Forest dieback review 'urgent'

Forest dieback in Toonumbar National Park, a former State Forest, north-west of Kyogle. Photo: Jon Armstrong.

Northern Rivers environment groups have called for an urgent public review of forest dieback, which they say is spreading at an alarming rate through local forests.

North East Forest Alliance co-ordinator and director of the Rainforest Information Centre, Ruth Rosenhek, said the NSW Government needed to place an immediate moratorium on logging of all public forests affected by or at risk of dieback.

If the government doesnt take action now it may well prejudice the long-term survival of the forests themselves, she said.

Ms Rosenheks call follows a tour of the Ewingar State Forest by representatives from the Nimbin Environment Centre, the Rainforest Information Centre, the North East Forest Alliance, concerned locals and representatives of Forests NSW.

The environmentalists were alarmed by what they saw.

Forest dieback, or tree decline, involves the death of large numbers of trees across the landscape, Ms Rosenhek explained. The tour of recently logged forests in Ewingar State Forest confirmed that dieback is now spreading rapidly. It was particularly distressing to see that dieback had now spread to previously healthy forests and buffers.

This form of dieback is known as Bell Miner Associated Dieback and is caused by attacks on trees by sap-sucking insects called psyllids. Ruth says the psyllids thrive in disturbed environments, such as logged areas. Bell birds then increase in number, feeding on the sugary substance the psyllids coat themselves with, and stop other species eating the insects.

Ms Rosenhek said dieback had major implications for the environment and the economy.

It is extremely dangerous and potentially irreversible, and it seems that intensive logging of state forests is contributing to its spread. Therefore, we are astonished that the NSW Government still seems to have its head firmly buried in the sand on this issue, she said. The NSW Government is required to conduct a five-yearly public review of its forest policies, including the Regional Forest Agreement that was signed in 2000. However, these reviews are now all well overdue despite the grave new threat that dieback represents.

Woo Wei Richards from the North East Forest Alliance, who is also a member of the Bell Miner Associated Dieback Working Group, said dieback often occurs where there is overly dense ground storeys such as lantana or regrowth caused by significant disturbance. The Bell Miner Associated Dieback Working Group is now conducting trials to prevent and control its spread, including the removal of lantana by bulldozer, chemical treatment and burning.

Ms Richards said local trials were promising, but logging by Forests NSW is likely to continue exacerbating the problem.

The timber quotas Forests NSW must meet mean these forests are being disturbed beyond their recovery capacity. And stressed trees attract the psyllids, said Ms Richards. If harvesting doesnt stop in these at-risk forests our children will inherit seas of lantana with the occasional dead tree where once were forests.

The Bell Miner Associated Dieback Working Group has a website with more information. Visit www.bmad.com.au.


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