Our native forest regulations need to move with the times

The aftermath of a regen burn at a central highlands logging coupeThe rules governing our native forests, RFAs, were drawn up nearly 20 years ago. They need to be thoroughly reviewed and updated to reflect the changes in the forestry industry that have occurred in the last two decades.

BIT BY BIT, Tony Abbott is dismantling everything scientists are telling us we need to do to protect our environment and combat climate change. A large chunk of this destructive agenda is aimed squarely at our native forests.

This came to a head when the government needled through a deal with Labor and the crossbenchers on the Renewable Energy Target.

Apart from R-E-D-U-C-I-N-G the target by more than 20 per cent and introducing the flat-earther inspired ‘wind farm commissioner’, the deal also allowed wood from native forests to be burnt for energy and be classified as ‘renewable’.

Take a moment to think about what that means.

Our ancient forests, which take an instant to destroy but hundreds of years to grow back, have been put in the same category as the endless energy we get from solar and wind.

By grouping them together, the government has ensured less certainty for truly renewable energy industries and ignored everything we know about the values of our native forests.

When the government is wasting billions on its Direct Action policy, this will dirty the air we breathe, deplete our carbon stores and increase our carbon pollution, adding to climate change.

When the government is pouring $500 million into new dams, this will destroy one of the greatest assets we have in ensuring the quality and quantity of our water supply.

When the government is trumpeting its attempts to save some of our most precious animals, including Victoria’s faunal emblem the Leadbeater’s possum, this will ensure the destruction of their remaining habitat.

Led by the powerful but outdated native forest logging lobby, the government assures us that the environmental impact will be minimal. They claim only ‘waste’ of timber offcuts, bark and branches will be burnt.

Let’s be under no illusion that this is ‘waste’.

If this were truly about offcuts, bark and branches, the regulations would specify that. If it were about offcuts from sawmills, the regulations would say that as well.

But they don’t.

In reality, this ‘waste’ is 80 to 90 per cent of the logs that are removed from native forests.

Native forest logging in Australia over the last 40 years has been dominated and driven by the production and export of large volumes of low-value woodchips. This market has crashed.

With ample evidence that industrial scale clearfell logging is completely incompatible with forest protection, the obvious thing to do is to take the opportunity to wind back logging of our native forests.

But instead, including wood from native forests in the Renewable Energy Target aims to find a new market for this so called ‘residual wood’ and subsidise it to boot. Uses being looked at include propping up dirty coal-fired power stations like Hazelwood in Victoria by ‘co-firing’ it with massive volumes of wood.

The native forest logging industry is Tony Abbott’s broken down car. It’s dirtier, it costs more to run and everyone else has moved on to the next model. But by hook or by crook he’s determined to jumpstart it and get a few more miles out of it.

How have we allowed things to get to this point?

For the past two decades, our native forests have been managed according to Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) between the federal government and the states.

There are ten of these agreements operating across the country.

RFAs were meant to provide long-term forest management to protect these complex ecosystems and ensure the viability of threatened species living in the forests, as well as govern the production of timber from these forests and maintain jobs. They have failed in every regard.

You just have to look at the five Regional Forest Agreements in Victoria. These are managed by the state-owned logging business VicForests, which oversees the destruction of 3,000 hectares of native forests every year, receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to do so.

Industrial logging in public forests has had its day. It has failed to protect our environment and failed to protect jobs.

The industry is already well on the way to relying solely on plantations. Eighty-five percent of wood produced in Australia now comes from plantations.

But the Renewable Energy Target deal will enable the old industry to shift its focus from woodchips to wood energy and keep its head above the quicksand for just a few more moments. It cannot last.

RFAs have failed the environment because they have not kept up with the science of the last two decades. They don’t reflect what we know about climate change today or that Australian forests are the most dense carbon stores in the world.

Characteristically, Tony Abbott is ignoring the evidence.

Late on a Friday afternoon in April, the Abbott government announced plans to roll over the Tasmanian RFA, an ominous sign of things to come around the country.

They have ruled out a full-scale review, but that’s exactly what we need.

We must not commit to another 20 years of disaster by rolling over all RFAs.

Let’s talk about how we can best manage these resources to safeguard our future. This means facilitating, not hampering, the transition of logging out of our native forests.

Native forests belong to the people. Now is the time to take them back.

Senator Janet Rice is the Australian Greens spokesperson for forests

 

Originally Published at http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2015/07/20/4276518.htm

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