NEFA activist John Corkill in the Yabbra State Forest west of Bonalbo.
NEFA activist John Corkill in the Yabbra State Forest west of Bonalbo.

Forests NSW only sees wood

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) is calling on the NSW Environment Minister Frank Sartor to prosecute Forests NSW for illegally logging in native forests.

NEFA members recently conducted an audit of logging in Yabbra State Forest, west of Bonalbo, where they say they discovered breaches of more than 50 statutory licence conditions and four Acts of Parliament.

The audit, undertaken by NEFA members Dailan Pugh and John Corkill, with the assistance of zoologists and botanists, has led to the compilation of a detailed complaint and calls for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water to prosecute.

“Forests NSW has systematically failed to identify, and protect from logging, buffer areas required along streams to limit pollution, the trees meant to be retained as critical food resources for koalas and yellow-bellied gliders, and the habitat needed to be protected for the endangered black-striped wallaby,” Mr Pugh said. “That area of forest is one of the black-striped wallaby’s strongholds in the state and Forests NSW are required to retain 50% of the canopy trees and minimise damage to the understorey. However, when we visited, Forests NSW had obliterated much of the understorey with an intense hot burn, so now there’s inadequate areas for feeding and refuge for those wallabies.”

Mr Pugh said in many cases Forests NSW had claimed it could not find certain signs of animals or flora that NEFA had easily discovered.

“Forests NSW identified 32 records of yellow-bellied gliders in a pre-logging survey and they are then meant to go through the forest and identify the den trees the gliders sleep and nest in, and protect 50 metres of habitat around them,” Mr Pugh explained. “Forests NSW didn’t map even one in their Harvesting Plan yet there is absolutely no doubt that there were numerous den trees on the site.

“They are also meant to find and identify glider feed trees for protection. We found 11 in a very short period of time but apparently they didn’t find any. Either they didn’t look or they didn’t have anyone good enough looking.”

Mr Pugh said NEFA undertook the audit in October/November after a complaint by a concerned member of the public. He said one of the most worrying aspects of Forests NSW’s operations was logging in areas already degraded by bell miner dieback.

“The removal of the remaining healthy trees from large areas of sick forests affected by dieback resulting from previous logging and climate change is of particular concern. This plunder of the few healthy trees is a death sentence for these already stressed forests – all we will see growing back is huge seas of lantana and nothing else,” Mr Pugh said. “When we need our forests more than ever to sequester carbon out of our atmosphere it is reprehensible that we are effectively killing them and releasing their stored carbon. This single act of vandalism has counteracted years of tree planting in this region.

“It is not only not good practice, it is not allowed.”

NEFA has now forwarded the audit report to the responsible NSW ministers, and is calling on Mr Sartor to prosecute Forests NSW for breaching the Threatened Species Licence and Environmental Protection Licence.

Activist John Corkill said NEFA was formed in Lismore in 1989 to increase the area of forests protected in reserves and to combat unsustainable forestry operations. He said if the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water did not enforce its licences, a culture of non-compliance would continue to grow.

“In 1990 we proved in the Land and Environment Court that the then Forestry Commission could not be trusted to observe its statutory duties and log only according to the law. This audit shows that 20 years later Forests NSW has learnt nothing, and still cannot be trusted,” Mr Corkill said. “In 1998 the NSW Labor Government took away our legal rights to enforce environmental laws, telling us that the responsible government agencies would do so. Regrettably, they haven’t honoured this commitment.”

Minister Sartor’s office did not respond to The Echo’s questions before going to press.

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