Ben Cubby, August 18, 2010
Sydney Morning Herald (article)
Forests NSW is being forced to review its logging practices, after the discovery of a spate of new breaches including logging old-growth rainforests and destroying the habitat of threatened native animals.
The latest damage, at Girard State Forest near Tenterfield, is the fifth time in five months that the state agency has come under investigation.
The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, which oversees environmental protection licences, is conducting a joint audit with the agency of logging in the region.
The review will examine the regulations under which contractors are employed by Forests NSW, and rules protecting native wildlife, young trees and trees surrounding waterways.
The department has already handed out four penalty notices to the agency this year for breaking logging rules in the nearby Yabbra State Forest.
Damage in Girard State Forest was uncovered by a team of zoologists and botanists, working with an environment group, North East Forest Alliance.
It included a nine-hectare stand of mature trees, some of them two metres wide at ground level and 50 metres tall, which was part of a ''special prescription zone'' under the area's forestry agreement. This does not forbid logging, but requires contractors to "maintain or enhance the values that the area is zoned to protect".
The area was also part of Forests NSW's 1995 Tenterfield environmental impact statement, and part of one of the wildlife corridors the state government is striving to link up along the Great Dividing Range, from Queensland to Victoria.
Girard State Forest provides a home for koalas, stuttering frogs, sooty owls, powerful owls, golden-tipped bats and yellow-bellied gliders.
"Recent audits have exposed illegal logging of rainforest, wetlands, endangered ecological communities and now old-growth forest,'' said a spokesman for North East Forest Alliance, Dailan Pugh.
''These are what the regional forest agreement was meant to protect. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. This is in addition to systemic failures by Forests NSW to implement many of the measures required to protect threatened species and streams.''
Altogether, the report documented 24 recent breaches of a threatened species licence, 10 of an environmental protection licence, nine of a fisheries license and two of the site's integrated forestry operations approval.
Forests NSW, a public trading enterprise within the NSW Department of Primary Industries which plays a central role in the state's $1 billion timber industry, confirmed it was taking part in the joint audit.
''In addition, a compliance response team has been established to address these issues,'' the agency said in a statement.
''Forests NSW is committed to ensuring that the highest possible standards are maintained during harvest operations.''
The environment department said separate investigations into other breaches in Double Duke and Grange state forests were still under way.
''Once these investigations are complete and, if a pattern is identified, [the department] would consider further regulatory steps,'' a spokesman said.