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The problem of illegal wood harvesting in Tasmania : an analysis of the institutional setting and the potential for a labelling system

Abdu, NH ORCID: 0000-0001-5103-687X 2022 , 'The problem of illegal wood harvesting in Tasmania : an analysis of the institutional setting and the potential for a labelling system', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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There is a general perception that illegal wood harvesting occurs in developing countries where there is low enforcement of forest management rules for the purpose of timber production. However, the practice of illegal wood harvesting ensues in affluent economies, including Australia, where law enforcement is relatively better and selling illegal wood is prohibited. Illegal wood harvesting is not limited to production of high-value timber but also for other purposes such as firewood. Despite being a primitive source of energy, firewood is still recognized as an important component of household energy in different parts of the world. In Tasmania, a state in Australia, 26% of households use firewood as a primary source of home heating energy that is harvested from a mix of legal/illegal and sustainable/unsustainable sources.
The practice of illegal and unsustainable wood harvesting has adverse ecological, social and economic impacts. Habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species in Tasmania has been degraded by the illegal collection of firewood. In order to control the practice and associated impacts, several strategies, rules and regulations have been developed at national and state levels. Despite existence of such rules, the unsustainable collection of illegal firewood has persisted in Tasmania with diverse impacts. Managing the problem requires an understanding of the driving forces of the practice, challenges to enforce wood collection rules, and the development of a legitimate wood supply chain.
After presenting a general introduction to the problem in the first chapter, the second chapter of the thesis aims at analysing the institutional arrangements of the Tasmanian firewood industry using the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework. The chapter provides perspectives on opportunities within the existing institutional setting to develop a market for legal and sustainable firewood. After a review of the existing policy documents, a semi-structured interview questionnaire is used in the chapter to guide the discussions with purposively selected informants (n=20) from eleven Tasmanian firewood industry-affiliated stakeholder groups. The primary drivers of illegal and unsustainable wood harvesting are identified to be economic condition coupled with the community’s lack of awareness about the impacts associated with the practice on forests and forest biodiversity. Limited collaboration among forestry stakeholders and lack of mechanisms to differentiate the legal and sustainable firewood from other wood in the market have contributed to the challenges. The findings of the IAD framework suggest that a multifaceted approach is required to control the practice. From the interviews, many of the stakeholders felt that community education/information campaigns, better collaboration among the various agencies and stakeholders, and differentiation of the product with a labelling system in the market would aid in managing the problem. Interestingly, a review of the literature, and not stakeholders, identified the potential for using unmanned aerial vehicles and remote sensing to detect hotspots of the practice.
The potential for the development of a legitimate firewood supply chain supported by a labelling system was explored with an application of a stated preference survey. The survey used a two-treatment split sample approach, where the treatment group (n=239) saw a two minute video (and the control group did not) before undertaking a series of choice tasks as part of a discrete choice experiment. The multipart stated preference survey was otherwise identical. The results presented in the next three chapters are produced from this survey data. To evaluate whether Tasmanian wood consumers would pay for the labelling system, combinations of legal and sustainable features of firewood were identified and presented to survey participants with a cost based on careful background research with government and industry, qualitative pretesting, followed by an online pilot and full survey.
The survey identifies Small Native Forest Wood (harvesting wood from small native trees and thereby leaving hollow-bearing trees), Plantation Forest Wood (branches/thinning of plantation forests), Agroforestry Farm Wood (wood from a farm established to produce firewood), and Repurposed Wood (miscellaneous wood from road widening or construction) as legal and sustainable sources of firewood. Besides the source of the wood, the labelling system would include two social and two environmental priorities where part of the premium on the firewood will be invested. The social priority ‘Keep the Poor Warm’ addresses fuel poverty, while ‘Job Creation for Tasmanians with Disabilities’ supports training programs in the firewood industry. Environmental priorities include ‘Save our Wildlife’ and ‘No Wood Waste in Tasmania’ where part of the premium is used to promote conservation of habitat areas or to avoid wood leftovers ending up in landfills, respectively. Distance (km) of wood production sites from consumers’ residence is included in firewood features to understand the role of the local attribute and how consumers may consider carbon emission while transporting wood over a certain distance. The distance from firewood production sites was specified as being within 50km, 51−100km, 101−200km or 201−300km. The Cost ($) is expressed as the additional cost, which ranges from $20 to $160 in $20 increments to be paid over the base price of $180 per trailer load of wood. Six choice tasks, consisting of four alternatives (one being an opt-out), were presented to participants based on a Bayesian efficient design.
