The National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS) establishes the concept of the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) process, and lists the protection of biological diversity under The Convention on Biological Diversity as one of the Commonwealth obligations to be included in the assessment. Strategies for conserving biodiversity, as outlined under the NFPS, are:
establishment of a dedicated forest reserve system on public land based on the principles of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness;
promotion of the management of private forests in sympathy with nature conservation goals (Commonwealth of Australia 1992).
The NFPS identifies the following objectives of biodiversity conservation:
to maintain ecological processes and the dynamics of forest ecosystems in their landscape context;
to maintain viable examples of forest ecosystems throughout their natural ranges;
to maintain viable populations of native forest species throughout their natural ranges; and
to maintain the genetic diversity of native forest species.
To achieve these objectives, a set of criteria have been developed to guide the establishment of a national system of Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) forest reserves (JANIS 1997). The criteria relating specifically to biodiversity are outlined in Box 1.
Box 1: Summary of the JANIS biodiversity criteria.
As a general criterion, 15% of the pre-1750 distribution of each forest ecosystem should be protected in the CAR reserve system with flexibility considerations applied according to regional circumstances, and recognising that as far as possible and practicable, the proportion of dedicated reserves should be maximised.
Where forest ecosystems are recognised as vulnerable, (e.g. approaching a reduction in areal extent of 70% within a bioregional context or subject to continuing and significant threatening processes), then at least 60% of their remaining extent should be reserved. (Vulnerable ecosystems include those where threatening processes have caused significant changes in species composition, loss or significant decline in species that play a major role within the ecosystem, or significant alteration to ecosystem processes.)
All remaining occurrences of rare and endangered forest ecosystems should be reserved or protected by other means as far as is practicable.
Reserved areas should be replicated across the geographic range of the forest ecosystem to decrease the likelihood that chance events such as wildfire or disease will cause the forest ecosystem to decline.
The reserve system should seek to maximise the area of high quality habitat for all known elements of biodiversity wherever practicable, but with particular reference to:
- the special needs of rare, vulnerable or endangered species;
- those species whose distributions and habitat requirements are not well correlated with any particular forest ecosystem.
Reserves should be large enough to sustain the viability, quality and integrity of populations.
To ensure representativeness, the reserve system should, as far as possible, sample the full range of biological variation within each forest ecosystem, by sampling the range of environmental variation typical of its geographic range and sampling its range of successional stages.
In fragmented landscapes, remnants that contribute to sampling the full range of biodiversity are vital parts of a forest reserve system. The areas should be identified and protected as part of the development of integrated regional conservation strategies.
The Scoping Agreement for the Victoria–Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreement requires that elements of biodiversity at the species and ecosystem levels be identified and threatening processes be reviewed.
The results of this assessment are to be used in identifying a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) reserve system that protects forest biodiversity in accordance with nationally agreed criteria. The strategy for conserving biodiversity relies not just on a CAR reserve system, but also on the application of ecologically sustainable forest management practices in off-reserve areas. The results provide a benchmark for monitoring the efficacy of these practices.