The Forestry Corporation picked the International Day of Forests to write to North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) auditor Dailan Pugh threatening him with a $2,200 fine if he returns to meet with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) or audit Gibberagee State Forest.
When attending Gibberagee State Forest on March 10, at the invitation of the EPA to show them breaches he had identified a month earlier, Mr Pugh was ordered to leave by the Forestry Corporation.
‘The Forestry Corporation threw me out of the forest without allowing me to show the EPA any of the breaches they had asked me there to show them’, Mr Pugh said.
He added that the Forestry Corporation had since written to him saying the forest was ‘closed’ when he initially identified the breaches, and threatening that if he returned, ‘Entering this area without proper authorisation is not permitted and if detected, Forestry Corporation may issue a Penalty Infringement Notice or pursue prosecution.’
‘Now the Forestry Corporation are threatening to fine me $2,200 if I return to Gibberagee to meet the EPA or do anymore auditing, Mr Pugh said.
‘They must have a lot to hide.
‘It is no coincidence that currently the only two native forestry operations in NSW subject to closures for logging are the two closest to me at Gibberagee and Bungawalbin.
‘Since 2009 I have overseen nine NEFA audits of public forests that the EPA subsequently investigated, at least in part.
‘The EPA have confirmed over 166 of the breaches of legal conditions NEFA reported, often involving multiple instances. This is an average of 18 breaches of licence conditions per operation, and there were many more that the EPA failed to investigate or forgave for spurious reasons.
‘I find it outrageous that the Forestry Corporation can threaten to fine me $2,200 for exposing their illegal logging, while the EPA usually only give them warning letters or token $300 fines for offences such as logging rainforest, cutting down ancient trees many hundreds of years old, bulldozing illegal roads through creeks, or logging Koala High Use Areas.
‘The last public forest NEFA investigated while it was “closed” was Cherry Tree State Forest in 2015. While logging was underway we made two complaints to the Minister for the Environment regarding illegal logging activities. At our instigation the EPA did token investigations, confirming our specific complaints but they were unable to find any breaches for themselves.
‘Our complaints made the Forestry Corporation repair some major erosion problems and I hope we helped avert others. We never interfered with their logging, and they probably weren’t even aware when we were auditing because we kept out of their way.
‘After giving the Forestry Corporation months to improve their practices and rehabilitate problem areas, we did a final audit as operations were concluding and still identified hundreds of breaches.
‘Based on our final audit the EPA confirmed 66 breaches of legal requirements, involving hundreds of individual trees recklessly logged or damaged, and they are yet to report on the worst offences.
‘Since 2009 I have overseen 10 audits on State Forests on the far north coast. We are still waiting for the EPA to complete their investigation of Cherry Tree State Forest, and four months later to even visit the breaches we identified in Sugarloaf SF’ Mr Pugh said.
‘Over six years (2009-2015) my occasional audits of a very small percentage of logging operations on public lands have resulted in the EPA or Fisheries NSW initiating one botched prosecution, issuing 12 penalty notices, 68 warnings or cautions for breaches of legal requirements (involving 100s of individual breaches), and identifying numerous other wrong-doings. The Forestry Corporation were made to undertake urgent rehabilitation works to repair eroding stream crossings and tracks in five of the operations.
‘My hope is that by holding the Forestry Corporation to account NEFA have stopped thousands of breaches that would have otherwise occurred. Though regrettably there are still far too many because the EPA’s pathetic responses are not an adequate deterrent.
‘The Lands and Forestry Minister Paul Toole must intervene to stop the Forestry Corporation closing public forests to hide their illegal activities. I challenge him to let me complete our audit of Gibberagee and to show the EPA the breaches we find’ Mr Pugh said