Environmentalists organise against new NSW logging proposals

Dieback caused by overlogging the north-east forests.

The North Coast Environment Council (NCEC) has accused the NSW government of trying to keep the public in the dark about its proposals for logging on public land. The proposals include opening state forests to increased logging, zoning 140,000 hectares for clearfelling, removing the need to look for and protect most threatened species before logging, reducing stream buffers and allowing logging in old growth forest.

NCEC vice president Susie Russell said: “The government is trying to hide their intent by holding no public consultations. So the NCEC, North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) and local conservation groups are collaborating in organising public meetings across the region to explain what is proposed to interested community members.”

The Draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval was released on May 15 for public consultation and sets the rules for how forestry operations can be carried out in native forests on public land in NSW. Public consultation will run for six weeks and submissions close on June 29.

The conservation groups will hold public meetings in Port Macquarie, Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Kyogle, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah and Nimbin.

Russell said: “While the government has documents open for comment, we know the destructive outcomes are already pre-determined. Conservationists were explicitly barred from being able to provide information or comment to the Natural Resources Commission during the drafting phase. And now, unlike the fanfare about the koala strategy a few weeks ago, there is minimum publicity being sought by government ministers about the weakening of the logging rules.”

The public meetings come as state agencies, including representatives of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), cancelled a prearranged inspection of state forests along the Richmond Range. NEFA said it had arranged the field trip to show bureaucrats “the dire consequences that their new logging rules will have for logging dieback, koalas, logging intensity and old growth forests”.

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said: “I had suggested that NEFA could take them on a forest inspection [on May 28] so they could see for themselves how devastating the current logging is and how much worse their new rules will be in reality. I considered it particularly important that the representatives from the Premier’s Department, Natural Resources Commission and Commonwealth see what is going on in the real world.

“We were to go to Richmond Range State Forest to see how it is being ravaged by dieback after logging, Royal Camp State Forest to see how the new rules would devastate the most important koala colony left on public land in the Richmond catchment and to Banyabba State Forest so that they could appreciate the beauty and importance of old growth forests that they are about to assign to the chopping block.

“But on [May 25] the EPA rang me to tell me that it had been decided to cancel the site inspection because some members of their group ‘didn’t think it complied with their intended consultation’. It is obvious that the Forestry Corporation didn’t want the Premier’s Department and the NRC to see the reality of what their decisions on the logging rules mean.”

NSW Greens Forest spokesperson Dawn Walker joined the call for the government to meet with environment groups and visit the state forests that will be impacted by its new proposed policy.

“It’s clear the Liberal-Nationals are continually crippling the EPA, creating a situation where the body that is supposed to regulate forestry operations in NSW is virtually incapacitated to fulfil one of its core functions,” she said.

“Instead of actually seeing what’s going on in our forests, it’s clear that the NSW government wants to continue with their sham consultation process, which is little more than a sales pitch for intensifying logging in our state forests.

“The cancellation of this forest inspection with NEFA is the latest example of the government undermining of our environmental regulator and comes on the back of the EPA recently being stripped of Private Native Forestry regulation in favour of Local Land Services, who are unlikely to even carry out inspections.”

The NCEC fears that if the proposed rules are implemented, water yields on the north coast will drop as intensive logging dries out the catchments. There will be increased erosion and sedimentation of streams from decreased stream buffers. Since there will no longer be a requirement to look for native animals and plants prior to logging, many will become extinct sooner than if they had retained their habitat.

The carbon storage capacity of the forests will be greatly diminished as logging intensity increases and the dense, young regrowth is more flammable than the mature forests it replaces.

Russell said: “All this comes at a time when climate change is accelerating and the planet's temperature is rising. We need to be protecting our future by maximising the shade, natural water and carbon storage, while connecting habitats to enable animals to move to more suitable areas.

“As well, our earlier prediction that areas of forest that have been off-limits to logging for the past 20 years will now be logged was correct. Areas of old growth, stream protection buffers, high-quality koala habitat are to be sacrificed to meet wood contracts.

“The logging industry is now engaged in a last gasp hunt for the few remaining bigger trees. Most of the smaller logs it has to clear to get to them, are used for fuel in wood-fired power stations, rather than pulp for paper.

“When it comes to forestry in NSW and across Australia, we are going backwards. We are seeing more intensive logging for lesser value products. This is the modern equivalent of whaling. Government is well and truly in their pocket. Only a social movement will stop them.”

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