Bob Debus visits clearfells

Former NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus and NEFA, call on the Premier to stop Forestry Corporation’s illegal clearfelling practices following a site visit today near Port Macquarie.

Former NSW Environment Minister Bob Debus has slammed the current NSW Government for overseeing wholesale destruction of the State's public native forests. Mr Debus today took a tour of forests around Port Macquarie with members of the North East Forest Alliance.

“The below image shows the reality of what Forestry Corporation (FC) is doing to public native forests on the North Coast. It is wholesale destruction of forests and all the forest dependent fauna and flora that existed in them. FC call it Single Tree Selection. We call it what it really is… clear felling. It’s illegal and the community wants the Premier to step in and halt the destruction immediately,” said NEFA spokesperson Susie Russell.


 Lorne State Forest - Part of a clearfelled area logged March to August 2017 (Photo September 11, 2017 Lyn Orrego)

It beggars belief that the Forestry Corporation has got away with this for the last decade. It's vandalism pure and simple. The succession of Coalition Environment Ministers has clearly been unable or unwilling to stand up to their National counterparts who always hold the Forestry portfolio,” Mr Debus said.

 I have to acknowledge that the Forestry Corporation must have mislead the Government back in the 90's when it claimed it could carry out Single Tree Selection and Australian Group Selection and meet wood commitments. And it would seem they've been pulling the wool over the everyone's eyes if this type of logging is called forestry. It's clearing and there’s no scientific justification for it, he said.

 In fact the Ministerial Inquiry in 1996 was quite adamant that broadscale clearfelling was completely inappropriate for northern NSW forests and that it needed to be low intensity selection logging techniques where less than 35% of the canopy was removed.

 These forests around Port Macquarie were once full of some of the biggest trees in the State. Poets like Henry Kendall marvelled at them. It is tragic to see what the last decade of clearing has done. It looks green when you fly over it, but on closer inspection it's just very young saplings, much of it weed-infested and much more fire prone.

 I am astounded to hear that the NSW Government is planning on introducing Forestry legislation to legitimise this practice. The NSW Environment Minister needs to come and have a look for herself.

What is happening in the forests is similar to what is happening with water, the public resource is being squandered and the Government has been caught out. It has been the same with the reintroduction of broadscale landclearing – the Government's response to breaches of environmental law, has been to make the action legal. They seem to have no sense that this is the heritage of future generations that is being destroyed,” Bob Debus said.

 A quick trip around north east NSW State Forests on Google Earth and using the history button reveals the tatters that this practice is making of huge swathes of native forest and their disappearing canopies. Freedom of Information documents received this year, from FC themselves, document that 74,906 hectares from Coffs Harbour to Taree have been logged far more intensively than the rules allow over the last 10 years. This extensive illegal logging is devaluing the public native forest estate to the point where these areas are now treated as plantations and can no longer provide habitat to our many threatened, forest dependent Aussie animals, such as the koala. Unbelievably, they are likely to continue to be clear felled at short intervals,” said Lyn Orrego of NEFA.

The type of logging they are allowed to do is called Single Tree Selection’ where no more than 4 out of every 10 trees are allowed to be selected for logging. Instead they are taking 8 or 9 trees out of every 10 and claiming it's not clearfelling because a few scattered trees remain in a bulldozed landscape,(see Brifing note below)” she said.

 “Clearfelling eliminates arboreal mammals from the logged area”. That’s the finding of a Forestry Commission of NSW research report (1) 1980, into the impacts of the Eden clearfell practices which are now being applied in NSW. Greater Gliders, Yellow-bellied gliders, Stephen’s Banded snakes, large forest owls, Koalas and many other threatened species cannot survive without older trees let alone without any trees. It’s not rocket science to see that when habitat goes, so do the animals relying on that habitat,” she said.

 “Even small clearfelled patches or gaps reduce biodiversity by twice the amount as selective logging. This was revealed in a report (2) which also stated the north eastern forests of NSW have the richest faunal diversity outside the wet tropics. Yet some of the clearfelled areas are up to 380ha in size. (3),” said Ms Orrego

 The number of koalas on the east coast of Australia declined by more than 40 per cent in the 20 years between 1990 and 2010. (4) And on the north coast the koalas populations have crashed by 50%.(5) This is a shocking state of affairs. Most of the clearfelled area pictured below in Lorne State Forest was High or Very High Koala habitat. (see map below), ” said NEFA member, Paula Flack.

“According to ecologist David Milledge, “Clearfelling has a substantial adverse effect on biodiversity, reducing forest structure and floristics and severely disadvantaging forest-dependent vertebrate species requiring tree hollows for nesting and denning, and nectar, pollen and exudates for food. This is evidenced by the high proportion of such species listed as threatened under the Threatened Species Conservation (TSC) Act 1995. The practice is likely to lead to breakdowns in ecosystem functioning and an attendant exacerbation of Key Threatening Processes (TSC Act 1995) including the Invasion, Establishment and Spread of Lantana and Bell Miner Associated Dieback.”(6)

“We will not stand by and witness this unprecedented native forest destruction by an industry desperate to fill its overcommitted wood supply agreements.,” said Ms Flack.

We’re calling on the Premier to halt this destruction and call Forestry Corporation to account. This illegal carnage and smoke and mirrors deception by FC must stop. FC’s own silvicultural manual states clearfelling “is not practiced in NSW forests” (p 18)… but the NSW public should know it most certainly is and that its forest estate and all the values it contains are disappearing like never before,“ she said.

We’re also asking anyone who cares to write to the Premier expressing their view that it is time to transition out of public native forest logging and into sourcing timber only from well managed and legitimate plantations. Plantations already supply 86% of the timber that NSW needs,” said Ms Russell.


 (1) Recher, H. F., Rohan-Jones, W. & Smith, P. Effects of the Eden woodchip industry on terrestrial vertebrates with recommendations for management, <> (1980).

(2) Gaps and Clusters Silviculture: How well does it balance wood production and biodiversity conservation? A Report by the Review Panel to the Ministerial Committee established to review the principles and application of the Gaps and Clusters technique: Peter Attiwill, Mark Burgman, Andrew Smith

(3) Clearing Koalas Away Report by D. Pugh at

(4) McAlpine, C, Melzer, A, Lunney, D, Foley, B, Adams-Hosking, C, Lawler, I, Whisson, D, Phillips, S, Kavanagh, R, Baxter, G, Gordon, G, et al. (2014). Working Group Workshop - Conserving koalas in the 21st century: synthesising the dynamics of Australia's koala populations. Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

(5) Koala populations in NSW and Queensland fell 42% from 326,400 to 188,000 (a loss of 138,400 individuals) in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010. On current trends, koalas will be extinct in the wild in NSW by 2030. Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, predation (dogs and vehicle strike), disease, drought, climate change, and inbreeding are keys threats.

(6) Brief report on a field inspection to demonstrate proposed changes to IFOA prescriptions designed to protect threatened species and their habitats during forestry operations, Compartment 10, Queens Lake State Forest, 30 June 2015 David Milledge July 2015 and pers comm.



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