Socio – economic impacts of the softwood plantation industry : Examining a post – bushfire salvage period

The Murray Region Forestry Hub (MRFH), formerly known as the South West Slopes Forest Industry Hub, was established as part of the Federal government’s National Forest Industries Plan in 2018. It aims to support the growth of the forestry and timber industry in Australia, focusing on the NSW South West Slopes region to Mt Buller in Victoria, encompassing softwood plantations.

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20 significantly impacted the softwood plantation industry in the MRFH, with approximately 42% of the burnt area successfully salvaged over two years. This study, funded by MRFH, focuses on the social and economic contributions of the softwood forest industry during the post-bushfire salvage period.

In the recovery stage, the softwood plantation industry remained a significant component of the regional economy. In 2021/22, it generated $3,823 million in gross value of output, with a substantial contribution to Gross Regional Production (GRP). Direct net expenditure was $1,452 million, higher than in previous years, reflecting increased salvage operations and the industry’s economic impact.

The industry directly employed 2,189 people, providing jobs for a total of 11,429 people across Australia when considering flow-on effects. However, recruiting and maintaining a workforce, especially accessing the female labor force and addressing the challenges of an aging workforce, remain significant issues for the industry.

Despite the confidence in business outlook reported by many businesses, recovery from the bushfires is ongoing, with some not planning to invest in the coming years. Challenges such as bushfire impacts, resource scarcity, rising input costs, and labor costs were reported, particularly by wood and paper processors and contractors.

The findings highlight the importance of the softwood plantation industry to the MRFH economy, especially during challenging post-bushfire conditions. As the industry faces an uncertain future with a reduced resource, understanding its evolving business needs becomes crucial.

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