PARK WATCH June 2019 |
Regulatory relics getting a polish up?
The controversial Regional Forest Agreements are being reviewed. But will it lead to better outcomes for Victoria’s forests?
The Victorian Government, along with the Commonwealth Government, is reviewing the five Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) in Victoria. To their credit, the Victorian Government, unlike other jurisdictions such as Tasmania and NSW, did not just roll over the existing antiquated RFAs for a further 20 years. Instead, it delayed renewals by two years, and is now seeking to have the renewed agreements in place by December 2019.
There is now a flurry of consultation – workshops, drop-in sessions, forums, panels, and reference groups – being undertaken by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to review and renew the agreement between the state and Commonwealth and to modernise the broader regulatory systems.
The first change appears to be the establishment of the Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR) to oversee regulatory functions in conservation and environment. The OCR is being established in response to a scathing independent review of DELWP’s regulatory practice and role. The Independent Review of Timber Harvesting Regulation found “what is abundantly clear is that the system of policy, legislation and regulation is dated, complex, convoluted – indeed labyrinthine – and difficult to use, and DELWP is neither an effective or respected regulator.” It noted that “regulatory practice and capability is weak” and “our consultations have led us to the view that, VicForests is in a practical sense acting as self-regulator”. While none of this is of surprise to conservation groups, the establishment of the OCR at least in the forest space is hopefully a move in the right direction.
Consultation activity has included round tables, online survey and a Youth Forest Symposium. An Independent Consultation Paper has been released and is open for consultation until 30 June 2019, and there are a series of regional consultation ‘drop-in sessions’ being undertaken in June right across the state including western Victoria.
A Scientific Advisory Panel has been set up under the auspices of The Royal Society of Victoria, and a Reference Group includes recreation and some conservation groups.
There are comprehensive assessments, but there is little detail on these. There are also a series of legislative amendments as well as proposed changes to the Forest Code of Practice proposed.
Information on the consultation activity is available on the DELWP website here.
All this costs money. The Victorian Government has allocated $35.9 million over four years to fuel the frenzy of forest consultation. The reported objectives of the Victorian Government are to:
- Drive strategic, landscape management of multiple forest values.
- Provide greater opportunity for local communities in the sustainable management of forests.
- Simplify the RFA framework and increase regulatory certainty.
- Increase the transparency and durability of forest management.
- Improve the long-term sustainability and viability of forest-based industries.
It seems clear that at this stage removing the controversial exemption of the forest industry from national environmental protection laws (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), or the Forests (Wood Pulp Agreement) Act 1996, which drives the logging for pulp in the Central Highlands, are not yet on the table. It also seems like a lot of our taxpayers’ dollars to prop up an industry which continues to decline.
The danger is all we end up doing is polishing something that just continues to drive ecological decline.
Please get involved, including in the public consultation opportunities. We have prepared briefing materials on the ways you can have input, starting with the Western RFA (more details below)
Zombie western forests agreements
Zombies just don’t stay dead, or at least that is how it is in the movies.
On a serious note, in the financial world, a ‘zombie bank’ is an insolvent financial institution that only continues to operate thanks to either explicit or implicit government support.
A comparison can be argued for the Western Regional Forest Agreement (RFA): largely state-funded, ecologically damaging and obsolete.
While the bulk of forestry occurs in the east of the state, there is currently an ambition by the Andrews Government to in some way renew the Western RFA.
It seems completely unnecessary and disproportionate.
The state government funded logging agency VicForests has proposed commercial logging of around 50–60 of forests and woodlands in the west of Victoria. They want logging of some shape or form in almost 40,000 hectares of what are the most cleared landscapes in the state. This will be ecologically damaging; financially insignificant (some would say reckless); and does not justify some sort of special treatment under an RFA – especially an exemption from national environmental protection laws
According to the 2017—2018 VicForests Annual Report:
Total revenue from Western Forests in 2017—2018 was $700,000 (yes, less than $1 million).
State funding to VicForests managed western “Community Forestry” in 2017-2018 was $678,000 (yes, that’s a surplus of $22,000 per annum).
Total volume if timber generated was 21,000 cubic metres, or 1.5 per cent of total state production.
Based on our 2017 analysis of proposed logging (Western Forests and Woodlands at risk):
- Across western Victorian forests, 70 per cent of the area targeted for logging contains native vegetation types that are either endangered (19 per cent) vulnerable (11 per cent) or depleted (40 per cent).
- In the Horsham Forest Management Area, 54 per cent of the vegetation proposed for logging is endangered.
- More than 20 threatened native animals and 14 threatened native plants were found in or closely adjacent to a third of all proposed logging areas.
There is an active Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) investigation in the central west, looking at the future of Wombat, Pyrenees, Wellsford and Mount Cole state forests to fill well-recognised gaps in the representativeness of Victoria’s reserve system.
VEAC has also recommended on two occasions that there are significant gaps in the reserve system in the south-west (between the Grampians and the South Australian border).
Many of these are popular recreation areas, such as the famous Beeripmo Walk.
Obsolete regulatory relic
- In 2010 the Independent Review on Progress with Implementation of the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements Final Report recommended that the Western RFA be cancelled.
- Large parts of the west, such as mid-Murray red gum forests (e.g. parts of Gunbower), aren’t even covered by the existing RFA, but still get treated the same.
Following the creation of the Otways National Park, the Bracks government committed to cancelling the Western RFA. But somehow it still lives, and now money is being spent to renew and modernise it.
The Victorian Government should cancel it, or stake it: whatever you need to do to stop zombies coming back to life.
Background on the RFAs, including VNPA’s original submission, here.
It is important that the Andrews and Morrison governments hear communities’ views on the failures and problems with renewing the Regional Forest Agreements.
There are a number of ways you can have input, starting with the Western RFA.
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