The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) has described the Environment Protection Authority's (EPAs) reasons for dropping legal action against the Forestry Corporation for roading and logging endangered Lowland Rainforest and damaging hundreds of habitat trees at Cherry Tree State Forest as preposterous.
"The reasons the EPA have given NEFA for dropping the promised legal action against the Forestry Corporation are patently absurd and will stop the EPA being able to effectively enforce NSW's logging laws into the future, it was a political decision executed in a political manner ", said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.
"NEFA informed the Minister for the Environment of thousands of breaches of logging laws in Cherry Tree State Forest (on the Richmond Range west of Casino) on 14 December 2015. In December 2016 the EPA found the Forestry Corporation guilty of 66 breaches of logging laws, involving hundreds of individual offences, though only issued the Forestry Corporation with an meaningless official caution.
"The EPA now tell us they had made a decision to never again issue Penalty Notices and fines to the Forestry Corporation for breaches of the Threatened Species Licence.
(Image: Damaged Habitat tree at Cherry Tree State Forest)
"At that time the EPA deferred their decisions on the roading and logging of the Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) Lowland Rainforest and the damaging of hundreds of habitat trees, claiming they 'will be finalising these matters early in the New Year once further investigative steps have been completed'.
"For the past year the EPA have repeatedly assured us they were preparing a legal case to take the Forestry Corporation to court for these serious offences. They strung us along until last Tuesday when they gave us spurious reasons for dropping the case, which were confirmed in writing last Friday.
"It appears the EPA had intentionally delayed telling us until the two years available for them to prosecute had almost expired, and parliament had finished for the year, knowing that 2 weeks would not give us time to embarrass them into a political back down.
"The EPA identified 22 habitat trees that had their canopies damaged during logging, 51 that had their butts damaged and 49 that had logging debris left around them. These are all legal breaches of their Threatened Species Licence yet the EPA are saying they will do nothing about them because they cannot prove this logging damage was caused by the Forestry Corporation.
"For the 168 habitat tree breaches NEFA identified it was obvious from machine tracks when the trees had been hit by machinery and from the position of tree stumps and heads when trees had been dropped onto other trees and damaged them. From our sample we estimated there were over a thousand such offences.
"The EPA's claim that someone else could have come in while logging was underway without anyone noticing and caused the damage on over a thousand occasions spread throughout the logging area is totally preposterous.
"This is a change in direction for the EPA, as while they used to assume that the Forestry Corporation were responsible for offences that occurred while logging was underway they will now pretend that someone else may have come in with a chainsaw and bulldozer and caused the damage, unless the Forestry Corporation confesses.
"The EPA's decision last year not to issue Penalty Notices and fines for threatened species offences and now their refusal to admit that the Forestry Corporation had to be responsible for hundreds of instances of unlawful damage that occurred during the logging, makes them redundant.
"The EPA have also informed NEFA that they don't intend to proceed with prosecuting the Forestry Corporation for roading and logging the Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) Lowland Rainforest at Cherry Tree State Forest on the grounds that they were not able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is the EEC Lowland Rainforest.
"This is despite the fact that the Forestry Corporation and the EPA jointly mapped it as the EEC Lowland Rainforest last year. According to their mapping there were 33 roading and logging incursions into Lowland Rainforest, affecting 4.5 hectares.
"Most of these stands have been identified and mapped as rainforest for over 50 years. NEFA does not believe the EPA's pretence that the two botanists they had visit the site would not have agreed that most of the sites we identified were Lowland Rainforest and challenge the EPA to publicly release their reports.
"The EPA say they won't do anything about NEFA's further complaint that most of the offences occurred in Endangered Grey Box - Grey Gum Wet Sclerophyll Forest, as mapped by the EPA and Forestry Corporation last year, because they have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forestry Corporation not to use their mapping of it retrospectively as a 'backward looking compliance tool', this is despite NEFA identifying numerous breaches within it before the EPA mapped it.
"It is also apparent that the EPA will now do nothing about the numerous breaches NEFA subsequently identified in Gladstone, Sugarloaf, and Gibberagee State Forests unless the Forestry Corporation voluntarily confess.
"Early indications from the EPA are that they have only confessed to one of dozens of incursions into exclusion areas around the Endangered Narrow-leaf Melichrus in Gibberagee State Forest, and will get away scot-free with further instances of clearing Lowland Rainforest, recklessly damaging hundreds more habitat trees and key feed trees, trashing stream buffers and clearing into the exclusion areas for threatened species.
"The EPA have become a pretend regulator who have made themselves incapable of making the Forestry Corporation abide by environmental laws" Mr Pugh said.