Under the National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS), the State and Commonwealth Governments agreed to a framework and process for comprehensive regional assessments leading to Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). The RFAs will prescribe areas to be reserved for conservation, areas available for commercial production and guidelines for the ecologically sustainable management of the forest estate. As a negotiated process, RFAs are intended to meet the obligations and objectives of both the State and Commonwealth Governments.
The Commonwealth's principal involvement in forest issues derives from the Commonwealth's Export Control Act 1982 which regulates the export of woodchips and unprocessed wood. In assessing applications for export licences under the Export Control Act 1982, the decision maker is required to ensure that a range of Commonwealth obligations are met (see section 3.2 below).
The Deferred Forest Assessment has identified areas that may be needed for inclusion in a CAR reserve system. The DFAs will form the basis for consideration of environmental matters in the issuing of woodchip export licences until the RFA is completed.
3.1.1 National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS)
The Commonwealth and all State and Territory Governments have endorsed the NFPS. This Statement sets out the measures to be undertaken to ensure the community obtains a balanced return from all forest uses by:
providing for a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative forest reserve system which will protect old growth forest, wilderness and biodiversity;
development of an efficient, value adding, internationally competitive and ecologically sustainable wood products industry;
providing for a range of other forest values including water supply, tourism, and recreation in an ecologically sustainable management framework;
coordination of decision making between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories;
the expansion of hardwood and softwood plantations; and
assistance to communities faced with structural adjustments as a result of the implementation of these measures.
RFAs are agreements between the States/Territories and the Commonwealth and recognise the range of economic and environmental obligations of both tiers of government have regarding the long term management and protection of forest values in specific regions. RFAs will bring stability to the timber industry by guaranteeing a sustainable resource base, whilst at the same time ensuring the protection of Australia's biodiversity through a CAR reserve system. A discussion paper on RFAs, outlining Commonwealth obligations, was released for public comment in March 1994 and a Commonwealth position paper on the undertaking of CRAs and negotiation of RFAs was released in March 1995.
In May 1995 the Premier of Western Australia invited the Commonwealth to participate in a RFA and commence the Deferred Forest Assessment, treating the south-west forests as a single region. A Steering Committee and a Technical Committee, comprising Commonwealth and Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) staff were established.
3.1.3 JANIS Reserve Criteria
Following signing of the NFPS, an intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Reserve Criteria was established in 1993 to draft the national criteria required by the NFPS, under the Joint Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC)/Ministerial Council on Forestry, Fisheries and Aquaculture (MCFFA) NFPS Implementation Sub-committee (JANIS). The Technical Working Group comprised representatives from state forestry and conservation agencies and CSIRO.
The Working Group's draft report, containing a set of proposed reserve selection criteria, was released for public comment in July 1995. The Working Group has now considered all public submissions and has met with the Commonwealth Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) to discuss outstanding issues.
3.1.4 Regionalisation (including Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation of Australia)
As recommended in the Commonwealth Reserve Criteria position paper DFAs were developed on a regional basis. For the purposes of the Deferred Forest Assessment and RFA the south west forests were considered as one region. (See Maps).
The Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) was developed by compiling the best available continental scale data and information about each State and Territory, including field knowledge, published resource and environmental reports, biogeographic regionalisations, and continental data sets. The IBRA amalgamates existing regionalisations for each State and Territory, drawing on similarities across State and Territory borders. The IBRA was developed for a specific use and it is acknowledged that it cannot be the sole criterion for allocating conservation priorities.
There are 2 IBRA regions in Western Australia in the current draft regionalisation. The IBRA regions may be used in the broad context of Comprehensive Regional Assessments in WA.
3.2.1 Commonwealth Reserve Criteria
The Commonwealth produced a discussion paper in March 1995. After a public consultation period the Commonwealth published a position paper on reserve criteria in July 1995. The criteria in the Commonwealth position paper draws on the work of the JANIS Technical Working Group and was developed with the advice of a Commonwealth Scientific Advisory Group.
The criteria adopted by the Commonwealth Government include a range of qualitative criteria and a series of quantitative benchmarks for biodiversity, old growth and wilderness:
a broad benchmark of 15% of the pre-1750 distribution of each forest community to be protected within the reserve system (See Section 5);
retention in reserves of at least 60% of existing old growth, increasing up to 100% for rare old growth (See Section 6); and
protection of 90% or more wherever practicable of high quality wilderness (See
The criteria recognise the role of off-reserve management in meeting conservation objectives, such as threatened species (See Section 9).
The Deferred Forest Assessment has been undertaken taking account of the Commonwealth and JANIS criteria. The Western Australian Government has not determined its final position on reserve criteria and does not necessarily endorse the draft JANIS or the Commonwealth criteria.
3.2.2 Endangered Species Protection Act
The Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (ESP Act) provides the legislative basis for Commonwealth responsibilities with regard to the conservation of endangered species and communities and the amelioration of the processes that threaten them.
3.2.3 Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act
The DFA process has been designated as "environmentally significant" under the Commonwealth Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974 (EP(IP) Act) and referred to the Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In accordance with the administrative procedures under the EP(IP) Act, the EPA will advise the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment regarding the Deferred Forest Assessment, including any changes following stakeholder consultation, prior to the Commonwealth making its final decision on the DFAs.
3.2.4 Australian Heritage Commission Act
The Australian Heritage Commission has a statutory obligation under The Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 to identify the National Estate and the Commonwealth has an obligation to take into account the effect of its actions on the National Estate. This obligation is recognised in the National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) and the Commonwealth reserve criteria paper. While the Commonwealth Reserves Criteria paper does not explicitly address the issues of reservation standards for national estate values, the Commonwealth Deferred Forest Assessment position paper indicates that the reserve system should incorporate, and where possible, maximise the inclusion of these values.
National estate values include old growth, wilderness and biodiversity, as well as a wide range of other values including cultural values.
The Register of the National Estate is intended to be a comprehensive list of places with national estate value, not a representative list. A comprehensive regional assessment provides an excellent opportunity to systematically identify national estate values in a region. It is not expected that all national estate places can be protected but it is essential that these values are considered in Commonwealth decision-making.
3.2.5 Export Control Act
The Commonwealth Export Control (Hardwood Wood Chips) Regulations (the Regulations) made under the Export Control Act 1982 control the exports of woodchips to ensure that:
by the year 2000, wood chips derived from native hardwood forests are exported only if they are from a region to which a Regional Forest Agreement applies;
the volume of annual exports of hardwood wood chips derived from areas to which a Regional Forest Agreement does not apply is subject to a national ceiling;
areas that are, or may be, needed to establish a comprehensive, adequate and representative national forest reserve system are protected;
adverse effects on the environment of obtaining the wood chips are minimised; and
investment in value-added production in forest industries and other related industries is encouraged.
3.2.6 Social and Economic Considerations
A key element of all RFAs is the incorporation of potential industry and community implications into consideration of CAR options. The National Forest Policy Statement firmly established as a national goal the development of an internationally competitive forest products industry. In this context the Commonwealth has obligations relating to efficient resource use and management, industry policy, employment, and regional growth and development. An integral part of this is the consideration of the effects on essential services and the vitality of forest dependant communities.