People, jobs and communities - Social assessments
The social assessment process for the RFAs was a major development in land management policy that attracted international interest.
Through the social assessments, we know far more now than we did about how regional and rural communities use and value their forests.
All policy makers and planners have access to data on forest-community attitudes to forests and forest management, the flow-on effects of forest industries on regional communities, the demographic make-up of forest user groups and the community aspirations of people and organisations through 80 case-study townships. One of the many legacies was the establishment of a national social sciences centre in the Bureau of Rural Sciences within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Through RFAs, Governments provide for 20 years' certainty of access to timber resources for the timber industry. In most regions, the industry faced a staged, but sometimes substantial, reduction in resource supply as a result of reducing harvesting to sustainable levels and establishment of new reserves. The RFAs also required regular review of yield assessments to ensure continued sustainability of the timber resources.
The process was not confined to the wood and wood products industry. It also included minerals, tourism and recreation, and other forest products such as apiculture, flora collection, forest grazing, and water resources and management. Widespread consultations were undertaken with regional and rural community group representatives, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, apiarists, forest and park rangers, and recreation groups.
The inclusion of cultural heritage in the RFA process was a significant development in forest management and heritage studies. The RFAs firmly established a holistic approach to forest management with the inclusion of environment and heritage values.
Where the process revealed weaknesses in cultural heritage management practices, each RFA set up means of adequately protecting, managing and monitoring cultural values.
Summary of Australian Regional Forest Agreement Social Assessments and a recommended Assessment Methodology