The EDO (Environmental Defenders Office) has produced a damning report on the operation of Regional Forestry Agreements (RFA) in the states, claiming they are failing the forests they are designed to protect.
It said there was an ‘inherent conflict of interest’ between forestry agencies’ commercial objectives and ‘environment and threatened species regulations, which limit the amount of forest that can be cleared’.
Northeastern NSW forests have been managed under an RFA since 2000 and the operation of a sate-managed RFA in an area effectively replaces federal government oversight under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBCA).
Local forestry groups are regularly reporting compliance failures to the media and government but there has been little sign of either state or federal governments being willing to act.
The report found that protection of forests’ biodiversity and threatened species would be of a higher standard if regulated by the EPBC Act rather than the RFA regime.
It found that reviews and state threatened species protections under the RFAs were ‘inadequate’ and said it found a high level of non-compliance with forestry regulations.
‘All states displayed a high level of non-compliance with forestry regulations, and a low level of monitoring and enforcement activity by the regulatory authorities.’
The report described the states’ approach to compliance as ‘mechanistic’ and said ‘known detrimental and significant impacts of forestry on biodiversity are often are not taken into account or managed, so long as there is compliance with the systems accredited under the RFAs’.
Local environmental activists have welcomed the report.
‘The current regulatory system for management of NSW’s public forests is clearly inadequate,’ said Susie Russell, president of the North Coast Environment Council (NCEC).
‘Cumulative impacts are killing the possibility of much of our unique wildlife surviving into the next century. The regulations are no protection because they aren’t followed anyway. There is little auditing and virtually no monitoring of impacts,’ she said.
‘The mining and coal seam gas industry is running an advertising blitz calling for environmental decision-making, assessment and regulation to be taken away from the Commonwealth and handed back to state governments. The Regional Forest Agreements are an example of all the problems with that approach,’ she added.
The North East Forest Alliance’s Dailan Pugh agrees.
He said the Commonwealth had ‘used the Regional Forest Agreement as its excuse for doing nothing, as the NSW government has removed and ignored protections for federally threatened species’.
‘The RFA has been the Commonwealth’s excuse for refusing to improve logging prescriptions for the nationally vulnerable koala, or to do anything when existing requirements are routinely ignored,’ he added.
‘The Regional Forest Agreement should not be an acceptable excuse for the Commonwealth to ignore its obligations to protect nationally threatened species.’
Echonetdaily has reported numerous compliance failures in NSW northeast forests the last two years alone, such as the logging of old-growth forest and the failure to take account of koala populations.
The report says, ‘there is an inherent conflict of interest in state forestry agencies having a significant role in implementing threatened species regulations at a site-specific, on-the-ground level, without the requirement for government approval. State forestry agencies, who all have commercial objectives, seek to maximise the resource they are able to exploit and thereby maximise their returns. This objective is in direct tension with environment and threatened species regulations, which limit the amount of forest that can be cleared.’