They allow for the logging of native timber on public land if certain conditions are met, like protecting endangered species and biodiversity, but have been heavily criticised as ineffective by environmentalists.
In the case’s December hearing, barrister Ron Merkel, QC, on behalf of the foundation, argued the regional forest agreements were not enforceable as they damaged the purpose of legislation that aimed to protect the environment, native species and prevent extinction.
On Wednesday the Federal Court ruled against this argument, dismissing the application and finding the Tasmanian agreement did constitute a regional forest agreement under the act.
Environmentalist and former Greens leader Bob Brown said the judgment was a setback, but the foundation was considering an appeal to the High Court and other legal action.
“The court of public opinion is with us on ending native forest logging in Tasmania and all of Australia,” he said.
Last year, Victorian environmentalists had a significant win when the Federal Court ruled state-owned logging agency VicForests had breached environmental laws by logging areas in the Central Highlands that were the habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
This prompted the Bob Brown Foundation to see if a similar legal challenge could be made in Tasmania. But its case differed from the Victorian example by claiming the Tasmanian regional forest agreement did not fit the definition of one under the act.
VicForests remains under legal pressure, facing at least five court challenges from crowdfunded community environmental groups.
A statutory review of national environment laws, released last week, called for the removal of exemptions for the logging industry that are created under regional forestry agreements.
A final report from former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel after his once-in-a-decade review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act said there were “fundamental shortcomings” in the interactions between regional forest agreements and the act.
Sustainable Timber Tasmania chairman Rob de Fegely welcomed the court decision, saying it was a strong vindication of the agency’s protection of threatened species while enabling forest production.
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Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.