Old Growth Forests
The NSW government is currently undertaking a project to ‘remap and rezone’ protected old-growth forests. These forests are part of Australia’s Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative reserve network.
A pilot project conducted by the NSW Natural Resources Commission reduced the area of old-growth by 88% in the trial forests. This is despite all forests having high densities of tree hollows, lots of large-diameter fallen timber and lots of standing dead trees. In short, looking a lot like old-growth forests!
The redefining is occurring via a perversion of the agreed definition of old-growth (ecologically mature forests where the effects of disturbance are now negligible): ‘disturbance’ is subjective, and this subjectivity is now being exploited to remove the very protections that the definition was originally designed for.
The driver for this terrible idea is to increase timber supply due to a claimed shortfall resulting from changed prescriptions for koala protection in new logging laws and mapping of threatened ecological communities (TECs) in state forests. NPA disputes the veracity of this shortfall.
We do not believe that the new koala prescriptions could have reduced timber availability, because they require the retention of just 5 or 10 trees of 20cm diameter per hectare—depending on mapped habitat quality—and they allow for virtual clearfell of 45-hectare patches of forest in a single logging operation. The old logging rules required the protection of all trees of <=20cm diameter and the new form of intensive logging was illegal. Additionally, 20cm is not an adequate size for the production of sawlogs.
In regards TECs, the mapping (conducted by the Environment Protection Authority in 2016) simply formalised agreed TEC boundaries to enable more effective regulation. It did not change the protected status of TECs. Forestry Corporation was legally obliged to protect them, and therefore they cannot be claimed to be legitimate sources of timber. In fact, Forestry Corporation itself had mapped TECs prior to the EPA, and protected them in zones that excluded logging. Finally, the total area of TECs mapped is just 20,000 hectares, or 1% of the area of state forests in NSW.
Encouragingly, Environment Minister Matt Kean has put the process on hold until the shortfall can be verified. However, it is really important to keep up the pressure on MPs to make sure that this shocking idea goes no further.
Regional Forest Agreements
Tragically for our forests, wildlife and climate, on 30th November 2018 the NSW and Commonwealth governments announced that they would extend the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) for another 20 years.
The RFAs are the deals between the state and federal governments that allow industrial logging of public forests, by effectively giving logging an exemption from Commonwealth environment law.
For the last 20 years RFAs have facilitated logging in our forests that has driven many species – including koalas, quolls and gliders – closer to the brink of extinction. NPA believes that we can do better than this, and over the three years of our campaign developed policy alternatives to protect forests and create jobs.
This decision to extend the RFAs flies in the face of scientists’ calls for thorough reassessments amidst extensive evidence of RFAs as a failed model. We know that native forest logging drives Key Threatening Processes that push forest wildlife towards extinction, lowers carbon stores of forests, is not the optimal use of our public native forests and is deeply unpopular throughout Australia.
The extended RFAs will legally permit the NSW government to implement a suite of new logging rules (called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals) that will see a dramatic intensification of logging throughout NSW, including a new ‘Intensive Harvesting Zone‘ that overlaps strongly with NPA’s Great Koala National Park (the NSW government is clearly choosing logging over koalas), a reduction in stream buffers, further declines in hollow-bearing trees and the ability to log giant trees up to 160cm diameter. The NSW government is also proposing to ‘remap and rezone’ forests protected as old-growth when the RFAs were signed in the 1990s.
NPA is still confident that we can win the campaign to end native forest logging on public land, simply because our governments can’t go on ignoring the science and community sentiment forever!