Meetings held in Eden to discuss the renewal of the Eden Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) produced productive and important conversations says NSW Department of Primary Industry representative Nick Milham.
On Tuesday, February 13, the DPI ran two invitation-only meetings for industry and environmental stakeholders, as well as a community drop-in session. Independent consultancy firm Elton consultancy facilitated the sessions.
Commonwealth representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Environment and Energy and state representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were also present to answer questions and to listen to and document community feedback.
While local conservation groups had indicated they would boycott the invitation-only environmental stakeholders meeting, several representatives participated in the discussions to outline why they want to see an end to the RFAs.
Mr Milham said he was aware of the boycott, but was pleased to see representation from conservation groups.
Hopefully these forums have clarified issues of frustration so we can move forward and receive good input.Nick Milham, NSW DPI
“We had a mature response which produced fruitful conversations,” Mr Milham said.
He said it was vital to obtain multiple points of view during the consultation process.
“It is no use to government to get views from part of the community.”
The community-drop in session was also well attended by industry, local government, representatives from local conservation groups and individuals, many voicing their concerns and asking questions.
“Hopefully these forums have clarified issues of frustration so we can move forward and receive good input,” Mr Milham said. “If we can address questions that lead to submissions we have obtained our objective.”
While the RFA will stay as a model for forest management, the DPI is interested in ways to improve this model going forward. Ongoing stakeholder and public consultation and an independent review process are part of this process.
Elton consultancy will compile a report for the DPI based on public submissions and feedback from forums.
“This ensures independent input and oversight,” Mr Milham said.
Mr Milham hoped the forums and submission process will help take some of the heat out of the RFA issue and encourage a broader understanding of forest management.
“Across the whole forest estate, there are strong environmental protections for private, public and plantation forests.
“We need to keep the bigger picture in mind.”
An essential part of the review process for the DPI is to see “where the balance lies” between what can appear to be competing concerns.
“Where the balance lies between stakeholders is fair and square on the table,” Mr Milham said. “We are trying to elicit what the RFA can encompass.”
The DPI views native forests as a significant community asset and is committed to ensuring it is managed well.
“The RFA is not broken,” Mr Milham said. “It is a sound model for holistic forest management, but we think we can improve it.”
Further DPI sessions were to be held in Batemans Bay on Wednesday, February 14 and Tumut on February 15.