by David Brazil
SYDNEY — The court battle to save the Chaelundi State Forest, near Dorrigo, NSW, ended on September 25. Upholding a "common sense" interpretation of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, Justice Stein of the Land and Environment Court found the NSW Forestry Commission's logging and roading proposals would disturb or injure 23 species of endangered or protected animals.
Justice Stein was highly critical of the commission for failing to act on the advice of the Parks Service.
John Corkill of the North East Forest Alliance brought the case, calling for a permanent protection order, after the commission's Environmental Impact Study for the area failed to take into consideration possible effects on endangered species.
The area has the highest known concentration of arboreal mammals in NSW. Justice Stein described it as "a veritable forest-dependent zoo, probably unparalleled in south-eastern Australia".
Prior to the court case, Premier Nick Greiner publicly stated his support for the process in which the Forestry Commission produces the EIS and then makes a decision on its own project.
Keith Muir, spokesperson for the Total Environment Centre, described the decision as a "turning point in the campaign to save the remains of NSW's old growth forest". He told Green Left it would "encourage and promote interest and assessment of areas that do contain endangered species.
"State forests are supposed to be managed to provide recreational facilities, flora preserves and sustainable yield forest industries. The Forestry Commission has decided to ignore all this and 'mine' the old growth forests for quick profits."
The NSW forestry commissioner, Dr Hans Dreilsma, reacted to the decision by trying to pressure the Greiner cabinet to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act. In a letter to senior officers, Dreilsma warned of "an imminent shutdown of all forestry activities".
This claim was condemned by environmentalists as an attempt to place the blame for the effects of timber industry mismanagement and unsustainable logging practices on the conservation movement. Dailan Pugh, spokesperson for the North East Forests Alliance, described the claims as "desperate scare tactics designed to create a political climate conducive to forcing an unnecessary change in the law".
When Democrat MLC Richard Jones put a question without notice asking the government to reaffirm a previous commitment that the Forestry Commission would not be exempted from the provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, the government evaded the question.
The Conservation Council of Canberra and the South East Region has written to Greiner, urging him to resist pressure from the timber . On behalf of the Conservation Council, which has 41 member organisations representing about 21,000 individuals, Sid Walker and Jaqui Rees urged Greiner to "abandon any thought of changing the NPWA".
Walker and Rees pointed out that the Forestry Commission could not be trusted to protect endangered species, as evidenced by its determination to log the contentious compartments in Chaelundi.
While obviously elated by the decision to suspend logging, Corkill told Green Left that NEFA will continue to push for wilderness nomination for the entire area. "We can only relax when this forest and its dependent animal life are protected for all time in the Guy Fawkes River Wilderness Area", he said.