How important are forests to the people of South East Queensland and the communities they live in? This is the question the Social Assessment set out to answer in the biggest project of its kind for the region.
The Social Assessment included four major projects:
- a review of the social impact of previous changes in forest use;
- a social demographic profile of the region - providing information on the region's capacity for service delivery and who the main stakeholders are in forest use;
- case studies of 12 towns in the region;
- a business dependency survey to identify towns and communities which rely heavily on forest resources.
Methods included surveys, workshops and discussion groups to consult local community representatives, business people and service providers, as well as forest user groups and stakeholders.
One of the key findings was that a government-funded structural adjustment package was a critical factor in managing the effects of change. The report lists issues that would provide a framework for effective mitigation, monitoring and change management strategies.
Profile of the region
With a population of two and a half million living in 44 local government areas, the region’s people are as diverse as its physical landscape.
The profile found a clear distinction between forest values held by people living in inland communities, who were more likely to see themselves as dependent on the timber industry and concerned about jobs, and those of coastal and metropolitan dwellers, who were more concerned about conservation issues.
Stakeholders identified in this project ranged from timber industry and employees, conservationists, indigenous groups and local government to flora collectors, beekeepers, graziers, farm foresters, tourism and recreational forest users, mining industry and forest-dependent communities. The report lists each of their issues and concerns.
Of the 12 regional areas identified for the case study, the project focussed intensively on seven towns - Gympie, Linville, Cooroy, Builyan Many Peaks, Wondai, Woodford, and Maryborough - with community workshops and focus groups.
While issues varied from town to town, the project found that there was a common concern about issues such as employment and the future of the timber industry, management of State forests, and about local opportunities for young people.
Visions for the future included a sustainable timber industry includingfarm forestry and plantations balanced with protection of environmental values, and some potential for tourism.
Workshop participants in Woodford, Conondale and Gympie saw their historical connection to forests as integral to their community vision, while Beaudesert and Gympie representatives were also interested in encouraging forest-based tourism and recreation.
The 41 timber processing industries in the region with a Crown hardwood allocation are based in 35 towns, with about 370 of the 820 employees directly dependent on the resource. Additional persons are employed in the harvesting and transport of timber.
An important finding of the business dependency survey was that these timber industry workers and their families inject $15 million to the regional economy each year. Another $3 million is spent by loggers and timber transport workers and their families, bringing annual household expenditure to a total of $18 million.
The signifance of this household expenditure to regional towns is illustrated by the example of Maryborough, which has five mills is the area and is home to about 200 mill workers and their 600 or more family dependents. Their annual household expenditure amounts to an estimated $3.7 million each year, 81 per cent of which is spent in the Maryborough region and another 10 per cent in Hervey Bay.
What happens to the data?
While maintaining confidentiality, the information collected for the Social Assessment will be useful not only to develop the RFA, but to planners and policy makers for years to come and is published in a separate report.