News - 17 June 2019
Survey: help improve how Victoria’s forests are managed
The Victorian Government is inviting Victorians like you to answer another survey to improve the management of our forests for the future. This is your chance to tell the government why you care about our endangered wildlife and why you want logging in high conservation value native forests stopped and the Regional Forest Agreements scrapped—or, at a minimum, radically improved.
Why does the government need to hear from me?
If you live in Victoria, you have a stake in this—and your words can be a powerful catalyst for change. Victoria’s notoriously inadequate Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) give logging and wood-chipping a free pass from national environment laws. The impact on our forests and wildlife has been disastrous.
By answering this survey, you can help end the logging industry’s special treatment and protect Victoria’s clean drinking water, carbon-dense forests and threatened species habitat for the future.But hurry—this survey closes 30 June 2019.
How do I complete the survey?There are two ways you can complete the survey—the first is to draft your own submission and upload it here.
Or you may prefer to respond to as many of the 17 survey questions as you can!
We’ve provided some info to help you respond to these questions below.
- Q: What changes have you seen in the RFA regions?
If you’ve visited forests covered by a Victorian RFA, there’s a chance you’ve had logging trucks thunder past you, heard chainsaws, or stumbled upon a coupe that’s been clearfelled and burned. Perhaps you’ve noticed less wildlife around since the RFAs were put in place more than 20 years ago? Since the five Victorian RFAs were signed, some forests have burnt in tragic, large bushfires. And the impacts of climate change are happening right before our eyes—with forests drying out. In the West RFA region, where some forests have been protected from logging (like in the Otways), perhaps you’ve seen positive outcomes for communities—with a greater diversity in jobs, and sustainable economic returns to local towns?
- Q: What should the Victorian RFAs aim to achieve over the next 20 years?
RFAs are well and truly past their use-by dates! Rather than renewing them for another 20 years, governments should simply allow the RFAs to expire. Native forest logging in Victoria is unviable and unsustainable¹, with State Government loggers, VicForests, routinely bailed out by taxpayers like you². Because the wood’s running out due to bushfires and overlogging, there is no certain future in native forest logging. That’s why it’s imperative that the government transitions Victoria’s logging industry out of native forests and into plantations and recycled fibre. Regional communities in RFA areas can rely on more sustainable industries like tourism, through the creation of the Great Forest National Park³ and the Emerald Link⁴. It’s happened before: Warrnambool was once a whaling town—now, people flock to see the whales instead. And Forrest, in the Otways, was once a logging town but is now an international mountain biking destination, with microbrewery, festivals and running trails. The RFAs need to deliver this change for all parts of Victoria.
While there’s no need for the RFAs, if they are to be continued, they must truly achieve their objectives—which, over the past 20 years they have comprehensively failed to do. The reserve system is inadequate to conserve biodiversity, forests are not being ecologically or sustainably managed and the logging industry continues to be plagued by instability and uncertainty. Importantly, RFAs must complete the logging industry’s transition out of native forests and into plantations. The RFAs must make the switch from managing forests for woodchips to managing them for carbon and other ecosystem services. They’d be better renamed as ‘Regional Forest Transition Agreements’.
- Q: What are the potential improvements you think should be made?
The era of logging our native forests for woodchips to make paper—all while getting a free pass from national environment law—belongs in the past. Our forests should be managed for the best use and highest value: this means managing for water and climate, as everyone needs clean drinking water⁵ and we all rely on a safe climate.
The RFAs should be discontinued, however if they are to remain, the logging industry’s exemption from national environment law must end, and all forest values and uses must be recognised and supported. The RFAs should facilitate the transition of the industry out of high conservation value forests and into plantations and recycled fibre.
The independent consultation paper is clear that “more effort is needed to stop the overall decline of forest-dependent threatened species and improve the extent and condition of forest habitats” (p.7). The best way to do this is by creating the Great Forest National Park and the Emerald Link, and protecting other high conservation value forests in western Victoria, in the Strathbogies and across Gippsland.
There is no need for RFAs and the best improvement would be to do away with them altogether.
- Q: How could the potential improvements in the consultation paper help modernise the Victorian RFAs?
The paper explicitly recommends that Victoria’s RFAs should support Matters of National Environmental Significance under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act—our nation’s current environment law) (see p.8, p.44). The best way for the RFAs to support Matters of National Environmental Significance, like Federally-listed species and their forest habitat, is to make logging subject to this law—which, under the current RFAs, it is not. Removing logging from our native forests would mean the RFAs are brought in line with the wishes of the Victorian public, who want forests protected, and who think environment laws should apply to logging, and be properly enforced. Modernising the Victorian RFAs to recognise all forest values—as the consultation paper recommends (p.43)—would be a good first step. The consultation paper also says much more needs to be done to conserve forest biodiversity and maintain ecosystem health (p.43). This is critical because biodiversity continues to be lost from Victoria.
- Q: Do you have any views on which potential improvements are most important?
