EPA ENCOURAGES ILLEGAL LOGGING BY REPEATEDLY LETTING FORESTRY OFF
The North East Forest Alliance is claiming there is no justice for forests after the EPA on Wednesday confirmed numerous breaches of the Forestry Corporation's Threatened Species Licence in Gibberagee State Forest (east of Whiporie) but yet again issued useless cautions and warnings rather than fines and prosecutions for these serial offenders.
"Over the past decade NEFA have exposed the Forestry Corporation committing thousands of legal breaches of their environmental obligations, with the EPA confirming hundreds more breaches in the last few months from NEFA's audits of Gibberagee and Sugarloaf State Forest", said NEFA Spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
"Yet the EPA have never taken the Forest Corporation to court, despite commitments to do so, and in January 2016 they made the political decision not to issue fines.
"With no consequences for their blatant breaches of environmental laws, is it surprising that the Forestry Corporation repeat them time and time again?
"If you or I went around illegally cutting down oldgrowth trees (hundreds of year old), clearing rainforest, and bulldozing roads through exclusions around threatened plants time and time again we would be put in jail, but the Forestry Corporation don't even get a fine.
"The EPA's regulation of the Forestry Corporation is farcical, though the biggest problem is that by their refusal to take meaningful regulatory action the EPA are fostering what Justice Pepper2 described in 2011 as "a reckless attitude towards compliance with its environmental obligations" Mr. Pugh said.
"On Wednesday, in response to a NEFA complaint made 2 years ago the EPA confirmed that the Forestry Corporation failed to adequately mark the boundaries of 50m logging exclusion zones around numerous individuals of Endangered heath Narrow-leaved Melichrus, and undertook logging operations and roading within their exclusion zones.
"The EPA also confirmed NEFA's complaints of reckless damage to hollow-bearing trees and recruitment trees, while also confirming that the Forestry Corporation was not following the requirements for selection of appropriate recruitment trees.
"Though we can't be sure the EPA found all the breaches we identified because the EPA won't tell us how many they found, and when the EPA invited us into Gibberagee to be show them in March 2017, the Forestry Corporation wouldn't let us show the EPA and ordered us out of the forest.
"When NEFA made its first complaint over Gibberagee in March 2017 we hoped the EPA would take action to stop the breaches, yet when NEFA did another assessment 7 months later we found the same sort of breaches were continuing unabated. We are still waiting for the EPA to respond to the last complaints.
"In October last year the EPA confirmed over 86 breaches of the logging rules identified by the North East Forest Alliance in Sugarloaf State Forest, south of Tabulam, at that time the EPA issued the Forestry Corporation with a Warning Letter for 72 and an Official Caution for 1 offence.
"The confirmed breaches included roading through a wildlife corridor, nine cases of roading in exclusion areas along streams, failure to retain the required numbers of habitat trees, and over 70 cases of serious damage to, and inappropriate selection of, marked habitat trees1.
"While failure to retain the required number of habitat trees is called one offence, in practice the EPA found that they had retained 200 less hollow-bearing trees than were legally required.
"There were numerous other breaches that the Forestry got off scot free for, for example the EPA confirmed clearing within the marked boundary of the Endangered Ecological Community Lowland Rainforest but refused to take action on the grounds that because the "forest structure and species present at this location have either been totally removed or severely altered/damaged" it precluded identifying what it had been like before logging.
"The EPA chose to ignore that they and the Forestry Corporation had jointly mapped it as Lowland Rainforest some 6 months before it had been logged and cleared.
"These offences are a repeat of similar offences we reported a year earlier in the nearby Cherry Tree State Forest. Despite the EPA's assurances they were going to take legal action there for logging and roading 4.5ha of mapped Lowland Rainforest and recklessly damaging hundreds of habitat trees, they let the Forestry Corporation off scot-free.
"NEFA estimated in that operation around 1,000 habitat trees were likely to have been damaged or had excessive debris left around their bases, though the EPA justified their refusal to take any regulatory action on the grounds that while it was "likely" the damages "were as a result of harvesting operations", they were not able to prove "beyond reasonable doubt ... that the damage was [not] caused by some other means".
"There is no justice. The EPA's sham regulation is encouraging the Forestry Corporation to repeatedly break logging laws with impunity" Mr. Pugh said.
NEFA's Audits of Gibberagee and Sugarloaf SFs are at https://www.nefa.org.au/audits
- Habitat Trees comprise hollow-bearing trees, often many hundreds of years old, that provide essential hollows needed for denning, nesting and shelter by a plethora of native species, and the large mature trees needed as recruitment trees to provide the hollow-bearing trees of the future.
- Back in 2011 the sheer number of offences led Justice Pepper to conclude "that the Forestry Commission's conduct does manifest a reckless attitude towards compliance with its environmental obligations". As shown by the EPA confirming most of our complaints regarding Sugarloaf and Gibberagee, the EPA's lax regulation has encouraged the Forestry Corporation to continue its reckless rampage through our public forests.