Regional Forest Agreements are flawed and should be replaced

Today’s announcement that the Andrews government is extending the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) for one year – rather than rolling it over for another two decades – shows the unpopular agreements are flawed and should be replaced.

The agreements between the Commonwealth and state governments exempt the logging industry from national environment laws. They have been disastrous for wildlife, with native animals, including Victoria’s animal emblem the Fairy Leadbeater’s Possum and the iconic Great Glider, headed for extinction.

“Rather than entering a zombie agreement for another two decades, this extension is the first time a state government has recognised the RFAs need to be overhauled,” said Wilderness Society Victoria Campaign Manager Amelia Young.

Australian Conservation Foundation Healthy Ecosystems Program Manager Jonathan La Nauze said: “Other industries need approval from the Commonwealth Environment Minister before taking an action that harms threatened species. Special treatment for the logging industry is out of step with community expectations.

“It’s time to roll up the sleeves and reform the industry so it doesn’t rely on special treatment. We will be watching closely and will expect positive reform of the Victorian logging industry over the coming year.

“The one-year extension provides a final opportunity to review and replace the RFAs.”

Ms Young said: “Victoria needs to modernize its approach to forest management to take into account the impacts of global warming on the wood resource and biodiversity, along with global trends in wood products.

“Since RFAs were signed 20 years ago, ecological and commercial conditions have radically changed, creating uncertainty and unsustainability that can no longer be swept under the carpet.

“The conditions of forests in 1997, when this RFA was signed, are not relevant today.

“Fires, global warming and changed global markets have combined to create a vastly different set of circumstances. At the same time the consequences of decades of over-logging have become inescapable.”

More than 20,000 hectares of old growth and other intact old forests have been logged in RFA regions in Eastern Victoria, including the Central Highlands and East Gippsland, since the RFAs were signed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

This includes 6,500 hectares of mapped old growth and 13,000 hectares of old growth with very minor or natural (fire) disturbance.

“The Andrews government should use this extension as an opportunity to reform the logging industry and remove the free pass it receives from national environment laws that are supposed to protect threatened and endangered wildlife,” Mr La Nauze said.

“RFAs are a shocking example of what happens to wildlife and nature when the Commonwealth hands responsibility for nature conservation to the states. Australia’s national environmental laws need fundamental reform and RFAs should be top of the list,” he said.

“Not only is the logging industry exempt from national environment laws, Victorian requirements to protect wildlife from logging are limited or non-existent and are often poorly enforced by the logging regulator,” Ms Young said.

 “When the East Gippsland RFA reaches its new expiry date in early 2018, it must be replaced with a better program of forest management that protects conservation values and does not destroy forests and wildlife,” she said.

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