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.