Update: Regional Forrest Agreement Rolled Over in WA, Honey Bee Industry Council Releases Statement Backing Agreements

As WA environmentalists are reeling over the rollover of the state’s Regional Forrest Agreement, the Honey Bee Industry Council backs the continuation of the national framework.

Yesterday, Premier McGowan renewed WA’s 20-year bilateral Regional Forest Agreement (RFA), signing off the controversial deal with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Environmental groups have been protesting the impending renewal of the RFA, both in WA and interstate, citing published evidence that RFAs have failed to deliver on the sustainability and environmental measures they were created for. According to The WA Forest Alliance:

The RFA began in 1999 with three stated objectives – to protect environmental values, encourage job creation and manage the forests in a sustainable way. It has failed spectacularly on all counts.

Five unique forest-dependent birds and mammals have become endangered or critically endangered since the RFA was signed and 195000 ha of forests have been intensively logged without Federal environmental oversight.

The native forest logging industry has run so rampant in the forests that it has virtually exhausted all the high-quality sawlogs available to it. The industry is no longer profitable and can’t attract investors. Sawmills are closing and people are losing jobs…

Criticism has also focused on the lack of research, consultation and reporting needed to bring the RFA up to date with current scientific knowledge and community concerns:

There has been absolutely no community or independent expert consultation on the renewal of the RFA. A round of briefings, where groups are told what is going to happen, does not constitute consultation. It has zero credibility and needs to be thrown out and replaced with a proper, robust, consultative process based on up-to-date science.

The climate has changed dramatically since 1999 and the logging industry has totally failed to keep up with the science or the impacts on the forests of increased temperatures and decreased rainfall”.

The Guardian and The ABC have previously reported that federal and state ministers have also discussed legal concerns that extensions to logging agreements might be invalid as they are based on “old scientific assessments”.

Meanwhile, the Honey Bee Industry Council has released a statement in response to a recent article in The Guardian citing statements and leaked correspondence from Victorian Agriculture Minister Hon David Littlebrave. The article reported that Littleproud “made it clear he was intervening on behalf of beekeepers” who had told him that regional forest agreements (RFAs) have “failed the beekeeping industry”.

The Honey Bee Industry Council has cited concern that the industry’s views were “misrepresented” by the article:

Despite reports in The Guardian, the beekeeping industry wishes to work collaboratively with the forestry industry and state governments to ensure access to resources in state forests.

Well managed multi-use forests involving forestry, beekeeping, and recreation will always deliver the best conservation, economic and social outcomes.

The infrastructure created by forestry is useful to beekeepers accessing the sites. But how this benefit weighs up against the cost of losing more valuable floral resources from trees like Karri and Jarrah (especially since Karri only flowers every 5 to 7 years) is yet to be established.

The Council also cites “high fuel loads” in unmanaged forests as a risk and a hindrance to access. But at the same time, it should be noted that valuable honey flows (many which only come around every few years) are destroyed when prescribed burning takes place while trees are budded up. More consultation with the beekeeping industry could avoid such mismanagement of these economically valuable resources.

Unfortunately, the broad argument has been that state forests have been anything but “well managed” under the RFAs, both in Western Australia and other states. The Honey Bee Industry Council’s statement does not go as far as addressing the RFAs’ reported failures. Yet their statement doesn’t indicate that support is unconditional either. Let’s hope that the beekeeping industry can push for and contribute to the essential reform and proper oversight needed to sustain our precious forests for the future.

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