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Byron Shire
April 12, 2021

NSW government must investigate Whian Whian debacle

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Over Easter I visited a friend who’s spent decades doing her best to protect old growth forests, preserve human connection with nature in the raw and help save our planet from the climate emergency.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignored independent ecological evidence provided by highly qualified ecologists during a logging operation on private land adjacent to Nightcap National Park undertaken by Forestry Corporation NSW (FC NSW) in 2013. This incident is relevant to north east communities who neighbour forested areas thatt contain threatened species habitat.

The community from the little village of Whian Whian called in ecologists from the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) to examine multiple breaches by FC NSW of their own harvest plan. Two years later EPA have identified only two of these breaches and fined FC NSW $11000 after overseeing and approving the operation in 2013.

The EPA ignored a ‘stop work’ request by NEFA and the pleadings of local Whian Whian forest protectors who knew that koalas were present and a zoo of other threatened flora and fauna.

The residents from the village of Whian Whian were not green vigilantes and took time away from nursing, teaching and many other occupations. They gave up their time away from family and friends, cooking dinner and doing the washing and shopping. They were intimately familiar with the Nightcap National Park and the adjacent private forested land and the precious habitat it provided for fauna and flora.

The EPA sanctioned the logging operation, which continued in great haste and FC NSW contractors were given the power of ‘citizen’s arrest’ There was brutality and alleged injuries to local forest protectors. Tragically this operation resulted in an accidental fatality. The EPA failed to stop the work and investigate properly, failed to protect our fauna and flora and put the community at risk.

The judge who heard the case in Lismore in October 2013 was disturbed by the loss of liberty to forest protectors and alleged injuries caused, through FC NSW contractors acting as police.

It is an insult to the public that we see one government department issuing fines to another government department, distanced from the government only in name. The public understands full well that it is their taxes that will be taken from Peter to pay Paul.

North East Communities demand an independent investigation into the substantive evidence offered by NEFA about multiple breaches by FC NSW at Whian Whian which still remain unanswered by the EPA. Why did the EPA approve the actions of FC NSW and issue inadequate fines with no requirement for restoration, two years later?

This tragic incident must be viewed in light of the probable extinction of koalas, our national icon within the next 30 years. It is a classic example of the failure of changes to the NSW Government’s vegetation laws. The community of Whian Whian deserves the full truth of the story and deserves the full truth of this story that only an independent inquiry can achieve.

Caroline Joseph, Belingen


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