Regional Forest Agreements fail to meet their aims

Species declines and unsustainable forestry evident under RFAs
Pr. David Lindenmayer, ANU; Ann Jelinek, Nature Focus Victoria; Oisin Sweeney, National Parks Association of NSW
  • The 20-year Regional Forest Agreements between State and Commonwealth governments are due for renewal. They aim to allow native forest harvesting while providing for conservation and future industry.
  • RFA legislative framing precludes important federal legislation, reducing protection for native species of conservation concern.
  • RFAs have comprehensively failed to achieve their key aims. Instead, vertebrate species declines, timber overharvesting, and forest instability is evident. Industry future is uncertain.

The Federal-State Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) were signed from 1997-2001 and are due for renewal. However, the environmental and economic aims of RFAs have not been met despite mandatory review of progress at 5 and 10 years into the 20-year terms.

Claims by Governments that RFAs are sustainable lack supporting evidence. The Victorian Government reports ‘efforts’ rather than tangible outcomes for species conservation. Empirical data suggest that native species have declined significantly under RFAs. In the Victorian Central Highlands, Leadbeater’s Possum has been up-listed to Critically Endangered and populations of the Greater Glider have declined by two-thirds since the establishment of RFAs.

RFAs transfer environmental protections from the Commonwealth to the States, reducing protection for threatened species. Freedom of Information documents show that the Tasmanian Government ignored advice about the impact of proposed logging activity on critically endangered Swift Parrots.

New knowledge of logging impacts has emerged since 1997. In addition to impacts on forest-dependent species, logging contributes to (1) decreased carbon stocks and increased greenhouse gas emissions of logged forests compared with forests managed for conservation, (2) elevated risk of high severity, crown-scorching fire, and (3) increased risk of forest ecosystem collapse.

RFAs have enabled forestry operations that are uneconomic. The corporate and business plan for VicForests states that forestry operations in the East Gippsland RFA have operated at considerable financial loss for many years. Furthermore, the economic value of forests for resources like water production is more than 25 times that of native forest timber ($310 m vs $12 m).

Taken together, the evidence suggests that renewing existing RFAs will see continued biodiversity and financial losses.



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