The New South Wales government has called for public submissions relating to Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) in the state. There are two processes, the 10 and 15-year reviews of RFA performance and the extension of the three RFAs when their 20-year terms expire between 2019 and 2021.
Regional Forest Agreements, instituted between 1997 and 2001, are agreements between states and the Commonwealth intended to provide certainty to the timber industry as well as agreed social and environmental outcomes. The states involved are NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The original agreement between the Commonwealth and the states was that there would be 20-year rolling extensions.
One of the many contentious aspects of RFAs is that forestry operations carried out under an RFA are exempt from the provisions of the Federal government’s principal environmental legislation, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
A major purpose of RFAs was to provide certainty to industry by defining areas available for logging and meeting conservation objectives by, nominally, establishing a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system. The notion was that having met conservation demands with the CAR reserve system and provided guaranteed wood supply to industry, everyone would be happy. That, of course, did not happen and should never have been expected to happen.
Underpinning logging was an agreed system of Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management (ESFM). In reality, ESFM was little more than a description of a system — a plan on paper — and has done nothing to prevent serious decline in a range of forest-dependent species such as the koala, greater glider, yellow-bellied glider, Leadbeater’s possum. Of particular concern is the loss of tree hollows on which many species depend.
In essence, the concept of RFAs was politically motivated, ignorant, scientifically untenable and naively expected to end the long history of forest protests. It was simply not rational to assume that over 20 years no new information would come to light requiring new reserves to be created to protect wildlife. And it was not intelligent to assume that forestry agencies’ estimates of wood supply would be correct. History has shown that they are rarely, if ever, correct.
There is also substantial evidence that native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions and that stopping harvesting in native forests could greatly assist Australia meet its emissions reduction target.
The reality is that wood volumes contracted to NSW sawmills can not be supplied. In 2014, the NSW government spent $8.55 million buying back the allocation of high-quality sawlogs to Boral in the North Coast region. Announcing the buy-back, the then Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, said “Our North Coast forests are certified sustainable but projections show that without this buyback we would have needed to dramatically reduce the volume of timber supplied to industry after 2023 to ensure the forests continue to be healthy and productive.” The buy-back involves 50,000 cubic metres annually for nine years.
Ms Hodgkinson said “This buy-back from the biggest player in our native forest timber industry, Boral, secures the long-term viability of the industry as a whole by bringing the supply of timber from the region’s forests back to a sustainable level.”
It is interesting to note that the South East Queensland Forests Agreement, which transferred 450,000 hectares of state forest to national park and was intended to end native forest logging in the area by 2024, was achieved by buying out Boral which operated the largest hardwood sawmill in the area. (The LNP withdrew the government from the SEQFA during its term.)
As the wood supply from state forests becomes more and more difficult, there have been calls from industry and politicians to not only release national parks for logging but to allow logging within national parks. Industry representatives in NSW have claimed that logging in national parks will be good for vulnerable species. At the national level, former Senator Richard Colbeck is leading the campaign for “nil tenure” whereby all public land is managed with the same objectives.
The NSW National Parks Association is leading the campaign against native forest logging in that state. Their web site provides guidelines for making a submission to the Environmental Protection Agency which is conducting the reviews of the RFAs. The URL is https://npansw.org/publications/reports-and-submissions.
Make a submission
If the RFAs are renewed, all of the problems will continue for another 20 years. Wildlife populations will continue to decline, timber supply will decline and there will be increasing pressure to convert national parks to wood production.
Submissions on RFA renewals close on 12 March.
Details for making submissions are on the NPA web site.