Andrews government urged to place moratorium on sensitive forests under new forest arrangements

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Andrews government to place a moratorium on logging in sensitive areas under new forestry arrangements that are expected to be announced this week and publicly reject logging industry calls to log Victoria’s National Parks.

Old growth forest scheduled for logging in East Gippsland

“Logging National Parks and protected water catchments is no solution to the timber supply crisis. The government needs to urgently protect what remains of our forests and provide exit packages through a fair and just transition for workers,” said Friends of the Earth spokesperson Ed Hill.  

“The Andrews government must make a clear public statement to reassure Victorians that their National Parks will not be handed over to loggers” said Ed Hill.

The Andrews government is currently deciding whether to extend the twenty-year old Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) that expire tomorrow. The RFAs provide the logging industry with an exemption from national environmental laws and have long been criticised by environment groups.

RFAs were thrust into the spotlight last week as Ministerial briefing documents published by The Guardian reveal the Commonwealth government had ‘concerns regarding the assessments that underpin the current RFAs and the validity of this science.’[1]

The documents cite ‘legal uncertainty’ as to whether the original environmental assessments underpinning existing RFAs remain valid and that a deal has been done between the Commonwealth and states to "modernise" the RFAs, without completing any new or updated assessments.[2]

“The government must commit to placing a moratorium on logging of high conservation value forests and critical habitat for threatened species whilst any assessments go ahead. It makes no sense to continue environmentally destructive logging whilst assessing it impacts.”

“It is encouraging that Minister D’Ambrosio is advocating for new assessments of the climate and environmental impacts of the RFAs, however without a moratorium on logging in environmentally sensitive forests during the assessment period the intent of new assessments would be undermined.”

“The Andrews government should refer remaining logging plans to the Commonwealth under national environment law just like other industries, rather than extend the outdated RFA exemption” said Ed Hill.

“For too long the RFAs have exempted logging from national environment law, any extension of these agreements would prolong the exemption and lead to further destruction of critical habitat for nationally threatened species” said Ed Hill   

 “Victoria’s forests have been over logged for decades under the flawed forestry deals. The 2009 Black Saturday fires have further reduced available forests. It is time to accept the inevitability of a transition. Government must learn from the closure of the Hazelwood power station and put transition plans in place before the inevitable closure of more timber mills.”

“Victorians overwhelmingly support National Parks, including the creation of new parks to protect forests and wildlife from logging. The Andrews government must act in the interests of all Victorians and deliver on their commitment to create the Great Forest National Park within this term of government.” 

Media contact:  Ed Hill

Ph: 0414 19 645   email:  ed.hill@foe.org.au

Logged old growth forest in East Gippsland (photo: Environment East Gippsland)

 

Background on Regional Forest Agreements

RFAs are 20 year deals between the State and Federal Governments that hand over environmental regulation of logging to State Governments. Under the RFAs, the Commonwealth vacated its role protecting Federally listed species from the impacts of logging. 

The first RFA was signed on 3 February 1997 for the East Gippsland region in Victoria, amid rampant community opposition at the height of the iconic Goolengook forest campaign. Two decades of forest conflict have followed across Victoria, and in other States.

Logging in native forests that are home to threatened species is exempt from Federal environment laws if operations are conducted in accordance with an RFA. Under the Federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), every other industry must refer actions that are likely to have a significant impact on Federally listed threatened species to the Federal Environment Minister for impact assessment and approvals.

The exemption from Federal environment protections provided by the 20-year RFAs has been a failure for threatened species across Australia. Forest-dependent species, including the Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider, have declined dramatically in Victoria due to the impacts of logging under this failed system that leaves our most threatened species with no protection under Federal law.

Under the deals, State-based laws are meant to provide protection in place of Federal law. But in Victoria and other states, those State laws offer no protection whatsoever for key forest-dependent species, and extremely limited protection for others.

[1] Borschmann, G., Exclusive: legal concerns over plan to roll over forestry agreements without reviews, The Guardian March 21, 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/21/exclusive-legal-concerns-over-plan-to-roll-over-forestry-agreements-without-reviews

[2] ibid