The State government’s own report warns that there is a risk of ‘serious and irreversible harm to the environmental values of the State’s public forests from the combined impacts of the 21019–20 fires and ongoing unsustainable logging. Yet the NSW Forestry Minister, Dugald Saunders, is currently in the process of negotiating the extension of north coast logging contracts. This is prior to the government responding to its own report and while the Inquiry into the long-term sustainability and future of the timber and forest products industry is underway with hearings at Coffs Harbour held last week.
Independent NSW MP, Justin Field, who is a member of the Parliamentary Inquiry, is calling on Minister Saunders and the Forestry Corporation to ‘press pause’ on the negotiations until the Government has responded to this important report and there is more certainty about the wood supply affects of the fires.
This is supported by recent research by the Australian National University that has found logging native forests increases the risk of catastrophic bushfires. The study’s authors warn that logging is not just increasing the risk of severe fires, but also the risk to human lives and safety.
According to the lead author Professor David Lindenmayer, ‘Logging increases the probability of canopy damage by five to 20 per cent and leads to long-term elevated risk of higher severity fire. On the other hand, if disturbance due to logging is minimised, canopy damage can be reduced, in turn reducing the risk of uncontrollable fires.’
Nature Conservation Council Organiser, Wilson Harris said, ‘The arguments in support of ending native forest logging keep mounting. We already know that local economies and wildlife stand to benefit enormously by ending native forest logging. This research confirms earlier studies that show recently logged forests pose a huge risk of intense fires that sweep through the canopy. This is quite contrary to what many people might expect, but it has now been confirmed by several scientific studies.
‘The message is quite clear – ending native forest logging will reduce risks to life and property, as well as, to koalas and other wildlife.
MP Justin Field has said that there needs to be ‘an honest discussion about the future of the timber industry on the North Coast and the future of our forests’.
‘Recent Budget Estimates hearings revealed Forestry Corporation was negotiating a five year extension of wood supply contracts on the North Coast despite the fact the NSW Government is yet to respond to a major report recommending substantial changes to logging rules to mitigate the impact of the 2019–20 fires including a moratorium on logging in some forest areas,’ said Mr Fields in a press release.
‘Despite the significance of the report, the NSW Government has continued to refuse to explain how the risks identified in the report will be managed and Forestry Corporation has continued logging in areas described as facing “extreme” and “high” risk. It is continuing to negotiate to extend existing contracts at pre-fire levels for another five years to 2028 despite evidence logging at those levels would be unsustainable.
‘Forestry Corporation are currently planning to log in high risk areas under pre-fire rules that have been shown to be totally inadequate at Ellis, Wild Cattle Creek, and Clouds Creek State Forests. Those plans should be put on hold until the government responds to the report.
‘Industry needs certainty about their future, but there is no certainty in signing up to contracts that Forestry Corporation cannot deliver and that our forests cannot sustain.
‘More than ever we need clear-eyed planning for our forests and the timber industry.’