Hot Topic

Regional Forest Agreements fail to meet their aims

Tuesday, 5 September 2017  | 

Authors: David Lindenmayer (ANU,, Ann Jelinek (Nature Focus Victoria), Oisin Sweeney (National Parks Association of NSW).

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.

A downloadable pdf on this Hot Topic can be found here.

Supporting Research

Burns, E. L., D. B. Lindenmayer, J. Stein, W. Blanchard, L. McBurney, D. Blair, and S. C. Banks. 2015. Ecosystem assessment of mountain ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. Austral Ecology 40:386-399.
Complete ecosystem assessment
Keith, H., M. Vardon, J. Stein, J. Stein, and D. B. Lindenmayer. 2016. Experimental Ecosystem Accounts for the Central Highlands of Victoria. The Australian National University, Canberra.
Develop set of ecosystem accounts
Lindenmayer, D. 2017. Halting Natural Resource Depletion: Engaging with Economic and Political Power. The Economic and Labour Relations Review
Overview analysis of economic collapse
Lindenmayer, D. B., D. Blair, L. McBurney, and S. C. Banks. 2015. The need for a comprehensive reassessment of the Regional Forest Agreements in Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 24: 266-270.
Appraisal of RFAs
Lindenmayer, D. B., and H. P. Possingham. 2013. No excuse for habitat destruction. Science 340:680.
Short overview of logging codes
Taylor, C., N. Cadenhead, D. B. Lindenmayer, and B. A. Wintle. 2017. Improving the design of a conservation reserve for a critically endangered species. PLOS One 12:e0169629.
Assessment of the viability of reserve system based on PVA and GIS integration
Taylor, C., M. A. McCarthy, and D. B. Lindenmayer. 2014. Nonlinear effects of stand age on fire severity. Conservation Letters 7:355-370.
Assessment of relationships between forest age and fire severity
Todd, C. R., D. B. Lindenmayer, K. Stamation, S. Acevedo-Catteneo, S. Smih, and L. F. Lumsden. 2016. Assessing reserve effectiveness: Application to a threatened species in a dynamic fire prone forest landscape. Ecological Modelling 338:90-100.
Population viability analysis of Leadbeater's Possum
VicForests. 2013. Corporate and business plans, 2013-2014 to 2015-2016. VicForests, Melbourne.
Economic assessment of industry
Macintosh, A., H. Keith and D. Lindenmayer. 2015. Rethinking forest carbon assessments to account for policy institutions. Nature Climate Change 5: 946-949.
To determine which policy institutions can affect the outcomes of different types of forest management strategies
Department of Environment and Primary Industries (2013) Victoria’s State of the Forests Report 2013. Department of Environment and Primary Industries, State Government of Victoria. Available at (accessed 24 August 2017).
To report on the state of Victoria's forests in 2013.
Pullinger, P. 2015. Pulling a swiftie: systemic Tasmanian Govenrment approval of logging known to damage Swift Parrot habitat. Environment Tasmania
To highlight regulatory failings in the protection of Swift Parrot
Australian Government Department of Environment 2016. Conservation Advice Petauroides volans - Greater Glider
Conservation advice for threatened species listing
Campbell, R. and R. McKeon. 2015. Money doesn't grow on trees: the financial and economic losses of native forestry in NSW. The Australia Institute.
To analyse the economic performance of NSW Forestry Corporation
Dargavel, J. 1998. Politics, Policy and Process in the Forests. Australian Journal of Environmental Management 5: 25-30
An overview of the Comprehensive Regional Assessments and the Regional Forest Agreements
Department of Environment and Conservation NSW. 2006. Recovery Plan for the Large Forest Owls: Powerful Owl (Ninox strenus), Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa) and Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae)
Identify threats and recovery actions for large forest owls in NSW
Feehely, J., N. Hammond-Deakin and F. Millner. 2013. One Stop Chop: How Regional Forest Agreements streamline environmental destruction
To determine whether the transfer of environmental responsibility from Commonwealth to States under RFAs has delivered equivalent environmental protection
Keith, H.M., D. Lindenmayer, A. Macintosh and B. Mackey. 2015. Under what circumstances do wood products from native forests benefit climate change mitigation? PLoS ONE: 10
To analyse the circumstances under which wood products derived from native forests can help metigate climate change.
Kirkpatrick, J.B.1998. Nature Conservation and the Regional Forest Agreement Process. Australian Journal of Environmental Management 5: 31-37
To analyse the drivers and outcomes of the RFA process
Swann, T and B. Brown. 2016. Barking up the wrong trees: WA's Forest Products Commission (FPC) and the performance of its native forestry. The Australia Institute.
To analyse the financial performance of the Western Australia Forest Products Commission
Woinarsky, J.C.Z., A.A. Burbidge, and P.L. Harrison. 2014. The action plan for Australian Mammals 2012
A snapshot of the conservation status and trends of Australia's mammals