Using the control group data, chapter three of the thesis investigates acceptability of the labelling system by estimating consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for the sustainable firewood attributes. The models are estimated in WTP space using a two-class latent class model and a mixed multinomial logit model with error component. The results of chapter three indicate that consumers are willing to pay a premium for the firewood sourced from Agroforestry Farm or Repurposed Wood, keeping the Small Native Forest Wood as a base. Consumers are also willing to pay for the environmental priority Save our Wildlife, keeping No Wood Waste in Tasmania as a base. As the Distance (km) increases, consumers’ WTP tends to decline which indicates that consumers prefer locally produced firewood or may be considering the carbon emitted from transportation. The results indicate there is potential for the development of a labelling system for Tasmanian firewood. Consumers’ WTP for the two social priorities is zero, which suggests the importance of investigating other factors that explain consumers’ pro-environmental and pro-social behaviour.
In chapter four, the impact of non-attribute information on consumers’ behaviour is investigated by modelling the two treatments. For clarity, the control group is the focus of chapter three and chapter four and five utilises both treatments. The video defines unsustainable wood harvesting practices and explains the impacts on biodiversity. The original video was developed by the Natural Resources Management, South Tasmania and cut back to two minutes for the purpose of this survey. Data from the video and no video treatments are modelled separately, followed by a joint model where wood attributes are interacted with a binary variable for the video. The results indicate that the video has no effect on WTP. Next, a hybrid choice model (HCM) is estimated to explore the effects of the video on the scale parameter and choice certainty through a latent variable, consequentiality of the study. The findings show that the video has no effect on WTP, scale or choice certainty. The results of chapter four allow for the data from the two treatments to be pooled.
Attitudes towards environmental sustainability are important in a state like Tasmania where there are highly polarized views about environmental and social priorities, e.g., conservationists’ vs foresters’ perspectives of sustainable forest management. Consumers’ WTP for legal and sustainable firewood could be explained in part by individuals’ level of ecoconsciousness. Chapter five uses the pooled data from the two treatments (n=478) in the estimation of the HCM to investigate the effects of consumers’ eco-consciousness behaviour on their WTP.
Chapter five of the thesis provides a more nuanced picture of the factors which influence the acceptance of the labelling system and consumers’ WTP. The modelling results indicate that consumers’ eco-consciousness behaviour is associated with level of education, gender, areas of residence, awareness of the impacts of the practice and perceived policy relevance of the study. More eco-conscious consumers are willing to pay for Repurposed Wood and prefer their proceeds to be invested in conservation of habitat (Save our Wildlife), which implies that such consumers are pro-environment. Less eco-conscious consumers are willing to pay for firewood sourced from Agroforestry Farm or Plantation Forests where part of the premium is invested in Keeping the Poor Warm, suggesting that such consumers are pro-social. Both more and less eco-conscious Tasmanians prefer wood sourced from a relatively closer distance to their residence. This evidence implies that there are Tasmanian wood consumers who are pro-social and pro-environment, which policymakers may wish to consider incorporating in the labelling system.
Overall, this thesis identifies that the major challenges to enforcing wood collection rules include economic conditions of the state, high transaction costs due to limited collaboration among the stakeholders and the Tasmanian community’s level of awareness about the impacts of the practice. The results from the stated preference survey and the modelling support the development of a labelling system. Legal and sustainable firewood sellers could differentiate their product with a labelling system considering the role of consumers’ eco-consciousness behaviour.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Abdu, NH
Keywords: firewood, illegal, sustainable, willingness to pay
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Copyright 2022 the author

Additional Information:

Chapter 2 appears to be the equivalent of a pre-print version of an article published as: Abdu, N., Tinch, E., Levitt, C., Volker, P. W., Hatton MacDonald, D., 2022. Illegal firewood collection in Tasmania: approaching the problem with the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework, Land use policy, 118, 106130.

Chapter 3 appears to be the equivalent of a pre-print version of an article published as: Abdu, N., Tinch, E., Levitt, C., Volker, P., Hatton MacDonald, D., 2022. Willingness to pay for sustainable and legal firewood in Tasmania, Ecological economics, 195, 107342.

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