Regional Forest Agreements must not be Renewed

Native forest logging has a direct and long-lasting impact on forests and their dependent wildlife. It is the only activity and only ecosystem type given an entirely separate purpose-built legal and management regime in Australia. Native forestry operations are treated differently from other actions that may impact on matters of national environmental significance otherwise protected by Australia’s principal piece of environment legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Unlike other actions, forestry activities covered by a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) are not required to obtain approval under the EPBC Act. (Environment Defenders Office)

Regional Forest Agreements or RFAs, were introduced by the Howard Government and in Victoria, the Kennett Government some 20 years ago as an instrument to give loggers access to native forests for logging. Their intention was to govern the regulation of native forest conservation and wood production (objectives of the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement). In other words, an intention of a balanced management, for 20 years.  However the management has been anything but balanced:  the RFAs have escaped any need to conform to national environment laws, and the forests have been decimated and left many small forest communities angry. In their view, the forest has many more virtues than just timber, and the timber harvesting has been brutal. “It is simply not sustainable” says Ken Deacon, a Rubicon Valley resident with a horse trail riding business that has suffered from the intrusion of Vic Forests and the logging onslaught. “Forests deserve better management”.

This logging has been by “clear felling” whereby within a forest “coup”, a logging company totally clears the area of every tree save for “islands” for seed production. These islands provide little refuge for native fauna. Native fauna by and large get killed in the logging process. “The RFAs have created an industrial disaster zone” in the words of Ken Deacon.

The photos are of Andersons Mill Log dump in Marysville and the Royston Range in the Rubicon State Forest.

The forest is decimated, logs removed, and the remaining leaf and branch material is then burnt.  Most of the logs meet agreements for woodchips, and you see these trucks going through Tallarook every day. Some of the larger logs make their way to saw mills and kiln driers and end up available as quality timber.

The Rubicon State Forest has magnificent Mountain Ash and Alpine Ash, in an area of 14km by 20km. It is also home to the unique fauna of LeadBeater possum, Greater Gliders, Powerful Owls, Antechinus, Ring-Tailed  and Bushy-tailed Possums, and birdlife including cockatoos, LyreBirds, Wedge-tailed eagles and a myriad of smaller understorey birds. Most of these fauna are endangered, and the LeadBeater Possum is critically endangered. This is a very diverse forest environment. The forest management practices of this forest by VicForest and the RFAs are “literally scuttling these great forest and their fauna” (Ken Deacon).

Ken and Di Deacon have operated a horse trail riding business for over 40 years. They used to access forest tracks in their recreational and educational tours, but no longer. The tracks have been turned into “B-double highways” with fast-moving heavy vehicles, and the forests have been smashed. Their business has suffered, and so too other tourism-focused enterprises in the region. The VicForest forestry practices with RFAs provide little local employment by contrast.

The Victorian Government has resisted pressure from the Federal Government to simply “roll the RFAs over for another 20 years” stating that the Regional Forest Agreements are “not fit for the Purpose”. The State Government has extended the “environment loopholes” for another two years however whilst they comprehensively assess them. They’ve also “promised” to create new rules to protect trees with diameters of more than 2.5metres. Promised….its not law yet.

The Wilderness Society is one of a number of environment groups leading the charge to take another view of our forests, a view that sees the many values of a forest other than just wood. In a time of climate change action, forests are invaluable carbon sinks and environments to help stabilise weather. RFAs make no consideration of this, nor the complex web of wildlife that live only in forests.

Photos courtesy of Ken Deacon,  Rubicon Valley.

The Environment Defenders Office sees the forest as having far more attributes than timber. Along with the Wilderness Society and others they are calling for a Great Forest National Park. Ken Deacon agrees “this will give the Central Highlands Forest the security to survive in perpetuity” as a complex and vital ecosystem unique to the world.

The Overall Finding from the Environment Defenders Office Report One-Stop-Chop is that “RFAs have never delivered the benefits claimed for them, for a mix of political, economic, cultural and legal reasons. From a legal perspective, the main reason the RFAs have failed is that the States do not take the regulatory and legal actions required to adequately protect matters of national significance. This failing cannot be addressed by differently wording the RFA and strengthening States’ obligations: rather, the failure is fundamental to the concept of the RFAs and of devolving control of matters of national environmental significance from the Commonwealth to the States”.

The time of Regional Forest Agreements is gone. These agreements have not protected the forests and are unsustainable with their 80 year regeneration/harvesting perspectives. Woodchips can be more efficiently provided from plantations or growing hemp. Timber production is better served by growing plantations. And forests are better served as the natural resource that our world battling with climate change issues needs. In this this post-RFA environment, local communities can thrive and create employment in a more sustainable way.

BEAM Mitchell Environment Group supports an end to Regional Forest Agreements, which have failed to meet their primary objectives. Our remaining native forests are too valuable to be logged by clear-felling., and more sustainable employment can be provided from native forests protected.

Click here to read the State Government’s response to Peter’s concern

Source material from

Environment Defenders Office https://www.envirojustice.org.au/sites/default/files/files/Submissions%20and%20reports/One_Stop_Chop.pdf

The Wilderness Society

EarthChat (103.9FM Fridays) interviews with Amelie Young (The Wilderness Society) and Ken Deacon (Rubicon Valley Horseriding).

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