Australia’s forest laws fail to help Leadbeater’s possum
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Australia’s forest laws fail to help Leadbeater’s possum

Australia’s Federal government has failed to protect State and regional forests aggravating the risks faced by endangered species and iconic trees, a report released today said.

The Environment Defenders Office (EDO) released the ‘One Stop Chop’ , a report containing an assessment how State governments failed to enforce effective environmental protection laws without Federal laws supporting them.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) said the report reveals environmental protection standards under State governments are far lower than under Federal laws, “a sombre warning for the fate of Australia’s wild places if plans to hand over federal environment powers are enacted.”

FoE Campaigns Coordinator Cam Walker said  the ‘One Stop Chop’ shows that “contracting forest management out to state governments is systematically failing our threatened species and iconic forests” adding that “Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the living example of what transferring federal environment powers to the states  would look like for our environment.”

As a result of the federal government’s oversight, forests have suffered, along with threatened species like Victoria’s critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, Walker said.

The report has sought to address the fundamental question whether the State and regional forestry laws have delivered equivalent environment protection standards to those likely to be achieved if the Federal laws have been applied directly to forestry operations in States and regional areas.

The Federal law is embodied in The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC Act). It  is the federal government’s key piece of environmental legislation which took effect 16 July 2000- while the State and regional forestry laws are embodied in the RTAs.

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Photo: MyEnvironmentInc

‘One Stop Chop’ focuses on biodiversity, particularly those threatened species which are matters of national environmental significance.

The overall finding, however, shows that RTAs never delivered the benefits claimed for them, “for a mix of political, economic, cultural and legal reasons.”

From a legal perspective, the main reason the RFAs have failed is that the States do not take the regulatory and legal actions required to adequately protect matters of national significance. The failure is fundamental to the concept of the RFAs and of devolving control of matters of national environmental significance from the Commonwealth to the States.

The EPBC Act provides guidelines on the conservation and protection of nine matters of national environmental significance (MNES). These include world heritage properties, national heritage places, wetlands of international importance, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, nuclear actions (including uranium mining), water resource in relation to coal seam gas development and large coal mining development.

The RFAs have different focus. They are 20-year plans for the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s native forests. The Federal and State governments signed the 10 RFAs between 1997 and 2001. These 10 are already put in place in four States including Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The Agreements provide certainty for forest-based industries, forest-dependent communities and conservation.

The RFAs sets the guidelines, tasks and responsibilities for sustainable forest management; and they are ongoing. The forest debate ranges over a variety of topics, including regeneration and regrowth forest,  old-growth forests,  woodchips, management on and off reserves, private land, plantations, fire, forest operations and regulations, other land uses, and endangered, threatened, vulnerable and rare species and ecological communities.

Last year, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to reform environmental laws that seek to give States an autonomy over local environmental laws. The One Stop Chop report, however, opposes the prospect.

Relevant Links:

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water,  Population, and Communities

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries