Forestry report slammed by green groups

A coalition of environmental groups has slammed a report from the Southern Cross Group, which proposes $200 million of public money be paid to private property owners to look after native forests on their land.

Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Cate Faehrmann, criticised the payment of incentives under a scheme of self-assessment, saying the proposal delivered no lasting conservation outcomes.

(Landholders) can log, graze and burn their forests and still get paid annuities for it under this plan, she said. Its basically a pay to exploit scheme.

Spokesperson for the North East Forest Alliance, Carmel Flint, said the proposal delivered no clear benefits and she slammed a lack of transparency especially when such large sums of public money were involved.

The environment movement is calling for the introduction of strong rules to control logging on private land in NSW, she said. We have always supported incentive schemes and continue to do so, but only where they are accompanied by strong regulation, apply the highest levels of public accountability and transparency, and deliver lasting conservation outcomes.

Executive officer of the National Parks Association, Andrew Cox, said the Southern Cross Group had tried to position itself as independent and inject some new ideas into the forestry debate.

The truth is, its mostly just an old alliance between the logging industry and foresters pushing for business as usual on private forests in NSW, he said.

However head of the Southern Cross Group, Professor Jerry Vanclay, said while it was true he worked with the forestry industry he was definitely not in its pocket. In fact in 2001 he was part of a task force which convinced the Victorian Government to reduce its timber harvest.

The industry wasnt altogether pleased about that, he said. But I think in the long term they saw reason. I dont want to engage in the debate that were just another industry alliance. Were not.

He said the NSW Government had been bogged down trying to formulate workable regulation of private native forestry for almost 10 years.

Weve had nearly a decade trying to implement big stick legislation, so what were saying is maybe the way forward is less big stick and offer some carrot, he said. Were proposing that landholders doing the right thing would earn a couple of dollars per hectare every year.

He said the groups proposal relied on self-assessment to make sure the $200 million of incentives were not burnt up by bureaucracy. It was a large amount of public money, but spread over 8.5 million hectares, he said.

If were going to get a government auditor to walk over all of that forest, theres not going to be anything left for incentives, he said. However there would need to be a very big stick for anyone rorting the system.

He said it was difficult to guarantee a benefit from the proposal.

But its impossible for me to imagine there wouldnt be a benefit, he said. If we tell farmers we are prepared to pay for good native forests on their land, they will look after their forests more carefully. If were paying them to report the existence of threatened plants and animals, then they will report them.

Professor Vanclay said there had been inappropriate timber harvesting on some private land and heavy logging often took place when forests changed hands by both new and old owners.

But I think we need to be careful not to blow that out of proportion, he said. A lot of native forests have been held by families or individuals for long periods of time and carefully looked after. Its a case of a few rotten apples in the case, but it doesnt mean the whole case is bad.

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