Visualising sustainable forestry

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The methodology used here involved three key steps:

  • selecting the case study research approach and case study site;
  • addressing whether or not it is possible to visualise sustainable forestry; and
  • assessing whether visualisations are useful for eliciting attitudes about sustainable forestry, and if so, assessing what is elicited.
    Step 1 introduces the case-study site selected for the research (Section 3.2). The focus of Step 2 is on the development of visualisations for sustainable forestry (Section 3.3). Step 3 is divided into two sections. The use of a survey and a series of workshops for performing the assessment of the visualisations is described in Section 3.4 and the methods for analysing the results obtained are described in Section 3.5.

Step 1 – Selecting the case study research approach and case study site

A case study provides the ability to focus on a topic in depth. This section provides: the reasoning for using the case-study approach and the case study area used (New Zealand); and provides the context and relevance of the country’s forestry practices to those of the rest of the world.

Rationale for the case study approach

The case study approach is a commonly used research approach that has a number of definitions; the approach used here is the collection of empirical data for an in-depth investigation of the role of visualisations in eliciting attitudes (adapted from Yin, 2009). The rationale for the approach is that such an investigation contributes to the understanding of the complex issues of sustainable forestry within their context, i.e. based on real-life examples that include successes, difficulties and challenges. In this context, the case study is used as an epistemic tool (Harrison et al., 2017; Ruzzene, 2014).
A case study reduces whole-world complexity to a manageable subset (Johansson, 2007) by, in my study, selecting one country for analysis rather than multiple ones. This subset approach also shows a limitation of case studies in that it is difficult to generalise the results of a single-country study site to apply more widely. However, Yin (2009) argues that it is still possible to extend single case study findings through the use of conceptualisation and reasoning.
Other social research methods include qualitative research, statistical correlational research, experimental research, and interpretive historical research (Ruzzene, 2014). Some of these options did not apply, such as the historical research approach because the study focused on the current situation. The case study research approach provided the ability to incorporate numerous research methods (Yin, 2009), allowing me to chose areas of interest and to draw on local knowledge and existing data (Crossman, 2017). My particular interest areas were sustainable forestry and visualisation, with local knowledge and data on New Zealand available for this study.

Selection of the case study site

New Zealand was selected as the case-study area as this country met the requirements of having an active forestry sector (Section 3.2.3) with a number of initiatives that support sustainable forestry (Section 3.2.4). The research conducted here also contributes relevant knowledge regarding visualisations for sustainable forestry to New Zealand since there are many gaps and possibilities in this country (Section 3.2.5). New Zealand also has several issues in common with forestry in other OECD countries, which gives this selection broader relevance. For example, environmental legislation in New Zealand ensures that forestry is practised according to legal requirements, and breaches are prosecuted. In contrast, many developing countries face impediments to sustainable forestry, such as lack of governance or corruption (Kleinschmit et al., 2016). For example, Kishor and Belle (2004) demonstrated a strong impact of governance on deforestation for 90 countries.
A need for public consultation, whether legally enshrined or not, is also common to many OECD countries where forestry is practised. Examples include Sweden (Johansson, 2016); Italy (Paletto et al., 2015); Finland (Pappila and Pölönen, 2012); pan-Europe (Balest et al., 2016); Australia (Dare et al., 2012); and Canada (e.g. Hunt, 2015). Public consultation is, in turn, improved by techniques that facilitate good communications, and visualisation is one such technique (Section 1.2). In New Zealand, the forest sector needs to undertake public consultation and seek agreement from the public for at least some forest-management decisions. For example, harvesting may be a notifiable activity in a region, so forest managers are required to notify the public of their intentions. The public can then make submissions, which the local council considers, and the final plans may be modified (Brown, 2009). Public consultation may be sought even when not legally required, either as a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) requirement (Hock & Hay, 2003), or because such practices avoid social conflict and confrontation, and achieve what has been called a ‘license to operate’ (Hock et al., 2009).
Exotic conifer species have been introduced not only in New Zealand but in other countries including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Italy and Spain for use in planted forests (FAO, 2013). The visual presence of such species in the landscape and their contrast to non-conifer native forests is thus relevant for these countries too. Globally, the size of planted forest areas is rising (albeit slowly) (Payn et al., 2015) so this case study is important as it contributes to the knowledge base relevant to planted forests.

