MEDIA RELEASEToday, the Victorian and Commonwealth governments are expected to extend Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) for another 20 years in a move that environmental lawyers say will fail Victoria’s threatened species. Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has released a new report, No longer tenable: Bushfires and Regional Forest Agreements that calls on the Morrison and Andrews governments to throw out RFAs to protect vital threatened wildlife in the wake of the summer bushfires. RFAs are intergovernmental agreements between Commonwealth and the Western Australian, Tasmanian, New South Wales and Victorian governments. These agreements attempt to resolve competing demands on native forests for resource extraction and industry certainty on one hand, and conservation on the other. Brendan Sydes, Lawyer and CEO from Environmental Justice Australia said: “To renew these agreements without taking into account the unprecedented and catastrophic impacts on Victoria’s forests and the wildlife is a massive failure of leadership and shows both the Morrison and Andrews governments are continuing to put the logging industry before our native forests and threatened wildlife. “This summer’s bushfires have shown what we can expect as global warming drives increasingly catastrophic bushfires. In the current climate, it’s clear that 20-year logging deals are fundamentally untenable. “The Comprehensive Adequate and Representative reserve system that is the basis of these Regional Forests Agreements has been smashed by this summer’s bushfires. Huge areas of national parks and reserves as well as special protection areas have burned. To roll over the agreements as if nothing has happened is grossly irresponsible. “This summer’s devastating fires mark the start of a new, more threatening and uncertain era for forests and wildlife. To avoid extinctions and ecosystem collapse, governments must throw out Regional Forests Agreements and end the exemption for native forest logging under national environmental laws.” Key points from the report, No longer tenable. Bushfires and Regional Forests Agreements
- Conservation provisions of RFAs are underpinned by regional systems of what were claimed to be Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserves. They comprise formal and informal reserves and prescriptions to protect the environment in forests where logging is permitted. Even before the fires, RFAs were failing to protect wildlife threatened by logging and to secure environmental values more broadly.
- This summer’s bushfires were unprecedented in scale, intensity and severity. Their impacts on forests and wildlife have been catastrophic. The CAR reserves have been severely affected with over three million hectares of dedicated parks and reserves burned. This must be met with a shift in policies, prescriptions and other protections of forests available for logging, including RFAs.
- The fires, particularly through their impacts on the CAR reserves, have destroyed the policy foundations of the RFA system, rendering it untenable. Governments have so far failed to respond to the changed circumstances, continuing instead to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis.
- The consequences of the fires and the impact on CAR reserves also raise legal issues in relation to whether the agreements continue to be binding, whether RFAs are legally valid, and whether exemptions to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 founded on RFAs continue to apply.
- RFAs today are legally uncertain and failing in practice. Their problems cannot be fixed within the RFA framework because the agreements are predicated on gradual change, not catastrophic events. They contain no mechanism for comprehensively altering the terms of the agreement to reset the balance between conservation and production, made necessary by the fires.
- To protect Australia’s unique forests and wildlife in the face of more frequent and intense bushfires, governments must throw out RFAs and put an end to logging native forests.