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Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

‘Deliberate vandalism’ by forestry agency ‘ignored’ at Whian Whian

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We love to receive letters, but not every letter will be published; the publication of letters is at the discretion of the online and print letters editors.

Road thru Koala exclusion_D.PughLuis Feliu

State environmental groups are outraged over the failure by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to prosecute the state ‘s forestry agency for illegally bulldozing and destroying threatened wildlife habitat at Whian Whian north of Lismore in 2013.

The NSW Forestry Corporation had refused to pay fines of $11,000 for destroying threatened wildlife habitat during a controversial logging operation on private property, but the failure  to prosecute has incensed members of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) and the Nature Conservation Council.

Both groups are both calling for an independent inquiry into the management and regulation of NSW State Forests as a result of the inaction.

Thy want the whole issue and the relationship between the two government agencies investigated after the revelation that the EPA took so long to act that they missed the deadline for prosecuting.

The conservation council’s chief executive Kate Smolski said the ‘Forestry Corporation’s ‘willful disregard of the law and the EPA’s incompetence at enforcing it have resulted in another serious environmental offence going unpunished,.

‘The Whian Whian fiasco shows the Forestry Corporation regards forest protections laws as optional, and the EPA is often careless and tardy in its prosecution of breaches,’ Ms Smolski said.

‘The EPA’s lax enforcement of threatened species and pollution laws enables the Forestry Corporation to continue its environmentally destructive behaviour.

‘This incident reinforces a widespread perception that the EPA is ineffective and captured by the industries it supposed to regulate.

A high-use koala habitat tree was clearly marked but the markings were ignored.
A high-use koala habitat tree was clearly marked but the markings were ignored.

‘The Baird government should establish an independent review of the Forestry Corporation’s compliance with environmental laws, and which can recommend reforms to significantly improve its performance.

‘Any inquiry should also examine the performance of the EPA and its relationship with the Forestry Corporation.

‘We are facing an extinction crisis in NSW. There are almost 1,000 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,’ Ms Smolski said.

The logging road was bulldozed through a koala exclusion zone.
The logging road was bulldozed through a koala exclusion zone.

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh told Echonetdaily that Premier Baird must intervene ‘to provide justice to communities traumatised by the Forestry Corporation’s construction of an illegal road under the watch of the EPA and police guard’.

Mr Pugh said that on 22 September 2013 at the Whian Whian property, NEFA found that the Forestry Corporation had marked the route of a proposed road through eight high-use koala trees and over 63 threatened plants and so requested the EPA issue a stop work order.

‘Instead the EPA spent the next two days wandering around the area with the Forestry Corporation and two botanists planning a new route,’ Mr Pugh said.

’On 25 September 2013, while the community protested, under police guard the Forestry Corporation bulldozed a road through what were required to be 20-metre exclusions around two koala high use trees and 24 threatened plants, most of which had been identified before the road was bulldozed through.

‘These breaches are of the worst kind because they were intentional breaches of legal requirements. The EPA knew what the Forestry Corporation were about to do and did nothing to stop them.

‘The EPA had a two year window of opportunity from becoming aware of the offences to taking legal action for this deliberate act of environmental vandalism, and then they waited until this time had almost expired on 11 September 2015 before issuing two penalty notices, each with a $5,500 fine, and an official caution.

‘The Forestry Corporation stated they intended to vigorously dispute the fines on the grounds that their intent “was discussed with EPA staff on site during the operation”.
‘Now that the Forestry Corporation is refusing to pay the EPA’s token fines, the EPA say they can’t make them because the two years available for legal action over the offenses has expired.

‘There is no justice for the environment or the community.

‘The regulatory process is broken and there needs to be an independent inquiry into the EPA’s ineffective and inept regulation of both public and private forestry.

‘Premier Baird needs to intervene to deliver justice for the local communities who were traumatised by the Forestry Corporation constructing an illegal road, under supervision of the EPA, and police guard. Governments need to lead by example,’ Mr Pugh said.

To view a short video of the Whian Whian issue see

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  1. As a member of the Whian Whian community I feel vindicated with the concerns and actions that many of our community took to try and avoid the damage to what we new to be a special high value piece of forest. Unfortunately our concerns were mostly ignored by the EPA and Forestry, despite the fact that the scientists that the community engage found a significant number of threatened species including Koalas that were likely to be destroyed if the logging went ahead the way it was planned. If the agencies had listened to our concerns and acted more responsibly, perhaps this whole thing could have been settled without the loss of a foresters life, heavy emotional cost to the community and the environmental damage. I support the call to the Premier for an inquiry and suspect that many of our community will also, in order that this sort of thing never happens again.

  2. I am the next door neighbour to the property on which the logging fiasco was conducted. This was a NSW Govt. initiative to encourage “logging of native forests on private land”. The “private land” arrangement made it clear that rather than “look before you cut” being the legally required approach by the logging contractor in respect of threatened species of flora/fauna (on public-owned land), a “keep an eye out” larrikin-style approach was the modus operandi of Forestry Corporation which was aided and abetted by the NSW Govt. Hence the 12 to 18 member police presence every day.

    What I have been trying to ascertain is whether a Coronial Inquest was held following the unfortunate death of one of the loggers, an event which caused the immediate closure of the ill-fated logging operation by Work Cover NSW. My understanding is that the decision as to whether such an inquest should proceed was in the hands of a local Lismore magistrate, but Lismore Court refuses to advise as to whether it WAS conducted, or to release any information concerning such an inquest IF it was so conducted. My endeavours to acquire FOI documentation from WorkCover were thwarted by the usual requests for more money up front from me to accommodate their “costs”, which appeared to be following a very steep upward curve.

    The efforts by NEFA in following up the EPA/NSW Forestry Corporation wedding and reception are to be applauded: and the intentions of the NSW Govt are to be castigated to precisely the same degree.

  3. How ironical – we have a Department of the Environment, Environmental Protection Agency along with Federal and State statutes in place to protect our environment and threatened species yet time after time we see that these governments (which are the same as corporations in business to make a profit) fall down on their job forcing concerned citizens to take them to task – they are paid and we are not! How fair is that? Meanwhile our native animals become more and more endangered. It’s all the fault of inept and corrupt governments. It’s about time the Animal Justice Party came into power and put a stop to all this nonsense.

  4. A pattern is emerging here.

    Bundjalung National Park near Byron Bay is potentially about to be subjected to ilmenite mining under the guise of “old mine site rehabilitation”.

    The project entails 5 years of mining noise and pollution for National Park users and residents.

    The EPA is again complicit in the activity.

    What hope do we have when the State Minister for Planning controls environmental decisions?


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