The Environment Protection Authority have confirmed NEFA's complaint that the Forestry Corporation committed hundreds of breaches of environmental laws when logging in Cherry Tree State Forest in 2015, though all they have done is issue 'official cautions' to these serial offenders.
NEFA co-ordinator and Audit-author Dailan Pugh, said that the EPA have identified 66 instances of non-compliance with logging laws, though this belies the fact that a single "non-compliance" can represent 100s of actual breaches.
"From the EPA's figures, some 325 ancient hollow-bearing trees were illegally logged, though the EPA only count this as one act of non-compliance.
"While this is the most comprehensive investigation of our complaints that the EPA have yet undertaken, they still failed to investigate numerous complaints, For example we identified that 26 vulnerable Onion Cedars had an illegal road constructed within their buffers, but the EPA only checked 8 of them. Similarly of the 11 poorly drained and eroding tracks we reported the EPA only checked 9.
"There were also numerous offences relating to Koalas, Yellow-bellied Gliders and Black-striped Wallabies that the EPA confirmed but claim they couldn't legally prove.
"We have been finding similar breaches in all the audits we have been undertaking year after year after year. Yet the EPA's only response is to issue 47 more "official cautions" and require yet more "action plans". These pathetic responses have been proven to be useless. The Forestry Corporation continue to deny they do anything wrong and continue to go on illegally logging.
"The EPA are still yet to complete their investigations into 8 cases of illegal roading and logging of the Endangered Ecological Community Lowland Rainforest, and hundreds of cases of the Forestry Corporation recklessly damaging retained hollow-bearing trees.
"They say that these serious offences are subject to an ongoing investigation. We can only hope that next time the punishment will match the crime" Mr. Pugh said.
Cherry Tree SF is on the Richmond Range 29 km west of Casino, adjoining Mallanganee National Park in one of Australia's 15 recognised biodiversity hotspots: ‘Border Ranges North and South'.
In March 2015 NEFA first complained to the Minister for the Environment that laws relating to protection of the threatened Onion Cedar, rainforest, oldgrowth trees, and soil erosion were being broken in Cherry Tree State Forest.
For 6 months while logging was underway we continued to bring illegal logging to the attention of the Environment Minister and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in a vain attempt to get them to stop it occurring.
After logging stopped, on 14 December 2015 we presented the comprehensive Cherry Tree Audit Report to the Minister that identified thousands of breaches of logging laws.
NEFA documented breaches of 2 clauses of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 4 clauses of the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, 41 clauses of the Threatened Species Licence, 19 clauses of the Environment Protection Licence and 7 clauses of the Fisheries Licence. NEFA found that in contravention of legal requirements the Forestry Corporation of NSW:
· contravened the objectives and aims of "The Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan", which is the formal national recovery plan covering the area,
· illegally logged and constructed roads through the Endangered Ecological Community 'Lowland Rainforest in the NSW North Coast and Sydney Basin Bioregions',
· failed to have adequately trained persons conduct thorough searches for threatened plants, Koalas and Yellow-bellied Glider feed trees.
· undertook logging and roading within 20m buffers around over 26 vulnerable Onion Cedars, physically damaging at least 4 in the process, and likely killing others,
· failed to search for Koala scats ahead of logging, with forestry operations occurring in the vicinity of Koala high use trees without the needed "star searches" being undertake to identify Koala High Use Areas,
· failed to identify the presence of Yellow-bellied Glider sap-feed trees, and protect them and 15 surrounding feed trees from logging,
· failed to mark the boundary of a Squirrel Glider exclusion area and made numerous logging intrusions into it,
· made over 1,600 breaches of 'hollow-bearing' (H) and 'recruitment' (R) (habitat) tree selection and retention requirements,
· retained trees that did not satisfy requirements as Recruitment (R) trees, with 63% of marked R trees having pre-existing damage, being suppressed, or being too small,
· physically damaged 22% of the marked habitat (H&R) trees in the logging operation, with some 520 habitat trees likely to have suffered significant physical damage,
· left debris around 38% of the marked habitat (H&R) trees, with some 680 habitat trees likely to have had debris left around them,
· failed to construct, and inadequately constructed, cross banks to stop water concentrating on, and eroding, snig-tracks,
· undertook extensive machinery operations within required buffers to drainage depressions and ephemeral waterbodies,
· undertook machinery operations within what were meant to be stream exclusion zones,
· recklessly initiated and aggravated severe lantana infestations and Bell Miner Associated Dieback,
· logged numerous areas in excess of 40% basal area removal limit, and
· constructed log dumps within, and significantly degraded, a visual buffer along Cherry Tree Road, identified as a Cultural Heritage site.