I'm setting out below the result of reviewing the East Gippsland RFA documents, and consulting
with Jill[Redwood], on the subject of the East Gippy firecrisis and the Regional Forest Agreement. Much of this will be relevant
to other forest areas that have an RFA.
It's six years to the day since the East Gipplsand RFA was signed, and it's
going up in smoke.
The RFA was a political document, designed by pollies to get loggers off their backs, and to get
the greenies out of the forest. by promising "certainty". But no piece of paper can provide "certainty" in the real world,
no matter who signs it. Nor does a 20-year license produce trees that do not exist.
The RFA promised the MAXIMUM amount
of logs that could be taken from the "available" forest, and the MINIMUM area to meet the reserve criteria. No allowance was
made for fire, no margin of error. If fires destroy even part of the reserve system or "available" forest, the whole RFA breaks
The review of methodology in the legislated "sustainable" yield in the RFA "Resources and Economics Report",
published in 1996, p.28, says "No allowance is made for loss of resource through fire damage" in calculating the volumes.
This was considered acceptable in the review of methodology. (Interestingly, "fire" is mentioned in the RFA about as often
as woodchips - maybe twice in the foot thick CRA documents.)
We've only just had a review of the legislated yield
(because 1/3 of the trees they planned to log didn't exist) and the fires should trigger another review of the legislated
yield (we have to make sure it does).
The fires don't just affect the mature forest they want to rip into in the next
few years. It also affects the assumed growth rate of the "regrowth" areas they have calculated will be available in future
years. Everything needs review.
As for the reserve system, this is a classic example of the dangers of leaving no
margin of error. For example, they planned reserves for 100 sooty owls. If their prey species get wiped out of 80 of those
areas, what happens?
The Goolengook example has taught us that they are not willing to reserve a new area, no matter
how worthy, without sacrificing another from the current reserve system. This needs to be factored into the legislated yield
After the 1983 fires, the logging industry were in there like vultures,calling for urgent "salvage" logging
to destroy what was left standing. At the time, many forests were not allowed to be logged, pending pre-logging
and fauna surveys (remember them?!), like the entire Cobon block (Hensleigh Creek, etc), an area with similar altitude and
floristic values to Goolengook block. It was put on the logging schedule without explanation, except for an "urgent" need
to log after the fires. The political will in favour of logging went off the scale.
As soon as it cools off, and the
extent of the damage is known, we need to be prepared for a new wave of assault on our forests. We need to scrap the RFA -
it's a hopeless case - put it out of its misery.
Liz Ingham and Jill Redwood
[Environment East Gippsland]
non-profit campaigning for the environment, in a human rights and social justice context