'Damning assessment': Govt ignored internal logging advice
LEAKED documents have revealed the Berejiklian Government ignored advice from its environment officers in approving new logging laws, including warnings about reduced koala protection.
Ahead of the NSW Government signing-off on proposed 20-year extensions to controversial Regional Forest Agreements, documents obtained under freedom of information laws show deep concerns within the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) about the impact of the new laws on protected old-growth, rainforest and koalas.
One OEH concern was the effect on the state's Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) reserve system set aside in 1999 to protect old-growth forest considered to have high conservation value.
The proposed changes to the rules, which are called draft Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA), are "expected to significantly compromise the CAR reserve system over time", the OEH said in their submission, acquired by the North East Forest Alliance.
The submission said many of the Expert Fauna Panel's recommendations for threatened species need to be revisited and the National Parks Association (NPA) and NEFA are calling for the government to scrap the new laws and chart an exit out of native forest logging.
"The documents show that a keystone of Premier Berejiklian's draconian changes to the logging rules for public forests is that some 58,600 ha of High Conservation Value Oldgrowth and 50,600 ha of rainforest in north-east NSW may be made available for logging", Dailan Pugh of the North East Forest Alliance said.
"These forests were protected over 20 years ago as part of NSW's reserve system because they are the best and most intact forest remnants left on state forests. As logging intensity has increased around them their environmental importance has escalated."
Dr Oisín Sweeney, Senior Ecologist with the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) said it was "no wonder the public is sick of native forest logging and that it has lost its social license".
"Here we have clear warnings from OEH that more koalas will die and more koala habitat will be lost. Yet the government's determined to plough on regardless," he said.
"It's past time the federal government intervened to stop NSW knowingly driving koalas further towards extinction."
The OEH submission further revealed an apparent a reduction in protections offered to koalas under the Draft Coastal IFOA and they found the scientific basis for proposed tree retention rates in the Draft Coastal IFOA unclear - with rates less than half those originally proposed by the Expert Fauna Panel.
"In our experience, the proposed minimum tree retention size of 20cm dbh will be inadequate to support koala populations and should be increased to a minimum of 30cm dbh," the submission said.
"Koalas require large areas of connected habitat for long‐term viability. The increased logging intensity proposed under the draft Coastal IFOA is expected to impact koalas through diminished feed and shelter tree resources. Animals will need to spend more time traversing the ground as they move between suitable trees that remain, which is likely to increase koala mortality."
"Koala numbers are plummeting in NSW," Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said.
"They fell an estimated 33 per cent from 31,400 to 21,000 in the two decades from 1990-2010, and their numbers are continuing to decline in most parts of the state.
"These ads are shocking but not as shocking as the truth about deforestation and the death of koalas across NSW,"
"Deforestation rates have escalated in NSW and Eastern Australia is now a global deforestation hotspot. We need new laws to turn this around.
"We want people to understand that koalas face extinction unless we stop destroying their homes, which means ending deforestation and the bulldozing of habitat."
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the Coastal IFOA replaces 20-year-old, ineffective and out-of-date approvals, that were difficult to enforce.
"It secures the future for sustainable forestry operations with increased environmental protections plus penalties for compliance breaches," Minister Upton said.
"Koala protections apply to double the area they used to in northern NSW. The NSW Government carefully considered all feedback received on the draft Coastal IFOA and made several improvements in response.
"The Government is investing in a detailed monitoring program which will ensure the IFOA is meeting its objectives to maintain environmental values."
The new rules mean:
- For the first time areas will be set aside in every forestry operation to protect plants and animals
- There are now twice as many areas where koala protections apply in northern NSW
- All giant trees are protected for the first time including, black butt and alpine ash trees with a diameter of 160 cm or more at stump height, and all other trees with a diameter of 140 cm diameter or more at stump height
- On-the-spot fines for breaches increase from $1100 to $15,000 and maximum penalties are up from $110,000 to $2 million
- An intentional breach that causes significant environmental harm can now lead to a penalty as high as $5 million.