uses for the same land? and/or
  • Characteristics of the workforce: Gender distribution, age distribution, educational qualification and skills attainment.

To identify which social and economic impacts are of highest priority, current Federal and state government policies, recent media articles discussing issues related to forestry in Australia, and research documenting perceptions of different groups about forestry were reviewed. Table 6 briefly reviews key information needs about social and economic impacts, as identified from these varied sources.

Table 6: Social and economic information needs identified in review of key policies and public communication

Policy, public debate topic

Description and key information needs

Montreal process

Criteria 6: Maintenance and enhancement of long-term multiple socio-economic benefits to meet the needs of society requires collection of socio-economic data.

The 19 socio-economic indicators for Criteria 6 of the Montreal Process require social and economic information on a wide range of topics relating to production and consumption, recreation and tourism, investment in the forest sector, cultural social and spiritual needs and values, and employment and community needs. See Appendix 1 for full list.

Regional Forest Agreements

The objectives of the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) include aiming to ‘maintain heritage and social values’ and to produce decisions that ‘meet the requirements of the governments involved, the community and industry and are consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development’. These principles require information on social and economic impacts of forestry in Australia (http://www.daff.gov.au/rfa/about/process/introduction).

As part of the RFA process, Brooks et al. (2001) developed a recommended methodology for undertaking social assessments. Their recommendations are summarised in Appendix 2, and focus on identifying features that may indicate a community’s increasing vulnerability to change; or decreasing viability and adaptability. This is argued to help in prediction of likely impacts of changes in the forest industry.

Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision

The 2020 Vision has an overarching goal of enhancing regional wealth creation and international competitiveness through a sustainable increase in Australia’s plantation resources, based on a notional target of trebling the area of commercial tree crops by 2020. Key social and economic information needs identified in the policy include:

  • Investment: Total private investment in plantations, in downstream processing ($/yr); location of investment
  • Area of new plantations: hectares established, rate of planting, location of planting, species/tree type, funding sources/incentives supporting expansion.
  • Trade: Value of exports (%/yr), import/export balance, contribution of plantations to import/export balance
  • Value: to the Australian economy, rural communities and regional development.
  • Employment: number of jobs in rural/regional areas in growing, harvesting, domestic processing, transport, downstream/flow on industries, suppliers.
  • Impacts: of plantation expansion on communities, families and individuals, eg employment and unemployment rates, income, training opportunities, morale in rural/regional communities, sociodemographic characteristics such as population, education, age structure.

National Forest Policy Statement (enacted largely via RFAs)

The National Forest Policy Statement outlines objectives and policies underlying the future of Australia’s public and private forests, as agreed upon by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments. The Statement includes eleven goals to guide the use of the forest estate and ensure that the community obtains a balanced return from all forest uses. Social and economic information required to measure outcomes includes:

  • Conservation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage and cultural values: values that exist and where they apply.
  • Wood production efficiency and industry development: total value adding compared to the volume of wood harvested.
  • Plantation development: total land area, area of plantation integrated with other agricultural land uses, and volume of production as a proportion of land area.
  • Tourism and recreation: total profits and employee wages, location, participants, and social value related to recreational uses of forests.
  • Employment, workforce education and training: forestry employment by sector, type of employment (full/part time or casual), skills base of employees, and opportunities for training.
  • Public awareness, education and involvement: methods used to foster community awareness and support for the forest industry; and opportunities for involvement in decision making.

National Indigenous Forest Strategy


The National Indigenous Forest Strategy aims to encourage Indigenous Australians to become more involved in forestry activities. Monitoring the success of the strategy involves the collection of information on Indigenous communities, and the involvement of Indigenous people in the forest industry and wider community, including:

  • Level of economic and social independence: household income, education, cultural ties to land, health facilities, and proportion of the local economy attributed to forest industry.
  • Employment: availability, location, type, sector (including timber and non-timber uses of forests), and training/promotion opportunities.
  • Involvement in decision making: Indigenous participation on/position in forest management committees; conflict within/between the community/industry.
  • Business partnerships: number of partnerships, profits (for who), and power balance between forest industry/Indigenous community.
  • Diverse workforce: percentage of Indigenous employees as a proportion of total forestry workforce, level of seniority, perception of contribution and cultural training.
  • Resource base/management: area of Indigenous owned/protected forest land, volume at harvest/value to the economy, and rate of expansion.
  • Active participation: participation of Indigenous people in sporting teams/volunteer organisations; and sharing of knowledge.

National Principles Related to Wood Production in Plantations

The National Principles provide a framework in which to expand Australia’s commercial plantations. Monitoring requires social and economic information on:

  • Principles of environmental care: sites/areas that need to be protected/monitored, current/planned forestry operations in the area, and level of community participation in plantation/forest industry management.
  • Safety: number of accidents/number of accident free days, qualification and training experience of operators, training opportunities and on-site monitoring policies.
  • Planning: policies/measures in place and amount of time provided to consider the potential environmental, social and economic effects of plans, and opportunity for public participation.
  • Access: number of accidents on the roads, and public opinion of public/truck drivers etc on the state of the roads.
  • Establishment and maintenance: expected input costs (establishment/ management) and output costs (expected returns)
  • Timber harvesting: procedures to assess safety risk, training in risk management and confidence of workers to be pro-active in identifying issues of concern.

