The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) has been blocked from attending a site inspection being held as part of an inquiry into the EPA’s handling of complaints of logging breaches by the Forestry Corporation
The inquiry was established as a result of NEFA’s concerns over unfettered logging of koala high-use areas in Royal Camp State Forest (16 kilometres south-west of Casino) in August 2012.
But the group claims its complaints to the EPA over the licence breaches were largely ignored. And when they were taken up, the corporation was handed ‘paltry’ penalties.
Now NEFA is concerned it is again being locked out of the process.
It also says that the EPA has admitted it ‘misrepresented’ evidence of breaches pointed out to it by NEFA on an earlier tour of the forestry site.
Inquiry chairman Robert Brown says, so far, the only ‘consistent claim’ heard by the inquiry is that ‘the Environmental Protection Authority [sic] is too close to the industries that they in turn licence,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
‘We heard evidence – some of the witnesses felt – that the EPA weren’t properly qualified to carry out their work. We haven’t had that claim made to date,’ Mr Brown added.
(Mr Brown is the head of the Shooters and Fishers Party and sat on a committee which recommended opening up national parks for logging.)
NEFA spokesperson, Dailan Pugh believes the inquiry is ‘off to a bad start by just relying upon the EPA to show them the issues on the ground.
‘This does not bode well for a balanced and informed inquiry,’ he said.
‘The inquiry refused to allow NEFA to attend the site inspection to show them specific breaches we complained about and present a balanced view,’ he said.
‘In August 2012 NEFA called for an immediate halt to logging in Royal Camp State Forest when they found a koala high-use area being logged and four others proposed for logging, along with numerous other breaches.
‘Logging was stopped in the area assessed by NEFA though resumed a couple of days later in another part of the forest.
‘The EPA allowed logging to continue for another month, resulting in at least two more koala high-use areas being logged because the Forestry Corporation still refused to meet their legal obligations to look for koala scats.
‘It took the EPA a year to report their findings, which included issuing the Forestry Corporation three penalty notices, totalling a paltry $900, for not doing the required koala searches and logging one of the koala high-use areas.
‘They also issued an “official caution” for another seven licence breaches. The Forestry Corporation considered the fines inconsequential, claiming ‘they’re like staying in a parking lot for a little bit too long’, and refused to change their methods to avoid further breaches.
‘Part of the problem was that the EPA had not bothered to investigate over half of our complaints, including failing to raise them with the Forestry Corporation. Eight of these were initially claimed by the EPA to be unsubstantiated, going so far as to claim they were not able to find breaches we had taken them to.
‘The EPA later admitted they had misrepresented the evidence and agreed that we were right.
‘When the Forestry Corporation attempted to resume logging in another part of Royal Camp a year ago, based on a plan that said there were no koalas, NEFA got in ahead of them and found extensive koala use and two more koala high-use areas.
‘The evidence is now overwhelming that Royal Camp State Forest encompasses a regionally significant resident breeding population of koalas that should be fully protected as core koala habitat. These koalas are part of a population that extends outside Royal Camp across private land to take in Carwong State Forest.
‘We are asking the inquiry to recognise that Royal Camp State Forest is too important for koalas to be left under the Forestry Corporation’s mismanagement and ineffective supervision by the EPA. It deserves to be protected as a koala reserve’ Mr Pugh said.