Penalty call for illegal logging

THE State Environment Department must come down hard on Forests NSW for allegedly damaging threatened species habitats in the Doubleduke State Forest near Evans Head, local environmentalist Dailan Pugh has said.

The department yesterday confirmed it was investigating allegations Forests NSW, which is part of the Department of Primary Industries, had illegally logged 20 protected trees in the forest.

The allegations were made by the North East Forest Alliance after an independent audit found ‘systemic' breaches in one of the areas of Doubleduke State Forest the department was licensed to harvest.

Mr Pugh, the alliance's spokesman, said the audit found Forests NSW had breached 20 licence conditions intended to protect threatened and endangered species and had cut down 20 trees in an endangered ‘ecological community'.

He said Forests NSW had also breached rules requiring it to mark trees and areas that needed to be protected during logging.

Mr Pugh, who in 2003 was awarded an Order of Australia for his work on forest conservation, said the environment department ought to throw the book at Forests NSW.

“The maximum penalty for the first offence is $220,000 and up to two years jail, with an additional $11,000 for each of the 20 trees illegally logged,” Mr Pugh said.

“The second offence also carries a fine of $110,000 and up to one year's jail.”

Mr Pugh was particularly concerned about a previous case in the Yabbra State Forest this year where Forests NSW breached similar laws but was fined only $1200 by the environment department.

“If (the department) let them off this time with a slap on the wrist it will send an appalling message to the community that it is okay to flout environmental laws and not only trash rainforest, wetlands and creek banks as was found at Yabbra, but now also endangered ecological communities,” he said.

“DECCW desperately need to apply the maximum fines so that they can fund competent and comprehensive audits.”

A spokeswoman for the environment department declined to go into details but confirmed it was investigating allegations raised about Forests NSW on June 21.

The spokeswoman said the department had audited another section of the forest in early June but not the area highlighted by the North East Forest Alliance.

Forests NSW did not return a call yesterday but denied any wrongdoing when the alliance first raised its concerns.

At the time a spokesman for Forests NSW said the Department was logging in two ‘compartments' within the forest, but was leaving 60 per cent of that area alone.

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