A LOGGING operation in Royal Camp State Forest near Casino has been suspended, pending investigations by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) into harvesting in a high-use koala habitat.
Last weekend the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) and David Milledge, an independent wildlife consultant, claimed evidence of a high-density koala population in forest compartments being logged for high quality timber.
Dean Kearney, Forests NSW north east planning manager, said that the surveys done by NEFA and Mr Milledge had been in areas well in advance of logging operations.
"I suspect they were looking in an area we haven't marked up yet," he said. "Given that we received a lot of information very quickly it's hard to verify where the trees are."
But Dailan Pugh, spokesmen for NEFA, said that Forests NSW was clearly logging in a high-density koala population area and that it had not been marked as required.
"One was logged, one was about to be logged, they'd already surveyed it and there were no trees marked for koalas. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever and for them to say otherwise is an outright lie," he said.
"One area we found was exceptional. All the trees had 20 or more scats (koala droppings), which indicates a high-use area. There was evidence of mothers and babies and big males and they had logging trails going between feed trees.
"At least 300 metres in advance of logging they're required to do advance surveys. It was obvious they'd not done the required mark-up."
Mr Kearney said an area of some three hectares had been set aside as a high-use koala habitat. But Mr David Milledge, an independent environmental assessor from Landmark Ecological Services, said three hectares was insufficient for a healthy koala population.
"They have home ranges varying from a few hectares up to ten hectares, so if there's a group of them it could be quite large - up to 30 or 40 hectares," he said.
"There are requirements that Forests NSW make proper searches and if they find high-use areas that they have to put a 20 metre buffer zone around them. So it can amount to quite a large area."
Mr Kearney said he expected that the EPA's findings would exonerate Forests NSW and that harvest operations would re-commence by the end of the week.
Lawrence Orel from the EPA said that they were following up on NEFA's allegations but their investigations were not yet complete.
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