A protest will be held in Lismore this morning against the Baird government’s controversial planned overhaul of the state’s nature conservation laws.
The protest comes as a new report shows that taxpayers are unwittingly helping the destruction of the region’s native forests through public subsidies worth millions of dollars to the NSW Forestry Corporation’s loss-making hardwood division.
Environmental groups say the new laws threaten the north coast’s unique wildlife and bushland, by weakening control of land clearing.
Envrionmental groups will rally at 11am outside Lismore MP Thomas George’s office, as part of a campaign against the laws.
The coalition’s proposed new Biodiversity Conservation Act will make it easier for developers and agribusiness to destroy wildlife habitat in the northern rivers region and across the whole state, according to the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC).
NCC chief Kate Smolski is in Lismore today (Thursday) for the protest and to launch a report into the economic costs of native forest logging in NSW.
Ms Smolski said that ‘this week, the Baird government announced ‘there were now 999 native plants and animal species, including koalas, now on its extinction waiting list’.
‘The government’s NSW State of the Environment 2015 report also found only nine per cent of the state’s bushland and forests are in a healthy, natural condition, while the rest was in “variable” condition or deteriorating.
‘Rather than increasing protections, premier Baird is scrapping existing conservation laws and replacing them with new rules that will let property developers and agribusiness destroy even more of our unique wildlife habitat.
‘People in the northern rivers are among the most environmentally aware people in NSW, not least because of the exceptional natural beauty and the incredible abundance of wildlife they enjoy all around them.
‘They will be appalled when they realise what the Baird government’s has in store for our nature laws.
‘The Baird government announced it will repeal the state’s most effective conservation laws, the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act, when it introduces a new Biodiversity Conservation Act later this year,’ she said.
The government is due to release its draft legislation in the next few weeks.
Ms Smolski said the state’s leading conservation organisations had examined the government’s proposals and concluded the new law ‘will:
• Add extinction pressures to the state’s threatened species, especially by expanding premier Baird’s flawed biodiversity offsets scheme to a wider range of developments;
• Threaten clean, reliable water supplies and degrade fertile farmlands through erosion and salinity; and
• Reduce tree coverage and undermine Australia’s efforts to cut carbon pollution.
‘The changes he is planning will also undermine Australia’s attempts to cut our carbon pollution by increasing land clearing across the state, and deny future generations the right of enjoying our unique wildlife,’ she said. ‘We are working with communities across the state to ensure that these damaging changes do not occur,’ Ms Smolski said.
Taxpayers ripped off
Meanwhile, a new report by independent economic think-tank The Australia Institute has found taxpayers could be better off if the Forestry Corporation stopped logging native forests and managed them as carbon stores and recreation reserves.
The report’s key findings are that:
• Native forest logging cost taxpayers $79 million in subsidies over the past seven years.
• The market for products from native forest logging is poor and declining.
• The best economic value may be to leave forests standing, especially if credits were available through the federal government’s emissions reduction fund for managing forests as carbon storages.
• Local councils subsidise native forest logging by spending millions repairing roads destroyed by logging trucks. (The NSW Forestry Corporation is exempt from paying council rates.)
Representatives of the NSW Nature Conservation Council and the NSW National Parks Association in Lismore today are calling for an immediate ban on the native forest logging subsidies and a complete end to native forest logging by 2019, when the current Regional Forest Agreements expire.
Ms Smoslki said the ‘subsidised destruction of our native forests has a huge impact on the Lismore, Richmond Valley and Kyogle regions because this is where so much native forest logging occurs on the North Coast’.
‘This destructive industry is not only costing taxpayers millions, it is driving our koalas and other native wildlife to extinction. It makes no sense economically or environmentally,’ she said.
‘Premier Mike Baird should acknowledge the native forest logging industry is in terminal decline and develop an exit strategy to help north coast communities capitalise on the sustainable economic opportunities presented by forest tourism and carbon sequestration.’
North East Forest Alliance spokesman Dailan Pugh said that logging has spread lantana throughout this region’s forests and caused dieback of tens of thousands of hectares of forests within one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots.
‘With increasing severity of dry spells due to global warming and increased logging intensities, dieback is rapidly spreading,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘While taxpayers are paying tens of millions to have our public forests logged, this is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions it will cost us if we want to repair the logging damage, get rid of the weeds and restore our forests to a healthy state.’
 Money doesn’t grow on trees: The financial and economic losses of native forestry in NSW
 The NSW Environment Minister is reportedly seeking approval from Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to allow avoided forest harvesting activities to be considered under the Emissions Reduction Fund, which could give the NSW government an incentive to set aside native logging. www.smh.com.au/environment/time-to-cut-losses-not-native-trees-as-deficit-climbs-australia-institute-says-20160320-gnmwiy.html#ixzz43ZzwIsfG