The South East Queensland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) will be a 20-year agreement between Queensland and the Commonwealth focussed primarily on how the region's public native forests can best be used and managed.
The RFA process emerged from the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement, under which the Commonwealth and all States and Territories agreed to work together towards a shared vision for Australia's forests.
To date the RFA process has involved consultation with peak stakeholder groups and regional communities. There will also be six weeks of public consultation on RFA options before final decisions are made.
The RFA will bring certainty to forests, aiming to establish:
- A Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative reserve system based on the nationally agreed criteria. Some targets within these criteria aim to protect 15 per cent of each forest type as existed before European arrival; 60 per cent or more of old-growth forest and at least 90 per cent of high quality wilderness, subject to social and economic considerations.
- innovative and internationally competitive forest-based industries;
- ecologically sustainable management of all forests - both on and off reserves.
Governments have agreed that each RFA should be based on the best available information about the range of economic and resource, natural, cultural and social uses and values of the forests - this is called a Comprehensive Regional Assessment.
The South-East Queensland RFA
The South-East Queensland biogeographical region covers an area of 6.1 million hectares of which about half is covered by forests. Stretching from the NSW border north to Gladstone, and west to Toowoomba, it is home to nearly two and a half million people.
It is an area of great biological and physical diversity and is one of the richest parts of Australia for plants, birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals.
The region supports a wide range of forest-related industries including mining, timber harvesting and processing, grazing, beekeeping, recreation and tourism. It is the State's premier timber production area, supporting some 90 per cent of the plantation estate. It emloys about 80 per cent of the State's total timber industry workforce of almost 11,000.
Development of the South East Queensland RFA began in January 1997 with a Scoping Agreement signed by the Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland. This agreement identified the boundaries of the region, the broad objectives of the proposed RFA and the legal and policy obligations of both governments.
Comprehensive Regional Assessment
Work then began on the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) of the natural, cultural, social, resource and economic values of the region's forests. This involved detailed assessments of biodiversity, old growth forest, national estate, wilderness, world heritage, social values, cultural values, forest resources and forest-based industries and communities and ecologically sustainable forest management.
The CRA involved more than 30 projects and drew on academic, government, and private sector expertise and local community involvement. Expertise ranged acrossfields as diverse as botany, zoology, mapping and geography, economics, history and social planning.
The release of the CRA report marks the beginning of the next phase of the RFA, using the data it provides as a basis for developing options for an RFA.
The CRA Report will be available in public libraries throughout the region, on the internet http://www.rfa.gov.au, or on request by ringing 07 38969810..
The assessment reports will be used to develop options for future forest use. Key issues in options development include: forest planning processes and management systems; the protection of conservation values by a comprehensive and representative reserve system; off-reserve management and its overlap with the reserve system; opportunities for industry development and industry access to resources; and development of monitoring and performance indicators.
Once options for forest allocations have been developed, an options report will be released for six weeks of public review and comment.
The final RFA
The public and stakeholder submissions on the Options Report will be considered by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments in negotiating an RFA. Both governments are committed to achieving a South East Queensland RFA by 30 June 1999.