A North Coast environment group has been left reeling after NSW Government bureaucrats unilaterally cancelled an inspection tour of degraded local forests just days before it was due to take place.
The North East Forest Alliance said it was ‘shocked’ that state agencies, including representatives of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), had cancelled a prearranged inspection of State Forests along the Richmond Range.
The group said the field trip would have shown bureaucrats ‘the dire consequences that their new logging rules will have for logging dieback, koalas, logging intensity and oldgrowth forests’.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said that last Wednesday night the EPA rang him to say that a party of bureaucrats responsible for writing the new logging rules had agreed to attend a site inspection scheduled for today (Monday May 28).
Mr Pugh said NEFA had decided to boycott an invitation to attend a consultation meeting in Lismore on Monday over the new logging rules with the EPA, Premier’s Department, Natural Resources Commission, Forestry Corporation, Department of Primary Industries, and a commonwealth representative.
‘Environment groups have had all their representations ignored for the past four years and decided to boycott the government’s sham consultation process so as not to give it false legitimacy,’ he said.
‘I had suggested that as an alternative NEFA could take them on a forest inspection so that they could see for themselves how devastating the current logging is and how much worse their new rules will be in reality. I considered it particularly important that the representatives from the Premier’s Department, Natural Resources Commission and Commonwealth see what is going on in the real world.
‘With the short notice of their acceptance I arranged for a zoologist and a botanist to accompany us and spent until late on Thursday night writing an itinerary and briefing for the EPA.
‘We were to go to Richmond Range State Forest to see how it is being ravished by dieback after logging, Royal Camp State Forest to see how the new rules would devastate the most important koala colony left on public land in the Richmond catchment and to Banyabba State Forest so that they could appreciate the beauty and importance of oldgrowth forests that they are about to assign to the chopping block.
‘After being provided with my briefing, on Friday morning the EPA rang me to tell me that it had been decided to cancel the site inspection because some members of their group “didn’t think it complied with their intended consultation”.
‘It is obvious that the Forestry Corporation didn’t want the Premiers Department and the NRC to see the reality of what their decisions on the logging rules mean, and neither did they.
‘I am shocked that they reneged on this opportunity to engage with us in a meaningful manner so they could understand our concerns. No matter how hard we try they refuse to listen.
‘Instead they are going to hang around doing nothing in Lismore on Monday and meet with the loggers in Grafton on Tuesday. That is what they consider consultation’ Mr. Pugh said.
NSW Greens Forests spokesperson Dawn Walker has joined the call for the government to meet with environment groups and visit the State Forests that will be impacted by its new proposed policy.
Ms Walker described it as ‘alarming’ that the EPA had suddenly cancelled the inspection tour.
‘It’s clear the Liberal-Nationals are continually crippling the EPA, creating a situation where the body that is supposed to regulate forestry operations in NSW is virtually incapacitated to fulfil one of its core functions,’ she said.
‘Instead of actually seeing what’s going on in our forests, it’s clear that the NSW Government wants to continue on with their sham consultation process, which is little more than a sales pitch for intensifying logging in our State Forests.
‘The cancellation of this forest inspection with NEFA is the latest example of the government undermining of our environmental regulator and comes on the back of the EPA recently being stripped of Private Native Forestry regulation in favour of Local Land Services, who are unlikely to even carry out inspections.
‘I’ll be questioning the NSW Government on why the EPA’s planned site inspection with the North East Forest Alliance on Monday was cancelled in Parliament and continuing to pressure them over their destructive logging agenda,’ MS Walker said.
The Draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) was released on 15 May 2018 for public consultation and sets the rules for how forestry operations can be carried out in native forests on public land in NSW.
Public consultation will run for six-weeks and submissions close 29 June 2018.