State environmental groups are outraged over the failure by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to prosecute the state ‘s forestry agency for illegally bulldozing and destroying threatened wildlife habitat at Whian Whian north of Lismore in 2013.
The NSW Forestry Corporation had refused to pay fines of $11,000 for destroying threatened wildlife habitat during a controversial logging operation on private property, but the failure to prosecute has incensed members of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) and the Nature Conservation Council.
Both groups are both calling for an independent inquiry into the management and regulation of NSW State Forests as a result of the inaction.
Thy want the whole issue and the relationship between the two government agencies investigated after the revelation that the EPA took so long to act that they missed the deadline for prosecuting.
The conservation council’s chief executive Kate Smolski said the ‘Forestry Corporation’s ‘willful disregard of the law and the EPA’s incompetence at enforcing it have resulted in another serious environmental offence going unpunished,.
‘The Whian Whian fiasco shows the Forestry Corporation regards forest protections laws as optional, and the EPA is often careless and tardy in its prosecution of breaches,’ Ms Smolski said.
‘The EPA’s lax enforcement of threatened species and pollution laws enables the Forestry Corporation to continue its environmentally destructive behaviour.
‘This incident reinforces a widespread perception that the EPA is ineffective and captured by the industries it supposed to regulate.
‘The Baird government should establish an independent review of the Forestry Corporation’s compliance with environmental laws, and which can recommend reforms to significantly improve its performance.
‘Any inquiry should also examine the performance of the EPA and its relationship with the Forestry Corporation.
‘We are facing an extinction crisis in NSW. There are almost 1,000 species on the endangered list, including 60 per cent of native mammals.
‘If we allow the Forestry Corporation to continue to trash our forests the way it has for decades, the consequences for our native wildlife will be catastrophic,’ Ms Smolski said.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh told Echonetdaily that Premier Baird must intervene ‘to provide justice to communities traumatised by the Forestry Corporation’s construction of an illegal road under the watch of the EPA and police guard’.
Mr Pugh said that on 22 September 2013 at the Whian Whian property, NEFA found that the Forestry Corporation had marked the route of a proposed road through eight high-use koala trees and over 63 threatened plants and so requested the EPA issue a stop work order.
‘Instead the EPA spent the next two days wandering around the area with the Forestry Corporation and two botanists planning a new route,’ Mr Pugh said.
’On 25 September 2013, while the community protested, under police guard the Forestry Corporation bulldozed a road through what were required to be 20-metre exclusions around two koala high use trees and 24 threatened plants, most of which had been identified before the road was bulldozed through.
‘These breaches are of the worst kind because they were intentional breaches of legal requirements. The EPA knew what the Forestry Corporation were about to do and did nothing to stop them.
‘The EPA had a two year window of opportunity from becoming aware of the offences to taking legal action for this deliberate act of environmental vandalism, and then they waited until this time had almost expired on 11 September 2015 before issuing two penalty notices, each with a $5,500 fine, and an official caution.
‘The Forestry Corporation stated they intended to vigorously dispute the fines on the grounds that their intent “was discussed with EPA staff on site during the operation”.
‘Now that the Forestry Corporation is refusing to pay the EPA’s token fines, the EPA say they can’t make them because the two years available for legal action over the offenses has expired.
‘There is no justice for the environment or the community.
‘The regulatory process is broken and there needs to be an independent inquiry into the EPA’s ineffective and inept regulation of both public and private forestry.
‘Premier Baird needs to intervene to deliver justice for the local communities who were traumatised by the Forestry Corporation constructing an illegal road, under supervision of the EPA, and police guard. Governments need to lead by example,’ Mr Pugh said.
To view a short video of the Whian Whian issue see