A new report has found that the NSW native forest industry does have a social licence, with 72% of residents believing the native forest industry is a ‘legitimate industry’ and 69% recognising its importance for the economy.
The findings come from the most extensive research ever undertaken by StollzNow Research, which the North East NSW Forestry Hub appointed to provide insights into native forestry’s social licence to operate.
Specifically, the research provided insights into attitudes towards native forestry and its degree of trust to understand how much people know or care about native forestry and their awareness of the ENGOs and public campaigns.
The North East NSW Forestry Hub is one of eleven regional forestry hubs supported by the Commonwealth Government.
Its role is to assess and determine the barriers and opportunities for the forestry and wood products sector through consultation with forest growers, wood processors, government agencies and other stakeholders.
StollzNow Research conducted the research over three months between May and July 2023 and involved the following:
- Ten focus groups with members of the public (2 in Sydney and 8 in regional areas in North East NSW)
- 2,200 surveys, including 1,194 from North East NSW and 1,006 from Greater Sydney
- 19 interviews with Key Opinion Leaders
Crucially, after removing ‘unsure’ respondents, 86% of residents believed that native forestry was legitimate, 68% thought it was ethical, and 67% trusted the NSW native timber industry.
It nonetheless acknowledged a section of the community – about 20% will never support the industry and its social licence to operate.
On Wednesday, Neil and Giselle Stollzmow, Directors of StollzNow Research, presented the findings to more than 100 stakeholders at NSW’s Parliament House.
According to Neil Stollzmow, the cost of living (70%), cost of housing (59%), interest rates (53%) and climate change (47%) are the four major social issues of our time.
“In the quantitative research, 18% of participants nominated native forestry as a social issue. The issue rated the least was offshore detention (9%).
Interestingly, “native forestry was not raised as an issue in the focus groups,” Giselle Stollzmow said.
Giselle Stollzmow said participants “could not imagine a world where wood and wood-based products could be completely replaced.”
And whilst valuing timber products does not equate to a social licence, “it suggests that if these products were unavailable or considerably increased in cost, this would be noticed and questioned.”
She also spoke of the importance of understanding information sources.
“The vast majority of respondents struggle to find the information they believe,” Giselle Stollzmow said on Wednesday.
“Mainstream media often is thought to use emotion over fact. Some will use social media sources, but the majority thought these were the most unreliable of all.”
Most participants still believe that government sources will provide the most truthful information, Giselle Stollzman said.
“This finding makes the task of connecting with people difficult.”
Of respondents surveyed in the quantitative research, most participants believe the most reliable source of information if they wanted to learn about hardwood harvesting in NSW would be from Forestry Corporation.
“Just 9% agreed that ‘social media including YouTube’ would be reliable,” Neil Stollzman said.
The challenge for the native forestry industry is to promote their information so it is accessible and meaningful to improve their social licence status in the community.
The 250-page report, now available for download from the NSW North East Regional Hub website, outlines the complications and opportunities for forestry.
The report said most participants appreciated the need for timber turned into wood products.
But “that does not mean all want to see the aftermath of a harvest because it is confronting, and they are concerned about the welfare of the animals in that area,” Giselle Stollzmow said.
All participants, it acknowledges, “are seeking reassurance that the industry is ethical and responsible.”