The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) has welcomed a NSW upper house inquiry into activities of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), including its audit of Royal Camp State Forest, near Casino.
The successful motion to establish the inquiry, which was moved by Labor’s Luke Foley and amended to include Royal Camp by the Greens’ David Shoebridge will also consider the EPA response to the Santos Pilliga CSG wastewater spill.
The Legislative Council will inquire into, and report on, the performance of the EPA and measure the EPA’s performance against its statutory objectives.
‘It is time for a parliamentary inquiry into the culture and management at the highest levels of the EPA,’ Mr Foley said.
‘Many citizens have expressed their concerns to me that under its current leadership the EPA often seems more focused on protecting polluting industries rather than looking after the community and human health.’
‘This state needs an environmental regulator that acts to protect the community and our environment,’ Mr Foley said.
NEFA said it believes there was a political cover-up aimed at hiding the full scope and extent of licence breaches committed by the Forestry Corporation in Royal Camp State Forest.
NEFA spokesperson, Dailan Pugh, said that while the EPA issued the Forestry Corporation three $300 fines for logging in a koala high-use area, their 2013 audit report failed to respond to NEFA’s complaints that the Forestry Corporation logged another two koala high-use areas while the EPA were conducting their audit.
‘Given that the EPA told us they had inspected at least one of these and agreed it was another koala high-use area, their failure to mention it in their report is inexplicable,’ Mr Pugh said
‘The fact that this was a cover-up was made apparent by the EPA’s dismissal of numerous complaints on the grounds that they “could not locate the alleged location”.’
Mr Pugh said this was despite NEFA ‘providing the EPA with photos, GPS locations and even leading the EPA to the specific breaches in the forest.’
‘There is something very rotten when the EPA claim they could not find breaches they were shown on site.
‘We were disappointed that the EPA once again ignored our complaints about logging facilitating the spread of both lantana and Bell Miner Associated Dieback along the main creek through the area.
‘We also showed EPA the head and upper trunk of an illegally felled Spotted Gum with the distinctive incisions that Yellow-bellied Gliders make in the trunk in order to collect sap for feeding. Despite wildlife ecologist David Milledge discussing this with EPA on site, the EPA refused to take any action because they claimed they could not determine beyond reasonable doubt whether the incisions had been made by a yellow-bellied glider’ Mr Pugh said.
Mr Milledge said, ‘Several incisions were of the classic v-notch shape, and were surrounded by claw marks typical of those made by the Yellow-bellied Glider when biting into the bark of such trees. These incisions were among the clearest and most readily identifiable that I have seen. I find it inconceivable that the EPA was unable to positively identify the subject tree as a Yellow-bellied Glider sap feed tree from the incisions present’.
Mr Pugh said ‘NEFA do not consider that the EPA dealt with our complaints on logging operations in Royal Camp State Forest in a fair, balanced or competent manner. The EPA suppressed audit results relevant to complaints, claimed that they couldn’t find trees they were shown on the ground, ignored expert evidence, and refused to audit significant breaches.
‘We welcome this opportunity to have the EPA’s handling of this matter investigated. [In our opinion] their audit was either a deliberate attempt to hide the nature and extent of breaches or an extremely shoddy, unprofessional and incompetent job. This is just one of the EPA’s audits that we harbour grave reservations about, maybe now we can find out why they are so bad’, Mr Pugh said.