Conservation groups have called for a government inquiry into the running of NSW Forestry Corporation and accused the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) of being ‘part of the problem’ following what they say are ‘thousands of breaches of the rules’ at just one north coast logging site recently.
North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) identified roads built illegally through endangered rainforest and plants vulnerable to extinction, multiple failures to find and protect feed trees for koalas and yellow-bellied gliders before logging, and thousands of breaches of the rules for retaining and protecting fauna habitat trees in a new report on site inspections in Cherry Tree State Forest, west of Casino, following recent logging operations by the Forestry Corp.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said it was ‘profoundly disappointing’ that most of the breaches happened after NEFA alerted the Environment Minister to ‘obvious problems’ in March, and ‘despite the EPA’s Forestry Unit undertaking a number of site inspections’.
‘While the EPA’s Forestry Unit watched, the Forestry Corporation continued to rampage through the forest causing widespread damage to the surviving trees, logging trees they were required to retain, building roads into, and logging, endangered Lowland Rainforest, failing to look for and protect key habitat of threatened animals, and initiating erosion, while spreading lantana and forest dieback,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘The EPA Forestry Unit approved roads through an Endangered Ecological Community – a stand of Lowland Rainforest – in an area that we believe was fraudulently misrepresented by the Forestry Corporation as eucalypt forest. Had EPA’s Forestry Unit done its due diligence they would not have approved a blatantly illegal road,’ he added.
NEFA’s audit of Cherry Tree State Forest found that 2,000 (44 per cent) of the habitat trees destroyed should have been retained, and uncovered 1,600 breaches of the rules for protecting the trees that were retained, and noted these were not isolated instances, but ‘more examples of breaches that have been going on for decades’.
The discovery has prompted the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) to call for an independent review of the Corporation’s compliance with environmental laws.
‘The Baird government should establish an independent review of the Forestry Corporation’s compliance with environmental laws, and identify ways to change the practices and culture of the organisation to significantly improve its performance,’ NCC CEO Kate Smolski said.
‘The flagrant breaches of environmental protection laws during logging operations at Cherry Tree State Forests are symptomatic of a broader failure of the state forest agency to take its environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously.
Ms Smolski said it was not only conservation groups who have a dim view of the corporation’s environmental performance.
‘Land and Environment Court Justice Rachel Pepper remarked during a recent case that the corporation had a ‘reckless attitude towards compliance with its environmental obligations’.
‘The EPA should be part of the solution, but at the moment it is part of the problem.
‘The EPA’s lax enforcement of threatened species and pollution laws enables the Forestry Corporation to continue its environmentally destructive behaviours.
‘What we need is independent watchdog for the environment and their is a strong perception in the community that the EPA had been captured by the industries it regulates.
‘We are facing an extinction crisis in NSW, with almost 1000 species on the endangered list, including 60 per cent of native mammals.
‘If we allow the Forestry Corporation to continue to trash our forests the way it has for decades, the consequences for our native wildlife will be catastrophic.’
Despite the egregious breaches, the EPA and the courts have issued fines in just the tens of thousands of dollars.
Environment minister Mark Speakman told The Sydney Morning Herald this morning that the government would review penalties in the new year.
But Mr Pugh said Speakman and and the EPA were part of the problem.
‘The minister and EPA’s Forestry Unit did not stop the Corporation’s flouting of legal requirements to retain and protect hollow-bearing and recruitment habitat trees – despite our highlighting the serial abuses occurring – is unacceptable’, he said.
‘The loss of tree-hollows needed as homes by many native species, such as possums, gliders, owls, cockatoos and parrots, is an unfolding ecological disaster. Meanwhile the EPA Forestry Unit and Forestry Corporation are ignoring the Key Threatening Processes of lantana invasion and Bell Miner Associated Dieback, even though these impacts are spreading through the forests,’ he said.
‘The NSW environment minister must not continue to ignore these flagrant, intentional breaches of his logging approval and their serious harm to the environment. Since he, not the EPA, has the power to require compliance with Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management conditions, minister Speakman must intervene and force the loggers to comply with law, or halt the logging completely, Mr Pugh said.