Yes: recognising all forest values, conserving forest biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem health, addressing climate change and other large-scale disturbances and promoting Traditional Owner rights and partnership are the top four potential improvements identified in the consultation paper. Since logging destroys our precious water catchments, makes climate change worse and is responsible for pushing already endangered wildlife to the brink of extinction, it’s also important that forest-dependent industries like tourism and recreation, apiary and the water industry are supported—as the paper recommends.
- Q: How do you use forests in your region?
This is a personal question, but some thought-starters: are you a bushwalker, avid wildlife-spotter, photographer, cyclist? Who do you take with you when you go to the forest—do you pack the kids and a picnic lunch, or bring along visitors to Victoria to show off our majestic Mountain Ash, the world’s tallest flowering tree? Whatever the reason you use forests, chances are, you don’t visit the forests to see a burnt, blackened clearfell. Forests are best used when they’re intact, because that’s when they provide the most benefit to the most people—whether they use the forests as a place to visit and enjoy, or use the forests for clean air to breathe, and safe, clean water to drink.
- Q: How could the RFAs better provide for multiple forest uses (i.e. recreation, conservation, livelihood and economy)?
The single best way for the RFAs to better provide for multiple forest uses is to end the special treatment: the logging industry must be made subject to national environment law, the same as every other industry. Recreation and conservation are best supported when forests are left standing, and are not logged—and this is good for livelihoods and the economy, as well. Millions of dollars would be injected into the communities that used to depend on native logging through the creation of the Great Forest National Park and the Emerald Link⁶. The Central Highlands region already draws 3 million tourists per year—a new multi-use park would bring nearly 400,000 more. That’s a $71 million boost to the state economy, all while adding new conservation areas. Both the Great Forest National Park and the Emerald Link would also offer a variety of recreational activities—such as trail bike riding, four wheel driving, rock climbing and horse riding—to cater to Victorians and tourists alike.
- Q: What are your views on existing environmental protections afforded across the entire forest estate (including parks, reserves and State forests) through the RFAs?
As the consultation paper points out, “biodiversity continues to be lost from Victoria and further effort is needed to halt and reverse the decline” (p.43). Soberingly, we have 485 forest-dependent species listed as threatened under the state’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The Greater Glider was added to this list two years ago—but is still without the legally required Action Statement to support the species’ recovery. The Mountain Ash forest ecosystem is in collapse, and is red-listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Clearly the existing environmental protections are inadequate for forests and forest wildlife. The fact that the current RFAs allow logging to take place in our native forests—and, because of the exemption from national environment law, often in areas containing or alongside known endangered wildlife habitat—shows that the environment protections provided through RFAs are inadequate. Species like the Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider are pushed to the brink, and will go extinct in our lifetime if we don’t end the special treatment provided to the logging industry under the RFAs.
There is an extinction crisis unfolding in our forests and the Federal government has to take responsibility. After 20 years of the failed RFA experiment—where only state level protections were required in forests—it’s clear the Federal Government must take responsibility, and make logging subject to national environment law.
- Q: How could the environmental protections be improved?
Creating the Great Forest National Park and the Emerald Link will improve existing, weak environmental protections, and alongside an industry transition, are two of the key outcomes the RFAs must deliver—if RFAs are to continue.
The failure of the state government to properly regulate logging, and the free pass the RFAs give the industry from national environment law, need to be addressed urgently. There are too many threatened and endangered species without Action statements and Recovery Plans⁷. These must be completed as a matter of priority, be science-based, and applied. Greater value needs to be placed on healthy, thriving forest ecosystems that benefit all Victorians, which can be realised through the creation of new parks and reserves.
- Q: What opportunities could the RFAs provide to support access to and traditional use of forests by Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people?
RFAs must support the aspirations of Traditional Owners for country, including for access and traditional use, and support the fundamental right of Traditional Owners to claim title. Where Traditional Owners and Aboriginal people want co-, joint- or sole-management of forests, RFAs should support and facilitate agreement making with government on those matters that meet the aspirations of Traditional Owners.
- Q: How could the RFAs enable the legal rights of Traditional Owners to partner in land management and seek economic and cultural opportunities to be realised in future forest management?
RFAs should enable, and not obstruct or constrain, ongoing processes of consultation and negotiation between government and Traditional Owners. This includes for the identification, creation and management of new parks and reserves, and for Traditional Owner-directed land management, including the broader cultural landscape and ecosystem processes. Traditional Owners should rightly benefit from any economic values, or systems accounts that may be developed for carbon, water, tourism or other values. Government consultation and agreement with relevant Traditional Owner groups over the naming of new parks and reserves (and other areas) is strongly supported.
- Q: How could the RFAs consider climate change and other large-scale natural disturbances (including bushfires)?
RFAs should rule out logging regimes that make forests more flammable and fire-prone (like clearfell logging).⁸ The current model of forest management is not adaptive to climate change or major bushfires—as can be seen by the failure of governments and VicForests to respond to the impacts of the tragic 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. In that case, wood volumes were not reduced until 2017/18, and then only to the sawn timber sector (Nippon’s Australian Paper is still delivered vast quantities of wood to pulp for paper, despite the impact of the bushfires).
