Academic journal article Rural Society

'Not a Local Win': Rural Australian Perceptions of the Sustainable Impacts of Forest Plantations

Academic journal article Rural Society

'Not a Local Win': Rural Australian Perceptions of the Sustainable Impacts of Forest Plantations

Article excerpt

The global forest and timber industry has grown rapidly in recent decades, increasing 14 mil- lion hectares between 2000 and 2005 (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations [FAO], 2006). The Australian forest plantation industry has contributed to this growth, dou- bling in size from 1994-2009 (from 1.04 to 2.02 million hectares). Australia ranks sixth of coun- tries with the largest forest area (FAO, 2006; Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry [DAFF], 2010).This rapid expansion, although slowing in recent years, has not been without controversy, with notable disagreement in some sectors about the economic, environmental and social impacts of the Australian forest plantation industry. Local residents often express concerns about issues such as water use, the impact on soil and biodiversity, and the wider socio-economic impact on local residents and businesses (Barlow & Cocklin, 2003).

In response, interrelated concepts, such as sus- tainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR), community engagement (CE) and triple bottom line (TBL), have emerged as compulsory 'best practice' guidelines for doing business and have helped foster responsive and sustainable forest management (SFM) (Dare, Vanclay, & Schirmer, 2011; Gordon, Schirmer, Lockwood, Vanclay, & Hanson, 2013). The aforementioned concepts reflect a critical change in community attitudes about the roles and responsibilities of business, from prioritising economic benefits above all else, to a realisation that environmental, and social issues and impacts, are of equal impor- tance. This balancing of economic, environmen- tal and social issues has been conceptualised as 'TBL' (Elkington, 1998; TBL). TBL argues that as well as economic benefits, the wider social and environmental benefits, costs and consequences of business activities must be identified, respon- sibly managed and discussed with stakeholders. Designed to foster sustainability and CSR, TBL encourages businesses to responsibly consider the full economic, environmental and social impact of their actions (or inactions).

This research utilises a TBL framework to explore how residents in two rural Australian communities perceive and experience the eco- nomic, environmental and social impacts of the forest plantation industry. Rural residents' perspectives on how to ensure the sustainable development of the industry in Australian rural communities have important implications for natural resource management and communica- tion strategies. Critically, the TBL framework was purposely selected as, unlike the SFM framework used within the industry, TBL is better known in the wider community and has been utilised in a wide array of different sectors, thus enabling cross-industry comparisons. SFM encompasses similar concepts as TBL, but is designed specifi- cally for use within the forestry industry (Dare et al., 2011; Gordon et al., 2013).


Understanding the forest plantation industry expansion

As well as demand, global climate change looms large in understanding the recent expansion of forestry industry and plantations. Current and future climate determines what and how well plantations will grow, while forests impact climate and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (Malmsheimer et al., 2008). The expansion of for- estry plantations can help reduce global climate change through carbon sequestration (Lasocki, 2001), and mitigate flooding, dust storms (Rudel, 2009), fire, land degradation and address con- cerns about depleting natural forests (Tonts & Black, 2003). In Australia, the joint industry and government Plantations 2020 (2002) vision strat- egy aims to sustainably increase Australia's planta- tion resources to meet future paper demand while protecting natural forests. Australian forest plan- tations are owned by public, private and jointly- owned ventures, including superannuation funds, timber industry companies, farm forest- ers and other private owners, managed invest- ment schemes (MISs) and governments (DAFF, 2010). …

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