Public debates over plantation expansion in Australia (drawn from review in Schirmer et al. 2005a,b)

Public debate related to plantation forestry includes many questions about the social and economic impacts of plantations. Themes commonly raised in the public debate, and information required to assess these themes can be summarised as:

  • Employment in plantation forestry: amount, type, location and security.
  • Population trends: impact of the plantation industry on population levels, particularly related to rural decline.
  • Impact of plantation forestry on the industries (agriculture) that existed prior to plantation expansion: land values, land availability, isolation.
  • Economic returns: for the plantation industry, local/regional communities, government, and individual forest industry employees and non-forest industry based business owners (including farmers).
  • Housing: housing/land prices, affordability and availability.
  • Community participation by the incoming population and the plantation sector: participation in community events and volunteer organisations eg rural fire fighting, and location of suppliers i.e. local/non local.
  • Visual/scenic quality: impact on rural culture.
  • Services and infrastructure: quality, provision and maintenance, including roads, health facilities.
  • Plantation industry contribution to government revenue: taxes.

Public debates over native forestry in Australia (based on review of NAFI media articles on native forestry: Sept 2007-April 2008).

Public debate about native forestry in Australia also includes many questions about the social and economic impacts of alternative uses of native forests, and of changes to these uses. Key issues raised indicate that information is required concerning:

  • Public perceptions: Perceptions about different uses of native forests, including better understanding of the diversity of views
  • Effectiveness of communication: Evaluation of measures taken to address debate eg public consultation, explanation of activities/science through the media.
  • Employment: the amount of employment generated by different uses of native forests, and at different stages of the forest industry e.g. during construction of infrastructure and during operation.
  • Impacts on rural communities: Impact of native forest industry eg through level of forest industry spending in the local community, participation in community events/organisations, provision/maintenance of services.
  • Economic benefits: value of production and processing, value added through the chain of production, impact on gross regional product.

Based on the information in Table 6, key social and economic issues on which information is needed for Australian forests and forestry are described in Table 7. Many of these issues have been examined in academic and consultancy reports in recent years. These reports were reviewed as part of this consultancy to identify the topics studied and methods used to measure social and economic change. Appendix 3 contains a summary of the social and economic impacts that have been studied, and the methods used to study them.

Table 7: Information required to measure key social and economic impacts, based on Table 6.

Impacts of forestry

Required information to measure impacts

Social characteristics of forestry dependent communities

  • Total population;
  • Population by education/level of qualification;
  • Length of residence in area;
  • Age structure/dependency ratios;
  • Number of people on government support; and
  • Unemployment rate and labour force.

Characteristics of the forest industry

  • Area of native forest under production/area of plantations;
  • Volume, value and type of logs harvested and wood and paper products produced;
  • Employment in the industry (see ‘employment’ next row); and
  • Consumption of wood and paper products.

Employment in industries dependent on forestry

  • Total jobs;
  • Jobs during construction of infrastructure;
  • Part/full time or casual;
  • Length of time on the job and job security;
  • Rate of unemployment;
  • Dependence on forestry - employment in the forest industry as a proportion of total employment in the region;
  • Income;
  • Injury rates - number of accidents/accident free days;
  • Qualifications/level of education of employees;
  • Training opportunities;
  • Employment of local/non-local people; and
  • Demographic characteristics of employees – age, gender, Indigenous.

Economic value of the forest industry to the:

  • Nation
  • Region
  • Local community
  • Family
  • Employee
  • Proportion of the local economy dependent on forest-derived activities;
  • Revenue per business/sector eg harvesting, production, transport;
  • Value-added through chain of production;
  • Indirect/downstream economic impact, e.g. indirect spending and jobs generated in a region as a result of forest industry activities;
  • Value of public/private investment in forestry;
  • Contribution of forestry to gross regional/state/domestic product;
  • Taxes - contribution to government revenue;
  • Expenditure (on wages, transport, maintenance of equipment, raw materials);
  • Opportunity cost – return from forestry or employment in forestry versus return/employment generated by alternative uses of the same land; and
  • Value of leasing land for plantations.

Perceptions and uses of and values and attitudes held about forests and forestry


A wide range of questions can be asked about people’s perceptions and uses of forests, and their values and attitudes about appropriate use of different types of forest. These may relate to perceptions about how forests are used, acceptability and desirability of different practices, impacts of forestry, and current and planned future uses of forests, amongst others.

Impact of the forest industry on local and regional communities

  • Availability/quality of services and infrastructure including: health, education, training, roads;
  • Participation in decision making: effectiveness of methods used to discuss issues with industry representatives;
  • Population: influx/outflux;
  • Non-wood uses of the forest: eg impact on tourism and recreation;
  • Investment into local economy eg spending by employees, payment for services, impact of the larger population (employees and their families);
  • Participation by forest industry employees/families in community groups;
  • Land/house prices and availability; and
  • Conflict within the community or between community and industry.

Values and impacts of for Indigenous people

  • Uses, values of forests for different Indigenous groups; and
  • Involvement of Indigenous people in Australian forestry.

Some of the social and economic impacts listed in Table 7 can be readily examined by monitoring indicators of social and economic impact over time. Others cannot be examined in this way, and can only be understood through more in-depth studies, which can be undertaken less regularly than the monitoring of indicators.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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