Protect native forests: end the NSW Regional Forest Agreement

Clearing native forests puts more species in danger.

Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are 20-year agreements between state and federal governments, first negotiated in 1999, that allow for the logging of native forests on public land and provide an exemption to federal environment laws. RFAs have formed the basis for native forest management in NSW for the past 19 years.

Federal and state governments are about to renew RFAs to prolong industrial logging across 2 million hectares of New South Wales native forests. It is expected that an additional 100,000 hectares of native forest will be re-zoned for clear felling.

The past 20 years of industrial logging has brought the mountain ash forests in Victoria to the brink of ecological collapse, while NSW’s south and north coast forests have changed from biodiverse habitat to what locals call “stick forests”.

Alix Goodwin, National Parks Association of NSW CEO (NPA), gave the following speech at a rally to oppose the continuation of the Regional Forest Agreement in Sydney on June 21. She was joined on the platform by Greens spokesperson on forests Dawn Walker, Lyndon Shneiders from the Wilderness Society and Labor environment spokesperson Penny Sharpe.

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We’re here today to let the NSW government know it is time to bring an end to industrial logging of our state forests.

For more than 230 years Europeans have been clearing Australia's landscape for urban development, industry, agriculture and for pallets, tomato stakes and woodchips. The effect of this intensive “project” has been dramatic and devastating; so devastating that today Australia is a global top-ten deforester — an internationally shameful place to occupy.

More than 40% of NSW has been cleared. Only 9% remains in a relatively near-natural condition within the protected area system.

About 76 species that we know of, in NSW, have become extinct since the arrival of the first fleet, including 25 mammals and 12 birds. More than 100 species and 100 ecological communities are threatened with extinction. Some are critically endangered. What a record!

The number of endangered species keeps growing, with one of the most recent ignominious additions being the hollow-living greater glider.

While NSW sustained a thriving trade in koala pelts at the beginning of the 20th century — that is how abundant koalas were — the past 20 years have seen a dramatic decline in their numbers, with a 50% decline on the North Coast alone. On the far south coast it is estimated that only about 60 individuals remain, leading the NSW government to create the Murrah Flora Reserves last year to protect them — another shameful record for a species that competes with the giant panda as the world’s most loved animal.

Today, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the logging of NSW state forests and protect some of our most precious wildlife from extinction. RFAs, which govern public native forest logging up and down the coast, expire over the next three years.

But right now, the NSW government is gearing up to renew these agreements to allow logging to continue. And they're doing this without an independent scientific and economic review of whether they have met their objectives.

NPA knows that they have not; we conducted our own review in 2016 that showed that they have demonstrably failed in their ambition.

They have not resulted in a sustainable timber industry, which they were supposed to do. Logging jobs have declined over the life of the agreements, and mills have closed as wood supplies have plummeted and machinery has replaced people.

They have not protected the environment for future generations: quite the opposite in fact, with vast swathes of forest now dying from bell-miner associated dieback.

But it is worse than this. Not only is the government proposing to extend the agreements, it is planning to intensify logging to meet an impossible dual commitment: a sustainable timber industry based on existing wood supply agreements with timber mills, and protection of the environment.

It cannot be done. The Natural Resources Commission and an expert advisory panel have both told the government this. There are not enough of the right trees in the right places left in our state forests to do this.

But wilfully, without any concern about the loss of what are one of the most effective tools for mitigating the effects of climate change — trees — the government has decided to:

  • Prioritise the native timber industry over the environment;
  • Prioritise the native timber industry over wonderful native wildlife; and
  • Prioritise the native timber industry over the future of our children.

It will open up old growth forests to logging, open up stream buffer zones to logging, and allow intensive harvesting of 140,000 hectares of forest between Taree and Grafton, in areas that would be included in the Great Koala National Park that both Labor and the Greens have promised to establish, a park to protect koalas for future generations.

The NSW government cannot be allowed to get away with its continuing unscientific approach to the environment.

This is why the NPA has been leading a campaign up and down the coast to let communities know what is planned, asking them to let the government know that enough is enough and that it's time to end native forest logging and transfer our state forests into the protected area system.

Another future is possible, one based on our Forest for All and Great Koala National Parks plan. A future in which there are jobs for timber workers in restoring these forests from the effects of logging. One in which there are new employment opportunities in recreation and tourism based in new protected areas. One in which Aboriginal people can once again care for country. And one in which our native flora and fauna are protected for future generations, and our forests play an effective role in mitigating climate change.

Let’s tell the government right now, that enough is enough. It’s time to follow New Zealand/s lead and end native forest logging forever.