New Zealand forestry

Historically New Zealand was dominated by native forests but periods of forest clearance (first by Polynesian then European colonisers) resulted in a decrease to approximately a quarter of the original area by the end of the nineteenth century (Ewers et al., 2006). A Royal Commission on Forestry was set up in 1913 to address concerns about declining timber supplies and economic returns from the native forests (Roche, 1990). A number of initiatives have been implemented since then. These have included restrictions on harvesting native species, incentives to plant fast-growing exotic tree species, and large-scale planting of new forests. New Zealand’s forestry industry currently relies on exotic planted forests for almost all domestic and export timber – 99.9% in 2013 (NZFOA & MPI, 2014). The remaining native forests are almost all protected from harvesting. The dominant exotic tree species grown in New Zealand is Pinus radiata (radiata pine) (NZFOA & MPI, 2014), which occupies 89.7% of planted forest by area. Radiata pine plantations are visually different to native forests; the key differences in landscape views are that pine species are much darker green in colour than New Zealand native forests, and that while the pine trees are increasing in height (typically for the duration of the approximate 30 year rotation duration) this species has have a more triangular canopy than the rounded canopies of New Zealand’s native forests. These attributes make it easy for viewers of New Zealand landscape photos to differentiate between visualisations of production and conservation forests, and contributed to the selection of New Zealand forestry as the case-study site (Section 3.3.3).
Harvesting is focused on planted exotic forests in New Zealand so issues regarding sustainable forestry practices are separate from those surrounding the management of native forests for conservation purposes. This situation also supported the selection of New Zealand forestry as the case-study site. In some other countries, harvesting also occurs in native forests (often ones that have been previously undisturbed) so opposition to harvesting can focus on the fact that pristine native forests are being disturbed (Ford et al., 2009b).

Sustainability of New Zealand forestry

New Zealand participates in a number of international inter-governmental activities that relate directly or indirectly to sustainable forestry, e.g. the UNFF, FAO, CBD, the Montréal Process (MP) and the Kyoto Protocol (Section 2.1.2). For example, the country published MP reports in 2008 (MAF, 2009) and 2014 (MPI, 2015) to demonstrate the state and progress of its forests according to each of the MP Criteria and Indicators. An emission trading scheme (ETS) was introduced in 2008 to facilitate the country’s carbon-reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (Evison, 2017). The effect of the ETS on forest sustainability has been mixed, however. Areas in the central North Island of New Zealand were actually deforested in 2005 and 2006 preceding the start of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (Smith & Horgan, 2006). Also, initial interest in new tree plantings after the implementation of the ETS subsequently waned as the price the carbon credits decreased (Evison, 2017).
At a national level, the country’s key environmental legislation is the Resource Management Act ( It has a sustainability focus “to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources” while also enabling “people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being” (Resource Management Act 1991 No 69 as at 01 March 2017). The RMA is enacted by territorial authorities such as regional councils, with decisions regarding forestry prescribed and monitored locally (Brown, 2009).
At the forest level, forest managers may choose to have their forest management practices certified through a certification process, such as that operated by the FSC (Hock & Hay, 2003). Over 50%, by area, of New Zealand’s forests are certified through the FSC (Chris Goulding, forestry consultant, CJ Goulding Ltd, pers. comm.).

