EPA recommends approval for new 10 year plan to manage South-West forests

Release date: 
01 July 2013

The Environmental Protection Authority has today recommended approval of the Conservation Commission’s 10-year blueprint for managing the State’s south-west forests.

After a lengthy and rigorous assessment, which included three months of public consultation, the EPA has recommended the proposed Forest Management Plan (FMP) 2014-2023 is approved by the Minister for Environment.

The proposed FMP sets out how the Conservation Commission and Department of Environment and Conservation will manage 2.5 million hectares of forest within the region. EPA Chairman Paul Vogel said the new plan built on the existing structure of the 2004-13 FMP, which expires on December 31, 2013.

“Managing the State’s south-west forests for a range of values and uses is complex and contentious and attracts contested views about many issues including within the scientific community,” Dr Vogel said.

“The EPA subjected the Conservation Commission’s proposed Forest Management Plan for 2014 to 2023, which is based on sound science and conservative assumptions, to a thorough assessment involving in-depth consultation with the public, Government departments, industry and scientific experts.

“After careful consideration and deliberation, the EPA has concluded that the proposed Forest Management Plan meets the EPA’s environmental objectives. The EPA has also recommended a number of improvements.”

Dr Vogel said it was important to note that the proposed FMP built on a system that sets aside 62 per cent of the forests to be protected and managed for conservation purposes that further contributes to a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system for forest ecosystems in the south-west.

The remaining 38 per cent of the forests is available for a variety of uses, including timber harvesting.

Dr Vogel said the Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 allowed timber production on a ‘sustained yield’ basis and this provided an important context for the EPA’s assessment.

“The FMP provides direction on managing state forests and timber reserves, including timber harvesting activities and the regeneration of forests,” Dr Vogel said. Dr Vogel said the proposed FMP put forward two sets of values for limits on harvesting: a default ‘allowable cut’ and a possible ‘upper limit allowable cut’.

He said the proposed FMP set the level of timber harvesting for the next 10 years based on a scientifically-calculated sustained yield basis, which are the timber harvest volumes that can be maintained into the future within the constraints placed through protection of conservation areas and silviculture guidelines.

Calculations of sustained yields take into account data from the actual measurement of timber growth, predicted climate change impacts on tree growth rates, scheduled harvesting activities over 10 years and many other factors.

“This calculation is not only rigorous and based on sophisticated modelling but was also reviewed by an independent expert panel,” Dr Vogel said.

“The sustained yield is only calculated once allowances have been made to maintain biodiversity. In other words, the yield is calculated once all areas which are proposed to be protected or managed for conservation purposes have been excluded.”

The “allowable cut” of first and second grade jarrah and karri logs incorporates a safety margin for risks to the yield such as fire, cyclone, drought, pests and disease. The proposed FMP also specifies an ‘upper limit allowable cut’, which provides direction if future markets changed or evolved and required lower quality or smaller sized wood products.

“The EPA recommends that approval decisions of any harvesting beyond the “allowable cut” be made by the Minister for Environment, rather than the Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC)* or the Conservation Commission,” Dr Vogel said.

In addition, the EPA also recommended expanding monitoring programmes including FORESTCHECK, which provides long-term information about changes and trends in biodiversity following timber harvesting.

“The EPA believes it is important to develop an improved understanding of the effect of climate change to guide management in subsequent decades and recommends expanding and extending FORESTCHECK and other programmes to assist in this understanding,” Dr Vogel said.

The EPA also supported:

  • Adding about 4,020 hectares of the Whicher Scarp to the conservation estate to create a national park;
  • Changes to silviculture guidelines to improve the retention of important cockatoo habitat in harvested areas;
  • Refining Fauna Habitat Zones; and
  • The commitment to investigate opportunities that may arise from an emerging carbon economy for forest carbon storage.

Dr Vogel said the EPA had also provided advice to the Conservation Commission and the DEC to extend its public reporting - which already includes mid-term and end-of-term audits - to release publication of all relevant compliance matters, such as incident reports, to help improve transparency to the community.

The EPA also endorsed the Conservation Commission’s plan to improve involvement with stakeholders and provided advice on establishing a stakeholder reference group to assist in providing opportunities for the community, relevant non-government organisations and government agencies to participate in the implementation of the FMP.

The EPA’s report to the Minister for Environment is now open for a two-week public appeal period, closing July 15, 2013. Appeals can be made at www.appealsconvenor.wa.gov.au The Minister for Environment will make the final decision.

EPA Report 1483 is available at www.epa.wa.gov.au

* Note: As of 1 July 2013 the forest management functions of the Department of Environment and Conservation will undertaken by the new Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Media Contact: Nadia Miraudo 0400 866 450