Regional Forest Agreements to end December 2024

Victoria is providing greater certainty for Victoria’s transition out of commercial native timber harvesting in state forests by concluding the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs).

The RFAs were first established by the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments between 1997 and 2000, and provided for sustainable management and use of Victoria’s forests. The RFAs provided an important set of commitments to enable streamlined regulatory processes for commercial native timber harvesting in Victoria, which is no longer necessary.

The Victorian Government has notified the Commonwealth Government that Victoria’s five RFAs will now end in December 2024. The agreements previously were due to expire in 2030 to align with the original date to end native timber harvesting announced as part of the Victorian Forestry Plan in 2019. Since then, native forestry has been hit with increasingly severe bushfires, prolonged legal action, and court decisions.

The conclusion of the Regional Forest Agreements follows the decision to end native timber harvesting across state forests by 1 January 2024, and to provide a managed transition to support every worker and every business. In concluding the Victorian Regional Forest Agreements, Victoria will join South Australia and Queensland, who support successful plantation and other fibre industries without a similar agreement.

Since the modernised Regional Forest Agreements were finalised in 2020, the Victorian Government has delivered:

  • listed species and communities risk assessments and implementation of protections and management actions
  • a review of legislation to identify improvements to strengthen protections for listed species and communities
  • a review of the system that protects biodiversity, old growth forests and wilderness areas across Victoria’s 5 RFA regions
  • a Major Event Review, which assessed the impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires on forests.

Over the next 12 months, Victoria will continue to deliver on key commitments under the agreements with appropriate adjustments to reflect the transition out of native timber harvesting, while supporting the development and expansion of Victoria’s plantation estate.

This includes updating Victoria’s Forest Management Plans, reviewing provisions in the Code of Practice for Timber Production, reviewing Victoria’s sustainability indicators, responding to the Major Event Review and undertaking threatened species and communities risk assessments.

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Key inputs to modernised RFAs

A robust process that included independent expert advice, comprehensive community engagement, input from Traditional Owners, and current scientific knowledge informed modernised RFAs.

Modernised RFAs provide a framework for contemporary forest management. The forest management system itself is where change will happen in consultation with local communities and in partnership with Traditional Owners.

Modernised RFAs are an important step in transforming the way forests are managed and used.  The Victorian community will have opportunities to provide input to the development of strategies and plans that will make this transformation real.

Threatened species management and protection

Where timber harvesting operations are permitted in Victoria, they must be undertaken in a way which protects threatened species and other forest values including Aboriginal heritage, water quality, visual amenity and the precautionary principle, which requires consideration of the potential for irreversible environmental damage in situations of scientific uncertainty.

Victoria’s RFAs were renewed in March 2020. The new RFAs include a requirement to undertake Threatened Species and Communities Risk Assessments (TSCRA) for species and communities listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act) and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) that occur within an RFA region and are, or have the potential to be, impacted by forestry operations.

TSCRA reports released in September 2022 build upon existing protections for our forest dependent threatened species and communities. It supports the Victorian forest management system to deliver on key objectives of the RFAs: the conservation and recovery of threatened species and communities and the ecologically sustainable management of Victoria’s forests.

This work will continue to prepare new or updated action statements for all species and communities subject to risk assessments, and detailed management plans will be prepared for some species and communities. For more information about this process, visit threatened species and communities risk assessment.

FAQ: Victorian Regional Forest Agreements

Victoria’s 5 Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) provide a robust framework for sustainable, active and adaptive management of Victoria’s forests for all uses and benefits including cultural, social, recreational, environmental, and economic.

Through the RFAs, the Commonwealth Government accredits Victoria’s forest management system. As a result, timber harvesting operations done in accordance with a relevant RFA are not subject to certain Commonwealth legislative requirements.

This streamlines regulatory processes for the timber industry. The modernised RFAs will provide these benefits over the next 10 years while Victoria phases out native logging as per the Victorian Forestry Plan.

RFAs remain the most effective mechanism available to achieve these aims and support the transition from native timber harvesting to plantations by 2030

The existing RFAs were agreed more than 20 years ago and a lot has changed since then. The expiry of these RFAs on 31 March 2020 was a catalyst to review and update the agreements in line with the current context, including contemporary community values and science and to recognise the challenges of climate change.

The Victorian Government has invested $17.6 million over four years in forest management reform which includes the modernisation of Victoria’s RFAs. This has resulted in significant improvements to our RFAs which bolster protection for Victoria’s unique forest biodiversity and threatened species.

The modernised RFAs -

  • provide stronger protections for Victoria's unique forest biodiversity and threatened species; specifically protections for Victoria's unique forest biodiversity and threatened species through more timely interventions;
  • recognise the unique ability of Traditional Owners to care for Country and have new commitments to work with Traditional Owners to protect Country; and
  • support the transition out of native timber harvesting to plantation timber by 2030 by continuing to provide streamlined regulatory processes for the timber industry during this time.

