Battle lines drawn in new round of the 'forest wars'
The battle lines in the long-running 'forest wars' between environment groups and the timber industry are being drawn again, with Victoria and Tasmania once again set to become the main battlegrounds
The renewed tensions are surfacing as contentious Regional Forest Agreements - known as RFAs-start expiring across Australia.
The RFAs are 20-year agreements between the state and federal governments which are designed to guarantee resource security to industry for sustainable logging, while also delivering environmental outcomes and a comprehensive reserve system.
Last week, Victoria secured a temporary extension to its East Gippsland RFA until early next year.
But the Tasmanian RFA is up for renewal later this year, and other states will follow.
The forest industry expects the RFAs to be rolled over for another 20 years, but there's bitter argument over endangered species and equally threatened jobs and timber volumes.
A spokesperson for Senator Anne Ruston, the assistance Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources gave RN Breakfast the following statement:
Australia's forestry industry continues to makes a strong contribution to the national economy, particularly in regional Australia.
- Forestry is a long-term proposition and operational access to forest resources is a state responsibility.
- Long-term wood supply agreements provide resource security and investment certainty.
- The Australian Government is committed to ecologically sustainable forest management and the sustainable use of natural resources.
- The Regional Forest Agreements have not been a disaster.
- The current RFAs have significantly increased the reserve estate by an additional 3.3 million hectares of forests, which provides for the protection of conservation values, including threatened species and ecological communities.
- RFAs provide for resource security, creating a stable environment which in turn contributes to industry certainty. The forest industry provides employment for workers across the entire value chain.
- In Victoria alone, is estimated that more than 21,000 people are directly employed in the forestry / forest products manufacturing industries, with an approximately an additional 48,000 in-direct jobs generated.
- Forest management practices under RFAs are adaptable to changing circumstances.
- Leadbeater's possum - last year the Victorian Government instituted timber harvesting exclusion zones around 160 colonies that had been found in state forests.
- Swift parrot - Forestry Tasmania works to protect swift parrot habitat, for example, wood harvesting on Bruny Island has been temporarily ceased pending the completion of a management plan for the species.
- RFAs balance competing economic, social and environmental demands on forests by setting obligations and commitments for reservation and forest management. It's important we get the balance right.
The Australian Government is seeking to ensure the conservation and productive use of Australia's native forests by establishing rolling extensions for each RFA.
As part of the extension process, the Australian Government will work with the relevant state government to deliver some improvements to the RFA framework, including streamlined and strengthened review and reporting arrangements focussed on outcomes, improved and contemporary dispute resolution mechanisms, improved communication and consultation, and modernisation of the RFA.
The extended RFAs will continue to:
deliver a robust, sustainable and adaptive forest management framework that is continually improving
- protect environmental values, through the comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system, which includes formal and informal reserves
- deploy ecologically sustainable forest management practices in harvesting areas
- be flexible and adaptive to new information and issues.
VicForests was unavailable for interview. A spokesman provided RN Breakfast with the following statement:
VicForests has welcomed the extension of the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
Regional Forest Agreements play a critical role in the native timber industry, providing additional certainty around the way harvesting operations are planned to help ensure the protection of threatened species and their habitat.
A range of conservation measures mean only 6% of Victoria's forest estate is available and suitable for commercial timber production yet this 6% of forest continues to sustain a vibrant and important industry.
VicForests remains supportive of the current RFA process.
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