Golden Opportunity to Pivot
The mega fires of last summer which destroyed so much forest in NSW have presented the people of this state with a golden opportunity. There has been no better time than now to transition to 100% plantation forestry in NSW and here’s why.
Revised estimates now suggest 3 billion animals died last summer in the fires. This includes huge numbers of threatened species. 5000 koalas perished. Unknown numbers of Greater Gliders (pictured) and other endangered arboreal mammals would have been incinerated. In recognition of these decimated native fauna populations the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has imposed site specific conditions on all post-fire logging operations. These include the prohibition on felling any tree with a hollow in it.
Tree hollows are very valuable real estate in native forests providing accommodation options to over 70 different species many of which were severely impacted by the fires. The remaining tree hollows will be crucial in the recovery of many bird, mammal and reptile populations.
Greater Glider survivor of the fires rescued by and cared for by WIRES
Here on the south Coast the EPA granted permission to NSW Forestry Corporation to “harvest” in 3 state forests: South Brooman in Shoalhaven, Mogo in Eurobodalla, and Yambulla near the Victorian border. Many people in the community and in academia are appalled by the very notion of going into the fire affected forests to log them. One estimate by world renowned forest ecologist David Lindenmayer is that it will set back their recovery by 100-200 years.
Suspicious of Forestry Corp’s ability to capably manage our native forests citizen scientists decided to monitor the post-fire logging operations in Mogo and South Brooman. One immediate community formed its own lobby group, the Brooman State Forest Conservation Group and received help from Milton National Parks Association, Coastwatchers Association and Friends of the Forest (Mogo). A highway demonstration attracted some media and local MLC Justin Field started asking questions and lobbying at higher levels.
Locals found systematic ongoing non-compliance with the rule to leave the hollow bearing trees alone. In one forest, 97 instances of hollows in the debris on the forest floor were discovered and documented.
Meanwhile North Coast conservationists had found evidence of contractors felling giant trees, something which has been prohibited since long before the fires. The EPA issued a Stop Work Order (SWO) there in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest pending further investigations and possible prosecution. EPA Executive Director of Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said EPA investigations had revealed “serious alleged breaches of the rules that govern native forestry operations”. She writes in the EPA media release, “…old, giant trees have provided significant habitat and biodiversity value and are irreplaceable. Their removal points to serious failures in the planning and identification of trees that must be retained in the forest.”
Encouraged by what seemed to be an emboldened EPA and a sympathetic state Environment Minister Matt Keen, South Coast conservationists began the push for the EPA to issue another SWO. The EPA instigated its own investigation in South Brooman, confirming widespread non-compliance and miraculously issued another SWO.
And all over the ground in Mogo State Forest where logging is also occurring there are multiple tree hollows, easily enough for a third SWO and possible prosecution.
Tree hollow on the ground - Evidence of non-compliance supplied to EPA
With the hardwood division of Forestry Corporation grinding to a halt in different parts of the state native animal populations are gaining the reprieve they so richly deserve. Meanwhile frustrated hardwood timber workers face uncertainty of supply and major disruption to household incomes. The resulting angst, anger and suffering is totally unnecessary and a direct result of the NSW state government failing to seize this moment in time to restructure the industry. It is a golden opportunity to finally pivot away from native forest logging and focus on plantation forestry.
It is time to draw a line in the sand as Victoria has done to say the 10 year phase out begins NOW. No-one need lose employment. Some of the very skills held by current timber workers can be put to invaluable use to build forest visitation infrastructure and track maintenance for the tourist sector and hardwood plantation establishment on degraded agricultural land. The political cost to the government at this time for taking this bold step would be minimal. In fact it may well be a politically astute move for the government. The pay-off for our hammered public native forest ecosystems would be incalculable.
The emergence of citizen science as one conservation tactic in the battle to save our native forests has been a gamechanger. As more and more people on the ground are trained up in the collection and documentation of irrefutable evidence finally the public may come to know what many of us have known all along – that public native forestry is unsustainable, unnecessary and destined for a very long overdue transition.