Regional Forest Agreements set to be renewed with minimal consultation
The NSW and Commonwealth governments are currently considering public feedback on Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). RFAs are the legal means by which logging of public native forests takes place. Their key function is to devolve Commonwealth oversight of forest management to NSW, thus creating certainty for the timber industry. There are three RFAs in NSW: Eden, Southern and North East. Signed in the late 1990s they expire in 2019 (Eden), 2020 (Southern) and 2021 (North East).
Unfortunately, after nearly 20 years, there is no government effort to determine whether the RFAs have met their key aims of reconciling conservation and timber extraction and ending social conflict over forests. The NSW and Commonwealth governments both committed to an extension of RFAs prior to conducting the recent reviews. They are pointedly not asking the key questions: whether the RFAs worked, and whether they should be renewed.
This is both a tragedy and a missed opportunity. The evidence shows that the RFAs are a failed model for forest management. Logging rates in the Southern and Eden regions mean that forests are cut over every 50 years or so. This is way short of the time needed for forests to recover features like large hollows that wildlife needs. Once-common forest species like gliders have seen their populations plummet over the life of the RFAs. We also now know that logging forests drives climate change by reducing carbon stores. The RFAs have also failed workers – there are now very few jobs dependent on native forest logging.
These issues are of concern for all citizens of NSW. Our rates subsidise an industry which has royalty-free access to public forests and whose heavy vehicles damage infrastructure such as roads. We have a common interest in tackling climate change, addressing the extinction crisis and protecting our forest heritage.
What can we do instead of extending the RFAs?
We should plot a transition out of industrial native forest logging to a 100 per cent plantation-based model as rapidly as possible. This is achievable. We already get 85 per cent of timber from plantations. For those who want a hardwood table or deck, there are options for genuinely selective logging from private land.
Public forests could then be protected to increase community access for health benefits and increase business opportunities in nature-based tourism for regional areas. For example, the Great Koala National Park on the north coast could be a global tourism attraction. Loggers’ jobs could be safeguarded by redeployment in the National Parks and Wildlife Service to recover forests. There is a better way, that serves the national interest, but unfortunately our governments are not yet prepared to countenance change.
Dr Oisín Sweeney is the Senior Ecologist for the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA). Submissions to the NSW Department of Primary Industries review of RFAs close on March 12. Visit for a submission guide from the NPA.