Visualisations of New Zealand forestry

Research into New Zealand forestry visualisations was active up to approximately 2000, with an emphasis on visual aesthetics including: the amount of forest in a landscape (Hock et al., 1995); the species mix for screening edge views of exotic forest plantation (Thorn et al., 1997); and the modification of forest management to achieve visual acceptability (Orland et al., 1997). Using visualisations to elicit attitudes also dates to that time. For example, Fairweather et al. (2000) conducted an investigation into attitudes towards increased forest plantings concomitant with depopulating rural areas i.e. perceptions on social unsustainability. The lack of research into visualisations for forestry in New Zealand since the turn of the century contributed to my selection of that country as the case-study site. The only recent examples of New Zealand forestry visualisations have been developed by forest companies. A survey by (Swaffield & Hock, 2012) found examples such as simulated fly-throughs and simulated forest landscapes useful for demonstrating potential effects of planned forestry operations. Other than the information provided in that survey, there was no easily accessible information on the existence of forestry visualisations, nor was there any (public) evidence of analysis into their effectiveness. The gap in recent research on the attitudes elicited by landscapes views of New Zealand planted forests led to my inclusion of landscapes into the research methodology (Section 3.3.3).
The survey conducted by Swaffield & Hock was followed by a workshop conducted in February 2011 (Swaffield & Hock, 2012) on: how landscape visualisations could portray sustainable forestry; how to distinguish between ‘looks like’ and ‘acts like’ factors in landscapes; and the tools and data needed for creating visualisations. One finding from that work was the need to develop ways to represent concurrent social, economic and ecological information on landscapes. That finding contributed to the design methodology in the current study (Section 3.3.3).
The only previous New Zealand visualisations found to relate specifically to sustainable forestry were those used to illustrate the state of the sustainability indicators in the five-yearly Montréal Process update reports (MAF, 2009). This lack of relevant data meant there was scope for the development of many new sustainability visualisations for forestry in the current study.

Step 2 – Developing visualisations on sustainable forestry

The lack of modern visualisations of sustainable forestry for New Zealand outlined above necessitated the development of new visualisations. A number of the visualisations developed here are presented in the sub-sections below alongside their design methodology. Examples are provided to illustrate the design process and are not necessarily the final versions. The initial visualisations developed were then refined into a set used for testing (Section 3.4). The final versions used in the assessment process are detailed in Chapter 4. All the visualisations covered in this section were developed between 2010 and 2013.

1. Introduction 
1.1 Sustainable and unsustainable forestry
1.2 The role of visualisations
1.3 The role of visualisations
1.4 Thesis questions
1.5 Thesis structure
2. Research background 
2.1 Sustainable forestry
2.2 Visualisations
3. Methodology
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Step 1 – Selecting the case study research approach and case study site
3.3 Step 2 – Developing visualisations on sustainable forestry
3.4 Step 3a – Assessing the research visualisations
3.5 Step 3b – Analysis of the survey and workshops Analysis of the landscape images
3.6 Summary
4. Results 
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Visualisation development results
4.3 Survey and workshop summary results
4.4 Assessment results for each of the design frameworks
4.5 Results on the role of visualisations in eliciting attitudes to Sustainable Forestry
4.6 Summary
5. Discussion and Conclusion 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Visualising sustainable forestry
5.3 Eliciting attitudes with visualisations
5.4 The attitudes to sustainable forestry
5.5 Scope and limitations
5.6 Research contributions
5.7 Implications for practitioners
5.8 Future research
5.9 Thesis conclusion
6. References 
7. Appendices 
7.1 APPENDIX: Positioning
7.2 APPENDIX: Ethical considerations
7.3 APPENDIX: Concept map of stakeholders’ meanings for sustainable forestry and water
7.4 APPENDIX: Details of survey design
7.5 APPENDIX: Survey invitation
7.6 APPENDIX: The Survey questionnaire
7.7 APPENDIX: Workshop items – Participant Information Sheet, Consent Form, Agenda
7.8 APPENDIX: Workshop Invitation
7.9 APPENDIX: Workshop visuals and answer sheet
7.10 APPENDIX: Comprehensive results of individual survey questions
7.11 APPENDIX: Comprehensive results of individual workshop questions
7.12 APPENDIX: Detailed statistical results for sustainable landscapes (survey and workshop) 

The Role of Visualisations in Eliciting Attitudes to Sustainable Forestry, and the Attitudes Elicited

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