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Community catch-up 3: Changed native timber resource access and social impact assessment in the upper North East NSW

As public policy interventions in the native forest-based timber industry have increased, so has attention on the people whose livelihoods are based on these resources. The 1990s saw significant changes for the native forest-based timber industry throughout much of Australia through the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process. Changes in the Upper NE NSW region included an increase in the National Park estate and a reduction in the area of timber available for harvesting.

In recognition of the potential negative impacts facing members of the timber industry, the RFA process included a Social Impact Assessment to predict impacts and explore new opportunities for the timber industry and forest-dependent communities. The NSW and Commonwealth governments contributed to the Forest Industry Structural Adjustment Package to provide financial assistance and other support to businesses and workers.

There is mixed opinion on the process and outcome of the Social Impact Assessment and the success of the Forestry Industry Structural Adjustment Package. This PhD research project focuses on the individuals’ experience of the RFA, including their initial concerns, their decision making process and responses, the utility of support measures, and both short and long term impacts. Representatives from the processing, harvest and haulage, forest management and government sectors have contributed to the research through interviews.

Preliminary results:

The interviews indicate a diversity of responses to the RFA. Key factors influencing the impact on those affected by the RFA include the long term goals of the individual, and their financial and personal capacity to make necessary changes to their business, or find new employment if required. Individuals who remain in the industry have a high level of determination and a strong belief in the industry. The opportunity to make choices is important to them, with many participants referring to a loss of control over their work. Job loss has been found to lead to both positive and negative impacts for the individuals concerned, with some people experiencing an overall positive impact, while others have had difficulty finding satisfying work. Participants’ responses are also influenced by more recent regulatory changes such as the NSW Private Native Vegetation legislation.

What’s next?

A second case study will be conducted in SW Western Australia in 2010. This case study will enable further comparison of the factors that lead to negative and positive impacts and new opportunities for the changing native forest-based timber industry. By comparing different individual and State-based responses, this research project will contribute to improving future forest policy and associated support mechanisms.


Edwina Loxton is supported by Forest and Wood Products Australia Postgraduate Scholarship, and the CRC for Forestry through Affiliated Student status. This support is gratefully acknowledged. I also thank the individuals and organisations who have assisted with the study in many ways, including as interviewees.

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