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Communities catch-up3: Learnings from a participatory modelling exercise

A participatory study exploring sub-tropical plantation forestry expansion in north-eastern NSW by Andrea Leys is near completion. Following initial scoping and public meetings, a participatory advisory committee (PAC) was formed in the study area. This group consisted of 12 self-selected interested volunteers from a range of backgrounds (farming, business, forestry and so forth) who held a range of views towards plantation forestry. The PAC met regularly for eight evening meetings over an eight-month period from April to November 2009. During these meetings the PAC discussed issues raised by the wider community regarding plantation forestry, including fire management, chemical use and social and economic impacts. The PAC sought to develop shared views on these issues by considering information available to the. These information sources included local knowledge, input of experts invited to talk to the group, and scientific literature accessed by the project researchers.

Following this process, researchers developed a report summarising the views formed by the PAC (Leys and Vanclay, 2010). Examples of their conclusions are shown below.

Fire management

The PAC investigated community concerns about fire management issues, primarily through discussion with fire management authorities:

  • The PAC believed that improved maintenance was required on fire trails, access to watering points, and fire breaks within the plantation forestry estate.
  • They also considered that fuel loads on forest floors needed to be reduced through active management, including increased grazing pressure, weed control using herbicides, and silvicultural thinning.
  • The PAC recommended that collaborative and consistent fire management plans needed to be developed between managers of all forest tenures and the NSW Rural Fire Service in order to improve fire planning and response times.

 Socio-economic benefits to local communities

The PAC investigated socioeconomic impacts of plantations through a combination of findings from a survey of local businesses, views of key informants from previous interviews within the community, and investigation of past research on social impacts in other regions of Australia.

  • Local populations were found to have increased, as had average local shopfront business profitability over the previous 12 month period rather than decreased as previously thought
  • Increased employment in the forestry sector is anticipated in the coming years as harvesting commences. However significant economic benefits rely primarily on the establishment of processing industry(s) in the local region.
  • The PAC preferred the option of plantation managers leasing properties rather than purchasing them. This is perceived to have less negative social impacts on the community.

Pesticide Use

The PAC investigated the use of pesticides in plantation forestry and other land uses through a combination of practical experience and enterprise data provided by participants, data sourced from Industry and Investment NSW by participants, scientific research explored by the researcher Andrea Leys, and discussion with local agronomists and scientific experts in the field of pesticide ecotoxicology.

  • The total chemical footprint per hectare for perennial hardwood crops of eucalypt species was found by the PAC to be less than 10% of that used in the annual crops of maize and soybeans when adjusted for a typical 15-year production cycle
  • The PAC recommended that all land managers should aim to improve pesticide practice, including more vigilant site monitoring, greater use of protective gear, and use of alternative softer insecticides where possible.

 

Community consultation, collaboration with agricultural producers and information sharing 

The PAC discussed community views on communication and information sharing, and drew on information from previous interviews with key stakeholders. The Pac noted the value of improved communication:

  • Regular media updates on operations and property transfers from plantation companies may help improve transparency of the industry to the public.
  • The implementation of Good Neighbour policy guidelines from other jurisdictions was suggested, encouraging local plantation companies to improve neighbour relations.
  • Collaboration with the farming community could potentially reduced conflict and improve productivity from properties through cattle agistment.

 

An evaluation survey of participants on the PAC suggested improved decision making capacity through knowledge development was achieved very effectively through group brainstorming sessions, open forum discussions, mobilization of expert opinion to fill gaps at strategic points in the study, and input from the facilitating research scientists.

Further information on findings of this study can be found in a community feedback report, or by contacting the author Andrea Leys.