The RFAs should take into account the valuable carbon stocks and flows in Victoria’s native forests, which are among the richest and safest stores of carbon anywhere on Earth. Everytime a forest is logged, carbon is released into the atmosphere, making climate change worse and destroying the only safe, proven, cheap and reliable technology we have for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—forests. The RFAs must properly value and account for carbon, and the critical role forests play in mitigating climate change when they are left standing.
- Q: How could the RFAs better address industry sustainability?
The consultation paper couldn’t be clearer: “RFAs have not provided long-term stability of supply for the timber industry” (p.44). As the bulk of the forests managed under RFAs are woodchipped and pulped for paper, sawmills across the state have closed. When the RFAs were signed, there were half a dozen sawmills in a small town in East Gippsland called Cann River. Today there are none.⁹ In Buchan, also in East Gippsland, there were three. Today, there are none. Under RFA management, the sawmill in Alexandra, which employed 44 people, closed.¹⁰ It’s clear that RFAs have overseen the reduction of the sawn timber sector, while vast pulp volumes, which have a much smaller job ratio, continue. The RFAs could address industry sustainability by completing the transition of the pulp sector out of native forests and into existing and new plantations, and recycled fibre. The only way to ensure a sustainable future for our forests, and the communities that rely on them, is to complete the transition away from native forests and to diversify into existing and new plantations, and manage forests for ecosystem services like carbon, clean air and water, as well as for recreation, tourism and conservation.
- Q: How could the RFAs encourage investment and new market opportunities for forest-based industries (including the forests and wood products industry, tourism, apiary and emerging markets such as carbon)?
The RFAs need to end the special treatment logging has enjoyed for decades, and make it subject to national environment law. RFAs should provide for the full range of forest-dependent businesses and industries. Right now, apiarists are losing important bee-foraging sites when forests are logged and burnt. Tourism operators are losing access to important forest trails for walking, bike riding horse riding—because tourists don’t visit a forest to enjoy the clearfells. And we all lose out every day our forests are logged because logging steals water from rivers and drinking water reservoirs, and causes climate change. Ending logging in high conservation value forests is the best way for RFAs to encourage investment and new market opportunities for forest-based industries. And when it comes to the logging industry itself, the best way for the RFAs to encourage investment and new market opportunities is to transition the industry to plantations and recycled fibre, and require Victorian logging to meet or exceed the requirements of the credentialled FSC Full Forest management certification standard. Proposals like the Great Forest National Park would create hundreds of jobs and add millions to the local economy. It makes sense to invest in tourism for the region going forward.
- Q: How can the RFAs support the adaptive management of Victoria’s forests in response to emerging issues (e.g. major bushfires) and opportunities (e.g. emerging industries)?
Removing logging from Victoria’s high conservation value forests is essential in responding to the impacts of bushfire and climate change, and for preventing these from getting worse. Removing logging from Victoria’s high conservation value forests is essential for giving other businesses and industries a go—logging has had the option on these forests for far too long, and time’s up.
- Q: What areas of research would better equip us to sustainably manage Victoria’s forests?
Actually applying existing research findings would be a good start. Long-term monitoring programs show what’s needed to better manage our forests—whether for wildlife, water or carbon. The consultation paper recommends interacting with scientists and other knowledge-holders, and identifying risks (p.45). However that’s not sufficient—actually applying the science and knowledge to make change is critical. What credible, peer-reviewed research shows is that removing logging from these forests is key to managing them sustainably.¹¹
- Q: How could RFA monitoring, review (including five-yearly reviews) and reporting arrangements be improved?
Any review of the RFAs needs to be credible. Reviews need to happen far more regularly than every five years and there should be triggers for interim reviews, too. With animals constantly being added to threatened species lists, climate change impacts already being felt, bushfire events more intense and more frequent, and timber and paper markets changing, we need to be able to properly review the RFAs—if they continue—at least every three years, and more often when there’s a major change in the environment or in the markets. The consultation paper recommends a key element for improvement would be: “identifying thresholds in environment states that may trigger manager responses” (p.45). The community needs to have confidence that our forests are being responsibly managed. Truly ‘modernised’ RFAs must measure whether the forests can withstand ongoing logging—how much wood is really left and can governments and industry guarantee it can be logged without impacting high conservation values (like threatened species habitat and old growth)? How are the RFAs ensuring forest management is helping solve the climate challenge—and not making climate change worse? Under the RFAs, how are key tourism values and sites supported? Monitoring and reviewing needs to audit what the RFAs are achieving, but also whether they are fit for purpose in the changing external (social, economic and ecological) environment. And who does the audits is critical, too, as 20 years of failed RFAs tell us that governments are not able to properly monitor and report on what’s going on in our forests. They’ve turned a blind eye to the evidence for too long, and kept logging despite the collapse of ecosystems, the closure of sawmills, and market and society demands for truly sustainable products and for forest protection.
In short: governments are out of touch when it comes to forests. Fixing the RFAs, or doing away with them altogether, is an opportunity to government to prove this wrong.
Thank you for taking action!
Learn more about the campaign to protect Victoria’s forests.