NEFA have accused the EPA of intentionally misleading the community by claiming that unmapped streams on State forests in the Richmond catchment are not currently required to be protected by 10m buffers.
"NEFA categorically rejects the EPA's claim that unmapped streams on State forests in the Richmond catchment do not have a 10m buffer applied, and stand by our contention that all mapped headwater streams, and most unmapped ones, are currently legally required to have 10 metre buffers applied", NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said
"We maintain that it is environmentally irresponsible for the EPA to halve the protection of headwater streams on State forests in the Richmond catchment from 10 metres to 5 metres and have no doubt that this will result in increased pollution and degradation of the river"
"We are disappointed with the EPA's secrecy surrounding their remake of logging rules, we are shocked by their proposed introduction of widespread clearfelling and reductions in protections for streams and threatened species, though we are disgusted with their misinformation about what they are intending".
Mr. Pugh said "When I let the public know about their proposal to zone 143,000 hectares of public forests between Taree and Grafton for intensive clearfelling, the EPA accused me of being "selective" and "misleading". When I asked them to justify this they first told me it was their "perspective”. It took me three requests before they told me that it was because I had not mentioned that existing exclusion areas within this zone will still be protected, though they claimed to not know how much of the area would be protected. I had neither misrepresented the truth nor tried to mislead anyone.
"So it is outrageous for the EPA to now knowingly mislead the community about the level of protection currently applied to headwater streams in the Richmond catchment so as to again attempt to discredit me. They are trying to muddy the waters while they slash protection for our already severely degraded rivers.
"What we need is an honest authority that will apply the best science and stand up for the environment, rather than a reluctant and ineffective regulator intent on gutting the rules to reward the Forestry Corporation's decades of unlawful activities.
"We reiterate our call for the NSW Environment Minister, Mark Speakman, to do his duty and stop the EPA from knowingly and intentionally allowing increased pollution of our rivers" Mr. Pugh said.
Unmapped streams are those not shown on 1:25,000 topographical maps. They can be quite numerous, particularly in denser forests and steeper country where they were not readily discernable from the aerial photos available decades ago when the streams were mapped. First order streams are the smallest of the mapped streams. These are the headwater streams.
Logging of the buffers of streams on State Forests is governed by the Environment Protection Licence (clause D.6) and the Fisheries Licence (clauses 7.1, 7.4, and 7.5). The EPL requires the exclusion of logging operations from within 10 metres of all "first order" and unmapped streams, and the Fisheries Licence requires the exclusion of logging operations from within 10 metres of all "first order" and unmapped streams within 100km upstream of the habitat of threatened fish.
The Forestry Corporation was successful in having over 90% of its operations exempted from having to legally comply with the EPL in 2004, and since then has routinely been logging buffers of unmapped streams. They are still not exempted from the EPL in what are termed "scheduled" operations and thus have to protect unmapped streams in accordance with the EPL in some operations. They have so far not been able to escape their obligation to protect 10m buffers on "first order" streams because this is also a requirement of the Threatened Species Licence.
The EPL still requires that 10m buffers be protected around unmapped and "first order" streams, though this requirement is simply ignored by the Forestry Corporation. Now the EPA are going to halve this obligation. This is environmentally unjustifiable, though the EPA claim it is justifiable because this time the Forestry Corporation claim they will abide by it if the EPA compensate them by halving the protection for first order streams to make up for the "extra" protection provided to unmapped streams.
In acquiescing to this the EPA conveniently ignore the fact that the Forestry Corporation are still legally required to comply with the Fisheries Licence. The Richmond and Clarence Rivers are home to the Endangered fish Eastern Freshwater Cod, Oxleyan Pygmy Perch and Purple-spotted Gudgeon, and most logging operations occur within 100km upstream of the habitat of one or more of these species. Therefore most logging operations on public land in the Richmond and Clarence catchments are still legally required to protect 10m buffers around unmapped streams in order to reduce impacts on threatened fish.
As the EPA is well aware, NEFA's audits have caught the Forestry Corporation logging these buffers upstream from threatened fish on a number of occasions. For example, in 2009 we proved that the Forestry Corporation had logged numerous buffers around unmapped streams in Yabbra State Forest, which resulted in the Forestry Corporation being issued 2 Penalty Notices and corresponding $500 fines for failing to mark exclusion boundaries on unmapped drainage lines and for logging, bulldozing and burning within 10m of these unmapped streams.
NEFA have repeatedly reminded the EPA of these rules, most recently when I rang the EPA a few weeks ago to clarify the reduction in unmapped stream buffers I explicitly mentioned that because of threatened fish most unmapped streams in the Richmond and Clarence catchments are still covered by the requirements of the Fisheries Licence to buffer unmapped streams.
For the EPA to now pretend that unmapped streams on State forests in the Richmond catchment do not have a 10m buffer applied is plainly untrue. For the EPA to ignore the abundant research and evidence about the impacts of reducing buffers on water quality and fish is grossly irresponsible.