Wednesday the 3rd February is a milestone in the long and chequered history of native forest management in Australia. The first Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) expires in East Gippsland following 20 years of destructive logging. Instead of just extending them, prolonging conflict and driving species towards the edge, now is the time to chart a new course says the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA).
Regional Forest Agreements are 20-year deals between the state and federal governments that permit the logging of public native forests. Across Australia, almost 7 million hectares of native eucalyptus forests are logged under 10 RFAs. The RFAs were an attempt to marry conservation, logging and recreation to bring an end to the ‘forest wars’ that pitted conservationists against the logging industry. They haven’t worked.
NPA Senior Ecologist, Dr Oisín Sweeney said: “Twenty years after the first RFA was signed, conservation groups in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia are still opposed to native forest logging because of the huge environmental damage.
“The RFAs have not ended the forest wars because they have not adequately protected forests.
“In East Gippsland, the area where the first RFA expires today, conservation groups have been the only bulwark protecting threatened species like greater
gliders and large forest owls from reckless logging,. RFAs are acting as a giant legal loophole that exempts logging from federal environment law and permits actions that no other industry would get away with.
“In NSW the situation is worse because a legal stitch-up means environment groups can’t take Forestry Corporation to court. All they can do is bring breaches to the attention of the EPA and hope they act. As a result Forestry Corporation has committed literally hundreds of breaches, including burying wombats alive, with legal impunity.
“There’s no way industrial native forest logging on this scale could occur were it required to meet the environmental standards that other industries are.
“And despite a free pass on environmental standards, the industry’s on its knees: just a couple of weeks ago a Victorian sawmill threatened to close because VicForests doesn’t have the volume of timber to supply it. In NSW Forestry Corporation lost $78 million in native forest logging between 2009 and 2014.
“On a positive note, the government has it in its power to end this madness. The expiry of the RFAs offers the perfect circuit breaker that the government should grab with both hands.
“We already get the vast majority of our wood from plantations. With some decisive leadership we can complete this transition and act to secure the jobs of forest workers in a sustainable, conflict-free industry.
“And native forests can do what they do best: provide habitat for our native wildlife, provide billions of dollars worth of water and clean air for people and places to have fun and drive regional tourism.”
Media contact: Oisín Sweeney 0431 251 194
Regional Forest Agreement overview: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/forestry/australias-forest-policies/rfa/rfa-overview-history.pdf
Money doesn’t grow on trees: http://www.nature.org.au/media/213736/160320-money-doesnt-grow-on-trees-nsw-forestry-final.pdf
Experimental ecosystem accounts for the Victorian Central Highlands: https://www.wavespartnership.org/sites/waves/files/kc/VCH%20Accounts%20Summary%20FINAL%20for%20pdf%20distribution.pdf