Report reveals plantations underpin economic benefits

Karen HuntManjimup-Bridgetown Times

A report on the social and economic impact of the forestry industry has underlined the growing importance of plantations to the WA and South West economies.

The December 2017 report from non-profit Forest and Wood Products Australia was produced by researchers at the University of Canberra and consulting firm Econsearch.

It is based on data from the Forest Products Commission and other businesses and draws on government statistics and a survey of 13,000 regional residents.

The report states forestry in 2015-16 contributed $257m to WA’s gross regional product, and $643m with “flow-on effects” but just $104m of that was from native forestry.

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There were 508 direct jobs in native forestry, 863 in softwood plantations and 743 in hardwood plantations, with most direct jobs generated from processing, it states.

“The analysis shows that, overall, the number of jobs generated by the industry has declined significantly since 2006, although employment generated by hardwood plantations has grown,” the authors conclude.

The report also found mixed results from a survey of people living in forestry areas.

They rated their communities as liveable, friendly, safe and pleasant and valued the jobs forestry created, but perceived the industry as less beneficial than farming and tourism.

“The industry was viewed by a majority of residents as having negative impacts on roads and local land-scape aesthetics,” the report states.

Greens MLC Diane Evers said the report showed plantations and farm forestry were more beneficial than native forest logging and called for more research.

“Sadly, in WA there still has not been a government analysis to compare the economic benefits of leaving our native forests standing, including positive flow-on effects on water quality and climate, amenity, nature tourism, honey production and regional attractiveness,” she said.

The trend of declining employment was likely to continue in the softwood plantation and native forest sectors without significant new opportunity for investment, the report states.

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