Some certainty offered

VICTORIA’S forest industry jobs and the environment have been assured some certainty, with the federal and state governments extending the regional forest agreements for the East Gippsland, Central Highlands and the North East regions.

It came only hours before the previous Central Highland and East Gippsland RFAs were due to expire.

The extension of the three RFAs, signed on Monday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Premier Daniel Andrews, will bring them in line with the two other Victorian RFAs, West Victoria and Gippsland — with all five RFAs effective to March 31, 2020.

This will allow the Australian and Victorian governments to deliver the long-term extension to all five RFAs as one package.

At the same time, the state government announced it would provide immediate protection to about 2500 hectares of high environmental-value forest in and around the Kuark Forest in far east Gippsland. 

About half this area is old growth forest and provides habitat for threatened species, including the greater glider.

The state government will also protect all large, old trees greater than two-and-a-half metres in diameter across Victoria.

A program of landscape and pre-harvest surveys will  be introduced, to provide greater operational certainty to VicForests and improve the management and protection of threatened species in timber harvesting coupes.

State Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was providing certainty for workers, while protecting Victoria’s forests and modernising the way they were managed.

“Our RFAs are more than 20 years old, and don’t reflect modern forest science or the needs of local communities — that’s why it’s so important to modernise these agreements and get them right,” she said.

“This is about protecting more old growth forests like the Kuark Forest and protecting threatened species so future generations can appreciate them.”

RFAs are agreements between the federal government and states that seek to balance economic, social and environmental values of forests.

Federal Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Anne Ruston welcomed the extensions, saying RFAs were the right framework for the sustainable management of Australia’s native forests.

“The Australian government remains committed to rolling 20-year extensions for all RFAs,” she said.

“RFAs provide for sustainable forest management, certainty of access to resources for industry, and a comprehensive conservation reserve network.

“We are working together to make RFAs more adaptive, robust, simpler and more transparent, so that they reflect contemporary forest practices and community expectations.”

The forestry industry said the announcement was essential to ensure the ongoing development of Victoria’s forest and wood products industry.

Victoria Association of Forest Industries chief executive Tim Johnston said RFAs were essential to provide certainty for its members to invest, create jobs and support their local communities.

“Going forward, the extended RFAs must include guaranteed volume and quality of timber supply to allow for further long-term investment in value adding technology,” he said.

“Our state forests provide a sustainable resource that not only supports thousands of jobs directly and in downstream industries, but also generates beautiful appearance grade timbers for furniture manufacturing and structural timber for our vital housing industry. 

“We’re keen to see the detail and program timelines for the next two years, but these extensions are a positive signal that both governments are committed to the future of Victoria’s responsibly managed timber industry. 

Friends of the Earth welcomed in the increased protection of the Kuark Forest.

Campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker claimed the RFAs had been an “unmitigated disaster for native forests”.

“It is essential that the state government put a moratorium on any logging that may affect endangered species while the scientific and economic reassessment is conducted,” he said.

“(Protection of the Kuark Forest) is a good start, and the next step must be the creation of the Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands and a full transition package for the native forest industry.”