RFAs fall short of expectations, but must factor climate change

Philip Hopkins

VICTORIA’S Regional Forest Agreements have not met the timber industry’s expectations, but must include the likely impact of climate change and threats to endangered species, according to a report on the RFA process.

According to Dr Bill Jackson – an environmental consultant, a former chief executive of Parks Victoria, a director of National Parks in Victoria, and a former deputy director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the Victorian RFAs “have not achieved long-term stability of supply for the timber industry”.

Dr Jackson’s consultation paper, Modernisation of the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements, sums up the 20-year-old RFAs and aims to point the way forward to modernise the new RFAs.

Wood supply was hit by reductions in the area available for harvest, because of increases in formal and informal reserves and the effect of fires.

“Climate change is likely to lead to changes in productivity of forests, and to further reductions in the area available for harvest,” Dr Jackson wrote.

New RFAs between the Commonwealth and Victoria for the Central Highlands, Gippsland, East Gippsland, the north-east and west Victoria are scheduled to be completed by next March.

Victoria is the last state to finalise its RFAs.

Dr Jackson said without long-term supply, it was difficult for the timber industry to invest with confidence and to develop value-added approaches to processing wood products.

It was also hard for the industry to support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using low embodied energy building materials that store carbon.

Also, there were other industries dependent or partially dependent on healthy forests.

These included tourism and recreation, apiary and the water industry.

Dr Jackson said the RFA modernisation process should consider how governments can best support all forest-based industries, and “ensure that these industries are sustainable in the future”.

“This process should include consideration of climate change, severe fries, invasive species, Matters of National Environmental Significance, and other factors that present a challenge to the viability of forest-dependent industries,” he said.

Despite the expansion of the CAR reserve system in the original RFAs and a focus on threatened species, Dr Jackson said biodiversity continued to be lost from Victoria.

“Further effort is needed to halt and reverse the decline,” he said.

To this end, Dr Jackson said the RFAs should support Matters of National Environmental Significance under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The most relevant to forests included national and world heritage, wetlands of international importance, listed threatened species and ecological communities, and migratory species protected under international agreements.

To conserve forests biodiversity and maintain ecosystem health, Dr Jackson said the modernised RFAs should include a range of conservation strategies.

“These include changes to the formal and informal CAR reserve system, restoration of ecological vegetation classes, improving connectivity between fragmented EVCs, and working with private landowners to conserve under-represented EVCs,” he said.

Dr Jackson said the RFA modernisation process had to tackle climate change and other large-scale disturbances, including landscape level fires and invasive species. Forest management decisions must be informed by up-to-date, scientifically-credible information on these issues.

“This includes improving our understanding of how the interaction between climate change and other pressures on the natural environment is leading to cumulative impacts, and amplifying the threats faced by forests,” he said.

Other themes of Dr Jackson’s report include:

The consultation paper is available at engage.vic.gov.au/future-of-our-forests/rfa-consultation-paper.