Other key improvements and commitments in the modernised RFAs include –

  • strengthened checks and balances through
    • outcome-based five-yearly reviews
    • the ability to initiate a Major Event Review to assess the impacts of major events, such as significant natural disturbance events like bushfire, flood and disease; and
    • new audit provisions that enable the performance of the RFAs to be evaluated and remedial actions identified
  • support for diverse forest-based industries, including recreation, tourism and carbon markets
  • recognising the existing protections provided to all Victorian rainforest within native forests on public land from timber harvesting, as well as the Victorian Government’s commitment to protect all Old Growth on public land from timber harvesting announced as part of the Victorian Forestry Plan
  • a new process for determining timber harvest levels according to resource availability, while continuing to provide for ecologically sustainable forest management
  • acknowledgement of Traditional Owners’ living relationships with forests, their rights and aspirations, including recognising the unique ability of Victoria’s Traditional Owners to care for Country and support forest management; and
  • greater ability for Victoria to terminate an RFA should it no longer be fit for purpose.

The modernised RFAs will be in place until 2030, when harvesting of native forests will cease under the Victorian Forestry Plan.

The Major Event Review is a new feature of the RFAs whereby the Victorian and Australian Governments can undertake a joint review to assess the impacts of major events, such as significant natural disturbance events like bushfire, flood and disease, in relation to the objectives and operation of the RFAs.

A Major Event Review enables assessment of the impacts of a major event and identification of remedial actions. A Major Event Review will be overseen by an independent panel and informed by science, Traditional Owner knowledge and public consultation.

New features like the Major Event Review activate an appropriate and robust response to major events which impact our forests such as the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires.

As the RFAs are intergovernmental agreements, the modernisation process, beginning in 2018, involved detailed negotiations between the Victorian and Australian Governments.

The RFAs have been informed by independent expert advice, assessments of all forest values and new research, contemporary community values, and insights from Traditional Owners.

Two independent advisory committees – a Scientific Advisory Panel of scientific experts and RFA Reference Group representing key stakeholders – were established and provided advice on potential improvements to the RFAs.

The Scientific Advisory Panel, established by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), comprised independent scientific experts who provided advice and recommendations to the Victorian Government on improvements to Victoria’s Regional Forest Agreements and forest management system.

Members of the Panel were:

  • Dr Sandra Brizga (Chairperson)
  • Dr John Raison (Deputy Chairperson)
  • Professor David Lindenmayer
  • Dr Lyndall Bull (since resigned from panel due to other commitments)
  • Associate Professor Lauren Bennett
  • Dr David Cheal

Further information about the SAP and RFA Reference Group , including its report of advice, is available here.

Victorian Traditional Owners have been involved in the RFA modernisation process through meetings on Country, roundtables with representatives from Traditional Owner Corporations, ongoing engagement between Traditional Owners and DELWP staff, and Traditional Owner representation on the RFA Reference Group.

We have heard from Traditional Owners about the need for meaningful partnerships locally and state-wide in forest management and decision making incorporating Traditional Owner values and knowledge. The importance of upholding cultural obligations to care for Country for future generations and the right to pursue economic, cultural and social development is clear.

Traditional Owners were closely involved in the drafting of clauses of direct relevance and informed the modernisation process more broadly with the above insights.

Extensive state-wide community consultation was conducted by the Victorian and Australian Governments.

This included:

  • an online survey (733 participants),
  • public submission process (135 submissions received), and
  • 47 face-to-face engagement events in regional Victoria and Melbourne including stakeholder workshops, meetings and community drop-in sessions.

Through these processes we heard that overall Victorians believe biodiversity, flora and fauna and old growth forest should be protected. Participants recognised the many benefits and uses of Victoria’s forests, including environmental and economic, and supported a transition to plantation timber supply as well as the ongoing development of other emerging industries such as carbon sequestration and tourism.

This feedback is reflected in the modernised RFAs.

The RFAs have been updated to acknowledge the impacts of climate change and specifically that climate change is driving more extreme weather and disturbance events that will impact on a wide range of forest values. They recognise that climate change is a continuing and threatening process for certain animals and vegetation listed under Victorian legislation.

It has also been acknowledged that maintaining native forests plays an important role in the effective management of carbon within the carbon cycle.

The modernised RFAs support active and adaptive management through improved review and accountability mechanisms. These include providing for a new mechanism – a Major Event Review – and Five-Yearly RFA reviews that also assess and evaluate the impacts of climate change on Victoria’s forests.

The Major Event Review (MER) provides a robust framework within which the Victorian and Australian Governments can assess and respond to the impacts of major events on our forests such as the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires. Undertaken jointly by the Victorian and Australian Governments, MERs incorporate independent assessment of the impacts and identification of any remedial actions. MERs are overseen by an independent panel and informed by science, Traditional Owner knowledge and public consultation.

This year and through to 2022 Victorians will continue to have opportunities to provide input to the current program of forest management reform, that includes development of a State Forest Management Strategy and regional Forest Management Plans to improve how we care for and manage our forests.

Opportunities to contribute will be promoted on Engage Victoria and via the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s regional offices.

Page last updated: 23/02/24