A landmark Federal Court decision last December prevented logging in Tasmania’s Wielangta forests. Because the ruling questioned the ability of a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) to protect threatened species, it also questions the legality of East Gippsland’s logging.
Attempts by the Commonwealth to hand over responsibility for protecting three federally listed species to the State have failed. This was the decision in Brown v Forestry Tasmania. It compels the Commonwealth to pick up the responsibility, by cancelling the bizarre loophole that allows logging of Nationally listed threatened species in forests that have been ‘managed’ under an RFA.
Normally, Commonwealth law requires an environmental impact assessment before any damaging act, such as logging, can take place. But the RFA exemption clause (section 38 of the EPBC Act) allows logging to occur in RFA areas without an assessment. An RFA supposedly protects environmental values, either by logging very carefully, or through a reserve system.
Bob Brown’s lawyers argued, and Justice Marshall agreed, that three listed species were not protected by the RFA at all. This meant the logging wasn’t “in accordance with” the RFA, so Forestry Tasmania (the equivalent of our VicForests/DSE) “does not have an exemption”.
He said, “An agreement to ‘protect’ means exactly what it says. It is not an agreement to attempt to protect, or to consider the possibility of protecting, a threatened species . If the CAR Reserve System does not deliver protection to the species, the agreement to protect is empty”. Elsewhere, he speaks of “a duty not just to maintain population levels of threatened species but to restore the species”. Poetry.
The RFAs in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW are practically identical. The concepts the Judge relied on are present in each of the other RFAs. Listed species are threatened by logging in each RFA area. So the Wielangta decision applies to all of these states.
In East Gippsland, the Tiger Quoll is in a free-fall dive towards extinction. It relies on large tracts of old growth forest and we are logging it to death. The RFA offers no protection. So logging in most of East Gippsland is illegal.