A logging track built at Whian Whian last week that was overseen by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is a threat to koala habitat and endangered plants, a new survey reveals.
The track, built by the Forestry Corporation, has outraged forest campaigners, who say it makes a mockery of the environment minister Robyn Parker’s promise that koala habitat would be maintained there and threatened species looked after.
The claim follows a further blockade by environmental protectors at an access of a logging site on a private property at Whian Whian adjacent to the Nightcap National Park, which resulted in an arrest late last week.
The logging road, according to the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), was built within what should have been 20-metre exclusion zones around two koala high-use trees and the endangered plant Slender Marsdenia.
NEFA says that was revealed by a new survey of the logging track area on Friday.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said Minister Parker’s promise in Lismore on Tuesday about ensuring protection of koala habitat there ‘has been proven to be an empty promise’.
Mr Pugh said NEFA called on the EPA a week ago to issue a stop-work order after a survey in the vicinity of a proposed logging road on the property had found 70 threatened plants and eight koala high-use trees, which each required a 20-metre exclusion zone be established around them.
‘Rather than stopping work the EPA decided to supervise the Forestry Corporation’s marking of an alternative track that was constructed on Wednesday,’ he said.
‘Thankfully the property owners agreed to allow a community-based survey on Friday.
‘The EPA told us they supervised searches for koala scats and threatened plants in the vicinity of the proposed track on Tuesday.
‘On Friday, in the presence of the EPA, we undertook further searches of two trees and found that there were more than 20 koala scats under them.
‘These were four and 15 metres from the new track and thus it is evident the track was constructed within what should have been 20-metre exclusion zones around koala high-use trees.
‘Volunteer botanists found the endangered vine Slender Marsdenia tangled up in debris from the snig track construction, well within what should have been another 20-metre exclusion zone.
‘Two plants were killed and a third has been significantly harmed.
‘To add insult to injury, the EPA claim that these are not legal breaches because they did not identify them before the track was constructed.
‘If they had have done their job properly the track would have been illegal.
‘Provided the Forestry Corporation don’t look properly, they can damage core koala habitat and kill endangered species with impunity, even while the EPA watch.’
Mr Pugh said the botanists identified another two threatened plant species, the vulnerable Corokia and the endangered Green-leaved Rose Walnut, ‘bringing the total of threatened plant species so far found by the community to five, as well as five threatened fauna species’.
‘It is reprehensible that it is the community that has had to identify these species and force compliance with the Private Native Forestry Code of Practice because NSW government agencies failed to.
‘A rainforest expert also identified that the national Endangered Ecological Community Lowland Subtropical Rainforest has been affected by earlier roadworks and also extends into the mapped logging area.
‘NEFA’s review of rainforest mapping shows that the identified area was mapped as rainforest in 1998, though deleted for logging by the EPA.
‘Further surveys are still required to identify all localities requiring protection for threatened species. Unfortunately we can’t rely on the Forestry Corporation or EPA to do them properly,’ Mr Pugh said.
Echonetdaily has sought comment from the minister’s office.
Meanwhile, around 30 residents met last night to formally establish a group to protect the forest at Whian Whian.
The environmental protectors have named the new group the Whian Whian Forest Alliance.
Spokesman Patrick Tatam told Echonetdaily that the new group last night emailed the Forestry Corporation proposing that if they allowed a formal survey of the koala habitat and population of the area to be completed, the group, which has been blockading access to the logging site, would allow a truckload of timber from the stockpile of already felled blackbutt trees to be taken out per day, Monday to Friday.
Mr Tatam said the agreement for a week would made it easier for the contractors, but as of this morning the Forestry Corporation had not responded.
He said no logging trucks had turned up by 9.30am and around 30 people were maintaining a peaceful presence at the blockade.
Another member of the new alliance, Sue James, said she had personally written to environment minister Robyn Parker asking for an apology ‘for us doing the work which the EPA should be doing in protecting the environment’.