Brisbane Rainforest Action & Information Network

South East Queensland Regional Forests Agreement

Supplied by the Australian Rainforests Conservation Society

A Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) for South-East Queensland will shortly be decided. A decision will be made whereby the management of our public forest estate will be determined for the next two decades. The stated aim of the RFA is to establish a world-class reserve system to protect the region's forest biodiversity and to achieve ecologically sustainable management of forests both inside and outside the protected areas, whilst creating security for the region's timber industry. As with most RFAs around the country, the objectives by which the RFA was formulated have been lost in the process.

A large number of research projects have been completed for the RFA process. They were designed to identify the natural and cultural heritage and social and economic issues for the region. Although the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) feels that the information gathered has been inadequate, the projects have produced a considerable volume of information about South-East Queensland's forests. Some of the project information is summarised below:

Conservation Values of SEQ Forests:

nearly 5000 native plant species have been recorded from SEQ;
rare and threatened plant species in SEQ include 33 endangered species, 76 species vulnerable to extinction and 152 rare species;
the highest number of endangered and vulnerable plant species occur in rainforest (about 50 species) and coastal habitats (about 20 species);
rainforest (about 50 species) and rocky/montane habitats (about 50 species) contain. the highest number of rare species;
245 plant species are endemic to SEQ (75 per cent of the species' range is in SEQ);
nearly 900 species of native vertebrate fauna are recorded from SEQ, of which about 590 are forest dwellers;
of the forest-dwelling vertebrate species, 9 are endangered, 28 are vulnerable to extinction and 40 are rare;
threatened insect species in SEQ include the endangered Illidge's Ant-blue Butterfly and Australian Fritilliary Butterfly, and the vulnerable Satin Blue and Riclunond Birdwing Butterflies,
39 species of fauna are endemic to SEQ (75 per cent of the species' range is in SEQ)
SEQ contains 142 Regional Ecosystems, including 84 eucalypt forest ecosystems, 20 non-eucalypt ecosystems, 26 rainforest and vine thicket ecosystems and 13 nonforest ecosystems.

Although the volume of available information on public forests has increased, the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) still has serious concerns as to the adequacy of data on our forests. ARCS has been surveying the flora of Bellthorpe State Forest over the last 6 months. The Society collected and identified hundreds of specimens, verifying their records with the Queensland Herbarium.
Until this initiative, involving considerable effort from ARCS, there were only 100 species on the official state record and Bellthorpe State Forest was thought to be depauperate in species and unworthy of reservation. Now, with more than 600 species of plants recorded, it is recognised as having the richest flora in SEQ on an area basis, whilst Mapleton State Forest tops all State Forests on total number of plant species.
Significantly, both are highly sought after by the timber industry, because of the many large trees that can still be found there.

The SEQ Forest Reserve System - Putting our Forests in Perspective

SEQ has the highest level of biodiversity of any RFA region in Australia;
SEQ has lost more forest than any other RFA region - 55% has been cleared, and of the remaining forest, 44% is on freehold land and hence potentially threatened;
relative to other R.FA regions in Australia, SEQ has the lowest proportion of its forests in conservation reserves. Even if we added virtually all of our public native forest to the reserve system, we would still remain at the bottom of the list;
SEQ has less of its forest surviving as old-growth forest than any other RFA region (Tasmania, 40%; East Gippsland, 2 1. 5%; NE Victoria, 2 1 %; South.-West WA, 14.6%; Central Highlands Vic, 4.5%; SEQ, 2.7% old-growth and 5.8% 'likely' old growth);
habitat trees are reduced to half the number required to maintain hollow-dependent fauna at 'natural densities' and half of those are dead (Habitat Tree Technical Advisory Group 1998; DNR Research Report by Yvonne Ross 1998);
many fauna species in SEQ are continuing to experience population declines as a consequence of factors such as habitat loss and fragmentation, loss of hollow-bearing trees and changes in understorey composition;
ten Regional Ecosystems have been classified as 'endangered-' and 32 as 'of concern' or 'vulnerable'; the classification is based on the extent of clearing that has occurred since European settlement

Forest Fauna and Tree Hollows

At least twenty years ago, Australian scientists drew attention to the impacts of timber harvesting on fauna dependent on tree hollows for denning, roosting and breeding. Yet today, few if any timber production areas in the country have adequate management prescriptions for retention of habitat trees.
Of the forest-dwelling fauna in SEQ, about 40 per cent of mammals, 20 per cent of birds and at least one reptile are dependent on tree-hollows, In addition, a significant number of birds, reptiles and frogs use tree hollows- at times.
In SEQ, old-growth forest is severely depleted outside long-established reserves, with potentially critical implications for forest fauna. The average number of habitat trees across the forests of SEQ, as determined by a recent study, is such as to raise concern that there are insufficient habitat trees to ensure the viability of existing hollow dependent fauna in the foreseeable future.
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) research found the average density of habitat trees on State Forests to be about 6 per hectare of which more than half were dead. The Habitat Tree Technical Advisory Group found that 8-12 habitat trees per hectare are required to maintain hollow-dependent fauna populations at natural densities. The Group also reported that the Greater Glider is absent from forests with fewer than six habitat trees per hectare.
Determining the number of habitat trees that need to be retained during timber harvesting, as well as the number of younger trees that need to be retained to ensure adequate recruitment of future habitat trees, is a complex issue.
Different species, obviously, have different requirements. Even among the arboreal (tree-dwelling) marsupials there are major differences. Yellow-bellied Gliders have a relatively large home range and use few of the available hollows over that range. On the other hand, Greater Gliders have a small home range and not only use more hollows per hectare but also defend their territory, keeping other species from using available hollows.
Trees may take 200 years or more to form hollows big enough for the larger arboreal mammals and birds such as the Glossy Black Cockatoo and Powerful Owl. Different tree species form hollows at different rates, There is little information on the 'survival' of dead habitat trees or on mortality rates.
Because of these complexities, scientists have warned against generic management prescriptions, advising that harvesting practices need to be specific for each area. This means knowing what species are present and at what densities, i.e. comprehensive prelogging fauna surveys. This would have significant financial implications for management and production costs.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has developed a Code of Practice for timber harvesting which is now in place on an interim basis, It is a major improvement on past practice and makes specific provision for retention of habitat trees and recruits. However, the advice on which it is based recognises that the proposed retention levels are a compromise and will probably not maintain current densities of hollow-dependent fauna. Given that we do not know if even current populations are viable in the long term, the outlook for many of the fauna in the higher quality forest habitat in SEQ is grim.