Chris Schuringa, spokeswoman for local conservation group Goongerah Environment Centre, said too much remnant habitat in East Gippsland would be available to logging under the new RFA.
“Over 66 per cent of East Gippsland’s reserve system is within the fire extent. Every patch of forest that’s left in East Gippsland should be protected in light of the devastating fires,” Ms Schuringa said.
RFAs are drawn up by state governments and co-signed by the federal government. The state provides a plan to “balance” the impact of logging on flora and fauna with economic factors, and in return commercial logging operations are exempted from legal requirements to protect threatened species under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Wilderness Society’s national campaign director Amelia Young, who participated in the Victorian RFA Reference Group, said the previous agreements favoured logging too much.
“It’s obvious that logging cannot continue as before. This summer’s bushfires have changed everything,” Ms Young said.
Environment Justice Australia chief executive Brendan Sydes said “huge areas of national parks and reserves as well as special protection areas” were burnt over summer and “to roll over this agreement for another 10 years is grossly irresponsible”.
“Over a 20 year period RFAs have proved inadequate in protecting conservation values and to pretend they can now provide an adequate framework to respond to the catastrophic fires is implausible,” Mr Sydes said.
Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the new RFAs “strengthen protections for Victoria’s wildlife and biodiversity”, and also provide opportunities to change the plans and “adapt our management approach accordingly”.
A department spokesperson said the new RFAs would include new auditing provisions to alter the plans, as well as five yearly reviews of the environment, including protections of threatened species.
The Victorian Association of Forest Industries, the Australian Forest Products Association and the Australian Forest Contractors Association welcomed the extension of the RFAs in a joint statement, but criticised the Victorian government’s plan to close logging native forests by 2030.
“We will continue to oppose the Andrews government’s plan to end native timber harvesting right up to the next Victorian election to have it overturned.” AFPA chief executive Ross Hampton said.
RFAs are in place in NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. They were created in 1999 with a 20 year duration.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.