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Measuring the social impacts of timber plantations

Negative environmental impacts also affect people, but there are specific social costs that also must be accounted for:

  • Health problems from exposure to toxic agri-chemicals and in-field injuries that arise after the actual event.
     
  • Disruption of community and family life resulting from workers being employed under the contract labour system.
     
  • The spread of STDs as a consequence of the way workers are affected by the contract labour system and trucking of timber.
     
  • Increased vulnerability of women to abuse and crime, when men are working in plantations far from home.
     
  • Threats to the survival of traditional knowledge around agriculture, medicine and the natural environment.
     
  • Rural people that migrate to cities to escape the effects of expanding timber plantations in farming areas.
     
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Other impacts resulting from timber plantations

Many impacts occur indirectly, affecting adjacent land and communities as well as future generations:

  • Pollution of streams and rivers with toxic agri-chemicals and spilled lubricants used in timber plantation management.
     
  • Air pollution from exhaust emissions of mechanical equipment used in-field, as well as for transporting timber to mills and harbours.
     
  • Air and water pollution from sawmills and pulp and paper mills affects people and wildlife negatively.
     
  • Greenhouse Gas emissions and releases over the full timber production and processing cycle will contribute to global warming and climate change.
     
  • Damage to public roads, and accidents and injuries to other road users, caused by unsafe over-loaded timber trucks.
     

Past impacts on communities

Forced removals and evictions to make more land available for alien timber plantations have had bad consequences for rural communities:

  • 1950s - 1970s: The State Forest areas were cleared of people and plantations established by the government of the day.
     
  • 1970s - 1980s: This process continued with large timber companies buying hundreds of farms in the former white areas, evicting workers that had lived there for generations, and destroying their farm village homes.
     
  • 1980s to the present: Large timber companies develop a way (woodlot schemes) to acquire the use of community land in the former homeland areas - at no capital cost and no responsibility.
     
  • 2003: Government plantations were parcelled and sold to industry players, with negative outcomes for former state employees. Token involvement of communities as stakeholders has only limited benefits.
     

Negative impact of timber plantations on wildlife

Industrial Timber Plantations (ITPs) obliterate natural vegetation where they are established, but also have wide-ranging impacts on surrounding habitat.

  • They deprive adjacent streams and wetlands of the water needed to sustain associated moisture dependent ecosystems and habitats.
     
  • Invasive alien plants, such as bugweed, bramble and lantana spread from areas disturbed by plantations, suffocating grasslands and forest eco-tone areas.
     
  • Poorly paid contract workers snare wild animals and strip medicinal plant stocks from adjacent natural areas to supplement their wages.
     
  • People from communities displaced by plantations often resettle on ecologically sensitive marginal rainfall areas or bio-diverse forests (such as Dukuduku) in order to survive.
     

Introducing Resource Economics

Natural areas; Forests, Grasslands, and Wetlands, provide a wide range of goods and services that benefit communities:

  • A healthy functioning natural environment provides clean air and water, food, medicinal plants and building materials.
     
  • Other services provided include research, education and recreational opportunities.
     
  • All of these need to be valued so that any loss of amenity can be set off against claimed economic benefits from plantations.
     
  • Timberwatch believes that the timber industry should not be allowed to externalise social and environmental costs that result from their timber growing and milling operations.
     

Impacts on water resources

Research has shown that large-scale timber plantations negatively affect both surface and ground water resources.

  • Eucalyptus plantations are known to dry up local streams and wetlands, with serious consequences for communities and ecosystems downstream.
     
  • Plantations 'steal' groundwater from adjacent properties during dry periods.
     
  • Timberwatch holds the view that timber plantations are not a high priority in terms of water use, and that existing users - farmers and ecosystems - should get preference.
     

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