East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement given last-minute extension

The first of the controversial Regional Forest Agreements (RFA) to expire has been extended for 12 months.

The agreements were signed by state and federal governments between 1997 and 2001.

A 20-year old East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement was set to expire on Friday, but will now continue for one year to allow for further review.

RFAs were created to manage the use of native forests on public land by balancing the need for timber supply, conservation and regeneration.

But they have drawn criticism from green groups because they include exemptions from Commonwealth environment laws.

There are five RFAs in Victoria, three in New South Wales and one in both Tasmania and Western Australia.

Minister defends agreements

Assistant federal Agriculture Minister Anne Ruston said the East Gippsland RFA had been extended while the Victorian Government completed a review process.

“We’re very keen to make sure that we get these RFAs rolled over because we understand how important it is for the security of your forestry industry,” Ms Ruston said.

“The East Gippsland RFA is the first to require renewal so it’s a bit of a poster child to see how well we can roll them over.”

Ms Ruston rejected claims by environmental groups the RFAs were a failure.

“The original forestry agreements have put a great amount of certainty and surety into the industry,” she said.

“[They] have also enabled a level of ongoing environmental protection to enable the forest industry to operate in a sustainable way.

“The RFAs were put in place in the first instance to be able to give security of supply of native timber to the forestry sector, so it’s extremely important.

“As we roll over into the next 20 years we’ll probably put some quite different conditions in those agreements, but to say that they haven’t worked is a very blanket statement.”

Environment groups angry at RFA extension

The extension has drawn criticism from the Greens and environment groups.

Greens senator for Victoria Janet Rice has called for a review of all 10 RFAs.

“The Regional Forest Agreements have failed. They’ve failed to protect our forests and they’ve failed to protect jobs too,” she said.

“We really need a whole new way forward, so extending this agreement is really not the right way to be going.”

Goongerah Environment Centre spokesman Ed Hill said since the RFA was signed 20 years ago, numbers of threatened species had declined.

“Logging should be subject to the same federal environment laws as every other industry,” he said.

“It should be properly assessed and subject to decisions that consider whether the impacts on threatened species are acceptable and whether they can be managed responsibly.

“Because of the RFA exemption, these formal assessments required under federal law are not taking place in our forests.”

Originally Published at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-03/east-gippsland-regional-forest-agreement-extended/8238092

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