Logging to resume in bushfire-affected forests on NSW south coast despite environmental warning

17 February 2021

Published by https://www.theguardian.com/

AUSTRALIA – The Forestry Corporation of New South Wales has signalled it will resume logging in bushfire-affected forests despite warnings from the state’s environmental regulator.

The dispute between the state-owned forestry agency and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has escalated after the Forestry Corporation indicated it would not operate under rules that were set up to protect forests on the state’s south coast after the 2019-20 summer fires.

The independent state MLC, Justin Field, has called the decision “a gross act of bad faith by Forestry Corporation and John Barilaro as forestry minister”.

Both the EPA and Forestry Corporation had been negotiating an updated set of environmental conditions which were meant to manage the long-term risks of logging in fire-affected forests.

But in a statement on Wednesday, the EPA said the forestry agency had walked away from those negotiations as they related to forestry operations on the south coast.

The agency said it had an obligation to “protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment in NSW” and warned the Forestry Corporation it could face regulatory action.

“Where the EPA identifies noncompliance, it will take appropriate regulatory action,” the statement said.

Forestry Corporation issued its own statement saying it would resume forestry operations with additional environmental safeguards it had put in place.

Daniel Tuan, the Forestry Corporation’s general manager of hardwood forests, said forestry had been “working constructively with the Environment Protection Authority for the past 15 months” on new site-specific rules but progress had been too slow “to avert the imminent closure of the timber industry” on the south coast.

He said the additional environmental safeguards would include retaining more trees that were important habitat, excluding large trees from harvesting, and additional ecological monitoring.

It is the latest development in a dispute between the two agencies that began months ago.

The EPA’s application of the post-bushfire rules has frustrated the industry, and the Department of Regional NSW wrote to the agency in September 2020 to say forestry believed environmental protections set out in its approval remained adequate after the fires.

In October, the EPA started five prosecutions against Forestry Corporation in the land and environment court for alleged breaches of its licence in a forest on the state’s north coast near Coffs Harbour.

It also issued a series of stop work orders for breaches in bushfire-hit forests on the south and north coasts.

In December, the NSW government revealed plans to have the Natural Resources Commission review forestry operations in bushfire-hit regions but the EPA said forestry planned to resume regular logging while that review was under way.

Field said restarting logging now would “destroy what little social licence this industry has left on the south coast and will ultimately destroy the resource they rely on.

He said the community would have no choice but to “stand in the way of Forestry Corporation’s plans”.

“The community has no choice but to stand in the way of Forestry Corporation’s plans,” he said.

“We expect the EPA to back up their previous warnings that this approach by Forestry Corporation would breach NSW forestry law and to take legal action to stop the logging of burnt forest.”

Barilaro and the NSW environment minister, Matt Kean, declined to comment.

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