The devastation on people, forests, and animals of the recent bushfires season cannot be overstated. The question is why can’t the NSW state government see this and take the right action on preserving the future forests for the people of NSW?
While they have been praised for finally cancelling the remapping of old growth forests to facilitate future logging it should not have taken the unprecedented burning of native forests to achieve this.
‘Logging protected old growth forests should never have been on the table and it is disappointing that it took devastating bushfires which affected over 60 per cent of these protected old growth areas to see this process stopped,’ said Independent NSW MP Justin Field.
The decision to cancel the old growth remapping process was announced yesterday by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) who determined that the project could no longer be implemented, largely as a result of over 60 per cent of old growth forests on the North Coast being severely impacted by last season’s bushfires.
Industry already compensated
North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh pointed out that, ‘We fought for 20 years to get old growth forests mapped and protected as part of the national reserve system in 1998. It was disgraceful that this government was intending to log these hard won reserves after millions of dollars had been paid in compensation to the industry.
‘The 2019–20 fires burnt 62 per cent of the 1.7million hectares of old growth forest left in north-east NSW. While most old growth forests will recover over time, many large old trees have been burnt down.’
Bushfire impact still being assessed
According to Greens MP and spokesperson for the environment Cate Faehrmann the NSW government must go further and declare a moratorium on native forests logging while post-fire threatened species assessments are still underway.
‘While this is great news, the report that led to the Government to suspend the remapping program found that over 100,000 hectares of old growth forest was burnt. This is extremely concerning and should be the catalyst for the Government to declare a moratorium on logging in public native forests,’ said Ms Faehrmann.
‘This assessment by the NRC should confirm to the government that we’ve lost significant areas of irreplaceable forest including threatened species habitat and it cannot, in good conscience, continue to allow logging in native forests during this early post-fire recovery period.
‘There is still extensive work being undertaken to assess the loss to our national parks, forests and wildlife, including threatened species and their habitat, as a result of the devastating bushfires.
‘If the government now accepts the need to preserve Old Growth Forest as a result of this bushfire season then it must also accept the need to pause logging operations while other critical assessments are undertaken.
‘Given our public native forests are operating at a loss, I cannot see how any independent assessment could justify their continued logging, particularly for low grade products such as paper when so much wildlife and threatened species habitat were lost in the fires.’
Major habitat loss
According to NEFA there has been a significant loss of the large old growth trees and the essential hollows they provide for a plethora of our native wildlife across the forest.
‘In NSW at least 174 native species (46 mammals, 81 birds, 31 reptiles and 16 frogs) are reliant on tree hollows for shelter and nests, and many more are reliant upon the abundant nectar provided by older trees,’ said Mr Pugh.
‘Over 2.4 million hectares of north-east NSW’s forests were burnt in the 2019–20 fires, including 59 per cent of national parks, and over half the burnt forests suffered full or partial canopy loss.
‘Over 350 million animals were killed. Given the scale of this wildlife tragedy it is essential for the NSW Government to reconsider continued logging of public lands.
‘Most importantly, with the loss of so many large hollow-bearing trees across north-east NSW, both in old growth and other forests, we call upon the NSW government to immediately stop logging all trees over 80cm diameter across State Forests as homes, and potential homes, for hollow-dependent wildlife.
‘The old growth remapping was based on“an estimated shortfall of 7,600 to 8,600 cubic metres of high quality timber per year” before the fires, and numerous fire and drought affected trees have since died, so it is essential that there is an independent reappraisal of resources and an immediate reduction in logging using the “force majeure” clauses of the Wood Supply Agreements,’ said Mr Pugh.
EPA assessment questioned
The fact that the NSW Forestry Corporation has been allowed to recommence logging at near pre-fire rates in 65 state forests areas has also been questioned by Mr Fields.
‘There remains serious questions about the adequacy of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) approval process for these bushfire affected logging sites and how the fires have affected wood supply forecasts into the future,’ says Mr Fields.
‘No new bushfire affected logging approvals should be granted until the Natural Resources Commission has undertaken this wood supply assessment and the EPA can demonstrate no negative impacts of wildlife and forest recovery.’