Time to protect Koalas from logging harm

MEDIA RELEASE 16 June 2022

NEFA welcomes the decision by the Land and Environment Court to impose fines and costs totalling $285,600 on the Forestry Corporation for illegally logging a Koala High Use Area, rainforest and a rainforest buffer in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest.

The Forestry Corporation have got away for too long flouting the logging rules, so it is past-time that they were prosecuted for one example of their illegal activities in north-east NSW’s public forests, NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said.

The judgement helps clarify how important the rules are to minimise harm, and in this case why the Government must urgently reinstate protection for Koala High Use Areas and establish wide buffers around all rainforest.

NEFA calls for a reinstatement of the requirement for the Forestry Corporation to undertake pre-logging surveys for Koalas to identify Koala High Use Areas to be excluded from logging in light of the Justice Robson’s finding that the removal of 4 feed trees and construction of logging tracks within a Koala High Use Area would result in actual harm to Koalas.

A giant Koala feed tree illegally logged in Koala habitat in another part of Wild Cattle Creek in 2020 which NEFA are still waiting for legal action on.

Justice Robson states:

“I find beyond reasonable doubt that the felling of the large Eucalyptus trees and the construction or operation of snig tracks were highly likely to have had an adverse impact by reducing the size and the quality of the habitat available to the breeding female and offspring. As such, I accept the position adopted by the prosecutor and find that there has been actual harm.”

“… I accept Dr Crowther’s evidence that the harm is related to the size of the removed trees, their significance for food and shelter, and the fact that koalas often revisit trees within their home range”.

Soon after these offences occurred the logging rules were changed to remove the need to identify Koala High Use Areas, and instead allow them to be logged indiscriminately with at best the retention of 5 or 10 small koala feed trees per hectare.

“Now if the Forestry Corporation see a Koala in a tree, including with a joey, they just have to wait for it to leave before cutting it’s tree down.

“To log the highest quality Koala habitat is no longer an offence so the Forestry Corporation can continue to cause actual harm to Koalas unchecked.

“The evidence is clear that Koala habitat must be protected from logging, the Ministers for Forestry and Environment must immediately restore the need to look before they log and protect Koala High Use Areas.

“In the case of Wild Cattle Creek the judge accepted the evidence it is “an area of relatively high koala abundance for NSW”, which reinforces the need to protect it for Koalas by creating the Great Koala National Park.

“The other offences related to logging 3 trees in mapped rainforest and 2 trees in a 20m exclusion zone around it, causing extensive damage to the surrounding rainforest and significantly increasing its vulnerability to burning.

Justice Robson stating:

I find in accordance with Dr Kooyman’s evidence that the exclusion zone was dominated by warm temperate rainforest (as Mr Peake conceded), and I consider that the removal of the two trees and the disturbance of an area at least of 120m² resulted in ecological impacts and environmental harm. I accept Dr Kooyman’s evidence that this would have a deleterious effect on the rainforest in that it causes disruption, opens the edges of the forest, causes changes in microclimates and causes drying, which exacerbates the potential for bushfire penetration into the warm temperate rainforest (Bentley at [174]-[175]).

“With a third of NSW’s rainforests burnt in the 2019-2020 wildfires, this finding emphasises the need to exclude logging from wide buffers around all rainforests (not just warm temperate rainforest) to reduce the threat of their being burnt in future fires.

Given the evidence that it “will take centuries rather than decades to recover” we need to urgently protect buffers around all rainforest in this era of rising fire frequencies and intensities” Mr. Pugh said.

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