NEFA’s court case ‘North East Forest Alliance Inc v Commonwealth of Australia & State of NSW’ challenging the extension of the North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) will be heard in the Federal Court of Australia before Justice Perry on the 28 and 29 of March. NEFA’s challenge is being run by the Environmental Defenders Office.
NEFA is challenging the 2018 decision to extend the North East RFA, effectively indefinitely, largely based on the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) undertaken in 1997 and 1998, without a new assessment.
“Should we win, the North East NSW RFA will no longer exempt logging operations from assessment and approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, or exempt wood from the requirements of the Export Control Act 2020, with potential ramifications for all other RFAs, NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.
LOGGING OF PUBLIC NATIVE FORESTS HAS LOST ITS SOCIAL LICENCE
The North East Forest Alliance maintains that submissions to the NSW Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) show that the logging of public native forests has lost its social licence and that the community do not support the NSW and Commonwealth Government's proposals to extend the RFAs for 20 more years.
Of the 5,425 submissions to the RFAs only 23 supported the Government's proposal to extend the RFAs for 20 years and give additional five-year rolling extensions after each future five-yearly review, and nearly all these were from the industry.
The so-called 'Independent Review' of NSW's Regional Forest Agreements was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament on 25 June 2018.
The review notes 'The majority of submitters would like the State to cease native forest logging on public land, indicating it damages biodiversity, environmental values and environmental services such as water, carbon capture and amenity, and provides a low economic return'.
"The Regional Forest Agreements have no credibility, their only purpose is for the Commonwealth to avoid its legal obligations for threatened species and heritage under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.", said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh.Read more
Forestry operations have a profound impact on native plants and animals. Natural forests are normally multiaged, with large numbers of big old trees providing hollows for nesting and denning, along with abundant nectar and seed resources. They also contain mature and young trees providing for succession as trees senesce and die. The understorey may naturally be open and grassy or more often is comprised of a wide diversity of understorey plants providing nesting sites, foraging habitat, and essential food resources for a suite of species. Even the dead trees and logs are critical habitat for numerous species.
In general, forestry aims to remove the mature trees for timber and get rid of the big old trees and unsuitable species that suppress regrowth of commercial species. Understorey and logs are just impediments. The outcomes are often a mess due to loss of critical habitat trees, early removal of potential sawlogs, excessive damage to retrained trees, poor regeneration, escaped burn-offs, significant soil erosion, stream pollution and massive weed invasion.
Plants are killed by logging, trampling with machinery, burning and being smothered by weeds. Animals are directly killed in falling trees and by being crushed in logs and burrows, and slowly by loss of dens, nest sites, territories and essential food resources.
Of those 175 animal species identified as being of particular conservation concern in north-east NSW, a total of 7 mammals (excluding bats), 27 bats, 31 birds, 16 frogs, 5 turtles, 15 lizards and 8 snakes were identified as being specifically vulnerable to logging, with many of these species, and a number of others, also vulnerable to the associated fire regimes, hydrological changes, stream pollution and weed invasions. For 41 of these 109 species logging is identified as a primary (number 1) threat. (see Threatened Species).
In a natural forest rainfall is mostly intercepted by the canopy or absorbed by the ground cover. Subsurface flows of excess waters then generate streamflows. In logging operations the reduced canopy and widespread soil compaction and baring result in overland flows that transport large volumes of sediments and nutrients directly into streams where they have significant long-term impacts on stream biota (see Logging impacts on streams). Impacts on stream flows are also long lived as the regrowth forest has high water demands and there is less surplus for streams (see How Forests Regulate Streamflows).
It is obvious that if we want to limit the impacts of logging on native species, soils and streams then we need to restrict the scale and location of activities we allow to occur. Regulation of forestry activities was found to be necessary because of the Forestry Corporation’s repeated failures to voluntarily minimise their impacts (see The Battle to Protect Threatened Species, The Battle to Protect Soils and Streams).
Forestry operations on public lands in north east NSW are governed by the Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOA) for Upper North East Region and Lower North East Region, and the licences they contain. These are referred to as Environmental Protection Licence (EPL), Threatened Species Licence (TSL) and Fisheries Licence (FL). Together with various clauses of the IFOA these constitute the regulatory regime applied to forestry operations on the public’s state forest lands in north-east NSW
The Integrated Forestry Operations Approval is one of the means by which NSW implements obligations and undertakings given in the joint NSW and Commonwealth North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement (Cl 36,48) and is the principal vehicle by which Environment and Heritage Values that are impracticable to include in reserves can be considered. The IFOA, along with the CAR reserve system, is required to provide for the protection of rare or threatened flora and fauna species and ecological communities (Cl 60). A key requirement is to monitor and review the sustainability of forest management practices (ie Cl 53), which includes the IFOA (Cl 52).
While we now have a comprehensive regulatory process for the management of State forests, the prescriptions are inadequate because they are the result of numerous political compromises with expert opinions and evidence often ignored. Neither have they been subject to monitoring and expert review. Even the minimalist prescriptions now applied are routinely flouted by the Forestry Corporation. (see Protecting Exclusion Areas, Doing Surveys, Protecting Threatened Fish, Protecting Habitat Trees).
There are a number of species that are threatened at a Federal level and should be taken into account before the Commonwealth Government signs off on Regional Forest Agreements. This is another aspect of government process that is a dismal failure.
This report reviews the protection applied both in theory and practice to nationally threatened species and ecological communities in forestry operations in the North East NSW Regional Forest Agreement (NE RFA) area.
For more information on other aspects of logging prescriptions see the following links:
NOTE: The Forestry Corporation has undergone many name and structural changes since the Forestry Commission of NSW was first formed in November 1916. In August 1993 the Forestry Commission adopted State Forests of NSW as its trading name and was overseen by a board of Governance. Nothing much changed on the ground. In November 2005 the Forestry Commission again tried to change its image by adopting the new brand name of Forests NSW. On 1 January 2013 Forests NSW was corporatized and became the Forestry Corporation. These names are used interchangeably throughout this site, though to avoid confusion attempts have been made to use the name Forestry Corporation to apply to all incarnations.