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Mr Peter Lezaich

profile_lezaich_thumbMr Peter Lezaich
PhD student

Topic: landscape modelling of social and economic change in rural communities experiencing plantation expansion

Australian National University

Email: peter.lezaich@anu.edu.au

Over the past decade Australia's plantation forest estate has expanded from a base of approximately 900,000 to 1.8 million hectares. This expansion has been achieved mainly through the efforts of private plantation forestry companies in response to Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision.

The 2020 Vision is a partnership between the Australian and state governments and the forestry industry. One original objective of the 2020 Vision was to triple Australia's plantation forest estate by the year 2020. Unlike Australia's previous great plantation expansion phase, from the 1960s to 1980s, funding for plantation expansion did not come from government, nor were state government agencies the parties responsible for the expansion.

Private investment in the plantation sector, mainly via forestry managed investment schemes (MIS), is the driver of current plantation expansion. More than 90 per cent of all new plantations are native hardwoods, mainly Tasmanian bluegum (Eucalyptus globulus).

Unlike past expansion, which converted native forest to plantation, more than 99 per cent of all new plantations established in the last nine years have been established on purchased agricultural land.

The input of city-based finance into rural economies has resulted in positive outcomes for those communities that have plantations and processing facilities located within their social and economic catchments. Some benefits include:

•           improved water quality,

•           salinity reduction,

•           increased local employment,

•           improved economic diversity,

•           improved bushfire management,

•           migration of people into these communities, including skilled workers,

•           reduced age of skilled workers.

But there is also a level of disquiet coming from some disaffected quarters of the agricultural sector. The reasons for this are varied and often based upon the perceived impacts of plantations in the landscape. These perceived impacts include:

•           reduced water availability,

•           increased bushfire hazard,

•           displacement of traditional agriculture,

•           reduced employment,

•           migration of people away from these communities,

•           loss of skills, with retirement of skilled workers.

Recent research by Schirmer et al. 2005, has described the social changes that arise as a result of plantation establishment and the introduction of downstream processing facilities. This research has demonstrated how plantations contribute to the social and economic fabric of the rural communities in which they are located.

The contradictory nature of the debate about the social, economic and environmental impacts of tree plantations in the rural landscape remains largely unresolved, even with the expanding body of work that has demonstrated the predominantly positive impacts of plantation expansion.

One tool that is not available to communities, that wish to understand the changes that arise as a result of plantation expansion, is a landscape model of the social, economic and environmental changes that occur in response to plantation establishment.

My research project will investigate how plantations in the landscape interact with other rural based enterprises, such as cropping and grazing and the social and economic changes that occur as a direct result of their situation within the landscape, for rural urban and agricultural communities.

The project will use statistical methods and GIS technology to develop techniques to model the interaction of social and economic catchments within the physical landscape. The development of such models can provide insights into the changing social and economic circumstances of rural communities in a spatial and temporal context.

This project is part of the CRC for Forestry Communities Project (4.3), subproject 4.3.4 (participatory modelling guidelines and tools to inform stakeholder dialogue about trade-offs between production, water, biodiversity, visual amenity and other community requirements).

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