An agreement that allows logging of forest stretching from Sydney to Queensland is under legal challenge, with an environmental group arguing the federal government did not consider the impacts of climate change before signing it.
It's the first time a NSW regional forest agreement has been challenged in court, says the Environmental Defenders Office, which is running the litigation on behalf of conservation group the North East Forest Alliance.
The North East Regional Forest Agreement was signed by the Commonwealth and NSW governments in 2000, then renewed in 2018 for at least 20 years.
It means that logging of the forest stretching up the NSW coast to the Queensland border - which was hit hard by bushfires in the 2019-2020 summer season - is exempt from national biosecurity law.
But when Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed the extension, he did not take into account the government's own alarming projections of the impact of climate change on the environment, the lawyers say.
The EDO also says the Commonwealth did not have regard to endangered species like koalas and greater gliders or the state of old growth forests.
Instead, the government relied on 20-year-old environmental assessments.
All of that makes the agreement invalid, they will argue.
The EDO says the fact that bushfires tore through parts of the forest just a year after the document was signed shows why climate change must be taken into account.
"We have known for years that as the climate changes, fires will follow," says EDO chief executive officer David Morris.
"And yet the North East RFA was renewed without an assessment of how climate change will impact the health and resilience of our native forest ecosystems."
Mr Morris says the Commonwealth did not want to incur the costs of a proper assessment and instead rubber-stamped a 20-year extension on the logging without proper scrutiny.
Forest agreements are a "powerful instrument" that allow the forestry industry to bypass government biodiversity assessments, he said.
"To be robust, these agreements must be founded on the latest scientific knowledge on climate and the state of our forest ecosystems," he said.
The Nature Conservation Council welcomed the litigation, saying it could be a turning point for the protection of native forests and koalas in NSW.
"Making forestry operations adhere to federal environmental standards is just common sense, but Regional Forest Agreements have for decades given state forestry agencies and logging companies special exemption," said Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.
"These perverse arrangements have accelerated the decline of our precious forests and pushed koalas and other threatened species closer to extinction."
The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday, will have a first hearing date in the Federal Court in the coming weeks.
Australian Associated Press