Exploring the social dimensions and complexity of cumulative impacts: a case study of forest policy changes in Western Australia

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Social impacts resulting from policy changes and other interventions interact and aggregate, and are influenced by additional interventions and exogenous factors, leading to cumulative social impacts. We explored these complex impacts through a case study of forest policy changes introduced in the state of Western Australia between 1999 and 2004. In this process, we both drew on and modified the recently-proposed Cumulative Effects Assessment and Management (CEAM) framework, to improve its utility as an analytical tool for exploring cumulative social impacts that arise from policy changes in natural resource sectors. Our findings highlight the complexity of the pathways that lead to social impacts and the significant influence of individuals' responses. The findings also demonstrate the importance of considering cumulative impacts - negative and positive, and intended and unintended - when designing and implementing mitigation strategies, emphasizing the value of adaptive management approaches. Our results suggest that the CEAM framework, appropriately contextualized and adapted, is relevant to the assessment of social impacts associated with interventions in complex natural resource management cases, and probably more widely.

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