Does forest certification enhance community engagement in Australian plantation management?

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The rapid expansion of timber plantations across Australia has been contentious, with ongoing debate in rural communities about the social, economic and environmental impacts of plantations. The need for effective and ongoing community engagement (CE) has been highlighted by this ongoing contention and the ensuing desire for plantation management companies to maintain a social licence to operate. CE activities are required under various regulations governing forest management practices within Australia. In recent years, voluntary governance mechanisms, particularly forest certification, have further promoted stakeholder engagement as an integral component of modern forest management. This paper reviews the influence of the introduction of forest certification on CE practice in the field. The effectiveness of operationally-based CE activities conducted within Australian plantation management was examined through a qualitative study of plantation managers and community members in conjunction with a document analysis of relevant regulations, codes of forest practices and forest certification standards. Whilst arguing that forest certification is positively impacting on CE practice, the research indicates that a number of regulatory, corporate and social influences impact on the capacity of forest certification to promote positive changes in CE practice. The impact of forest certification is limited by existing CE requirements within both mandatory and voluntary regulations; the narrow commercially-oriented foci promoted by corporate realities and organisational ethos; poor practitioner skills and understanding of fundamental CE concepts; and the presence of pre-existing negative perceptions of firms or individuals. Regardless of these limiting influences, our research has shown that forest certification is positively affecting engagement practices within operational plantation management. Such improvements are infrequently acknowledged as they are typically not obvious in terms of changes in CE techniques or improved social relations. Instead, we suggest that forest certification is promoting a longer term, cumulative change in CE practice. The capacities of plantation managers and communities to effectively engage with each other are improving due to the forest certification requirement for continual improvement that results in plantation managers continually reflecting on engagement outcomes and adapting practices based on prior learnings
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-337
Number of pages10
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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