NSW Forests Under Threat

Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are agreements between the Australian Government and four state governments under the Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 (RFA Act)

Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs) set the rules for how forestry operations can be carried out on State forests and Crown timber lands in NSW. A new Coastal IFOA came in to effect on 16 November 2018 and covers forests along the eastern seaboard of NSW.

Ecosure strongly rejects the IFOA remake as it is incompatible with sustainable forest management and will have long term negative impacts on our ecology, water and landscapes. It should be scrapped and replaced with an environmentally sound and science-based policy that reflects the broader communities desire to see its public forests managed for all.

Old growth forest and rainforest

The Coastal IFOA allows for remapping of remapping/rezoning of high conservation protection zones (including old growth forest and rainforest) and this is a major concern. Increased logging of environmentally sensitive forests would overcome wood supply shortages. The NSW government intends to open-up some 100,000 ha of currently protected old growth and rainforest for logging which contravenes the intent of the RFAs agreed to by the Commonwealth.

The preceding RFAs had an unmet requirement of “Developing by the end of 2010, a model to predict recruitment and maintenance of habitat trees over time“. Under the new agreement this has been deleted, as has the IFOA requirement to retain recruitment trees.

Logging will be done under protocols based on science that is 20 years or older. Alarmingly, all the advances and understanding of the importance of large diameter trees and old growth forest for the last 2 or 3 decades has been ignored. The Coastal IFOA remake opens up to the industry trees with a DBH (diameter at breast height) of up to 140 cm. This is a major shift in forest policy which will have a significant impact on the environment for decades if not centuries.

The depletion across the landscape of old-growth forest, and, in particular, hollow-bearing trees, has been recognised as a key threat to fauna species diversity (NSW Scientific Committee 2006). There is a wealth of peer reviewed Australian papers that predict a very grim future for our wildlife if we continue to log large diameter trees (see references).

Increase in logging intensity

The North East Regional Forest Agreement is one of three RFAs in New South Wales which was varied in 2018 with an extension until 2039 and allows for extensions every 5 years subject to a token review, even when the RFAs fail to meet requirements.

For north-east NSW, the State’s intent is to increase annual commitments of high-quality logs by around 10,000m3 to 230,000m3 per annum, and “non-high quality logs” from 340,000 tonnes to 660,000 tonnes per annum. This represents a significant increase in logging volumes in areas that are already unsustainably logged on short rotation cycles.

Independent oversight

The NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has a track record of weak attempts at prosecuting Forest Corp for alleged breaches under previous IFOAs. The responsibilities to regulate native forestry operations sits with the EPA, but in order to bring some level of integrity and accountability to the system, Ecosure believes an independent body, outside of the NSW government, should be overseeing compliance.

Consultation

The NSW government has held closed meetings to develop the IFOA remake. In the lead up to the making of the IFOA, there have been large gatherings of conservation groups appalled at what has now been approved under the new Coastal IFOA. Most of the peak environmental groups in NSW chose not to engage in the government led consultation process because they believe the RFAs have failed to deliver environmental protection. The NSW government has now approved the Coastal IFOA remake.

In keeping with their secrecy over the RFA, the requirement for “extensive opportunities for public participation and reporting” over RFAs has been removed. While the NSW government has retained the requirements for annual reports to parliament on compliance with the IFOA, they have removed the need to assess performance with the sustainability indicators in the Montreal Process Criteria.

In future amendments to RFAs and associated policies and guidance material, Ecosure would like to be engaged in the consultation process. We offer credible hands-on science derived from experienced ecologists working in our ecosystems on a daily basis. Experts working in the field must be consulted when major policy shifts can jeopardise our precious flora and fauna.

Conclusion

The NSW government suggests the changes to the IFOAs will strike a balance between the environment and the timber industry. In reality, our forests are being further threatened under the IFOA changes. The areas between Port Macquarie and Grafton, in particular, are proposed for the most intensive logging regimes. This means virtual clearing felling in some areas. As an environmentally and socially conscious company, Ecosure is of the view that we need to start reducing forestry in public native forests and transition to plantation timber. There also needs to be improved scientific method and impact assessment, at local and regional scales in a way that maintains and improves biodiversity values over future decades with consideration to the effects of climate change.

References

Manning et. al. (2013). Hollow futures? Tree decline, lag effects and hollow-dependent species. Animal Conservation.

Treby et. al. (2014). Forest Conservation Policy Implementation Gaps: Consequences for the Management of Hollow-bearing Trees in Australia. Conservation and Society 12(1): 16-26.

Lindenmayer et. al. (2012). Interacting Factors Driving a Major Loss of Large Trees with Cavities in a Forest Ecosystem. Plos One