Swift parrot pic by Dave Curtis

The independent review of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement has concluded that it doesn’t know enough about threatened species’ success under the RFA. Science disagrees.

The Australian and Tasmanian Governments recently released an independent review of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) – the legal framework that regulates logging in Tasmania. The RFA is now reaching the end of its term and this Review is supposed to inform a proposed 20-year extension. The 108-page report managed the incredible feat of concluding that there’s not enough information to reach findings about threatened species under the RFA system.

The Review found that it is “difficult” to “judge the overall success of threatened species management .. under the RFA”. It says there has been limited monitoring of outcomes and that “individual species monitoring will help to build a knowledge base”, recommending that more research take place.

But the Review completely fails to give an overview of research that has already occurred where clear findings were reached. It says that new Recovery Plans were made, but doesn’t mention what they say.

The Swift Parrot is being monitored to death – scientists are reporting declines toward predicted extinction. Its Recovery Plan says “habitat loss through land clearing for plantation development and intensive native forest silviculture poses the greatest threat to survival of the Swift Parrot population”.

Shockingly, one piece of research about biodiversity that the Review actually does refer to is a 2012 study commissioned by Forest and Wood Products Australia – a logging industry lobby group. You can guess what that study said.

There is no doubt that more should be done to monitor biodiversity under the RFA, just like there’s always more climate research to do. But saying it is “difficult” to judge the success of threatened species management based on current information ignores a lot of science.

The Swiftie has now been listed internationally as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, and nominated for up-listing to the same status under Federal law. Both identify breeding habitat loss due to logging as an ongoing threat, compounded by the recent discovery of sugar-glider predation.

The Review explains that better rules were recently developed to protect threatened species in Tasmania. But this explanation has a very misleading omission – the new rules are not being followed. In fact, the Tasmanian Government does not allow them to be compulsory if it would mean protecting more than an additional 5% of any logging area.

This arbitrary policy is conveniently explained in a different section of the document, together with a comment that a flexible approach could provide better outcomes than actually following the rules. Imagine if that reasoning was applied to other areas of the law?

Recently, an expert advised the Tasmanian Government in no uncertain terms against allowing logging in a particular area of important Swift Parrot breeding habitat. Despite this advice, the Tasmanian Government approved the logging plans without applying the new rules, referring to the 5% policy.

There is a simple solution here. The RFA system needs to make sure that the new threatened species rules and expert advice about particular logging plans are followed.

There is a lot more to do to improve forest management and biodiversity protection in Tasmania, but this one simple change would make a real difference for species that need urgent action, like the Swift Parrot.

Incredibly, against this backdrop, the review concludes that “significant progress has been made” toward meeting the environmental objectives in the RFA, including the maintenance of species composition in the forest. Science disagrees.

Image: Jade Craven