A group of globally renowned scientists have slammed the NSW government for failing to measure the impact of the 2019 Black Summer bushfires and continuing to log native forests at the same rate as before, even in designated high-risk zones.
Callum Foote reports:
Thirty-one national and international experts have signed a request for a review of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (CIFOA) by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency.
The letter was prepared by the NSW Environment Protection Agency alongside Australians for Animals NSW.
The CIFOA is the legal approval overseeing forestry operations conducted by Forestry Corporation NSW in the state’s harvested native forests. It was approved in November 2018 and has not been updated to reflect the massive damage to the forest habitat caused by the cascading effects of the bushfires.
The issue is not just NSW-based. ANU Professor David Lindenmayer told MWM that:
According to Australians for Animals NSW Inc. co-ordinator Suzanne Arnold, there hasn’t been a review of forestry practices in NSW since 2014.
“The last review was done in 2014, and the regional forest agreement between New South Wales and the Commonwealth inserted a provision that said they did not have to have another review until 2024” says Arnold “So that actually means that there’s been no review of the damage that the bushfires did at all.”
43% of State Forests had over 99% of their area in the fire ground. 72 had 75-99% of their area in the fire ground.
Review urgently required
Professor Grant Wardell Johnson: “Globally significant fire events have recently impacted the south-east forests. Intensive logging carried out extensively has significant long term effects. In this context, a comprehensive review of logging activity is urgently required.’
According to research cited and produced by scientists, up to 67-83% of globally significant rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands were burnt in the fires.
The scale of the fires and the breadth of vegetation types affected has implications for biodiversity conservation both in Australia and globally. A Planning Department report estimated soil loss was predominantly in National Parks and State Forests, reducing the “so-called ecological carrying capacity” by more than a third in burnt areas.
Professor Paul Ehrlich, the president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University,, says that “Forests are a crucial part of the natural capital on which human civilisation survives. Australia has a tradition of destroying that capital, not only its great stands of trees, its unique array of mammals, but the other elements of its life-support systems, including marine and mineral resources.”
Environment Minister James Griffin and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole can jointly make changes to include provisions and conditions to address and repair the damage but have completely failed to undertake any measures, the scientists say.
Former senator and retired scientist Norm Sanders:
The EPA has the power to conduct a comprehensive review. However, it is not mandatory.
The letter notes that “The CIFOA approval is vested in Ecologically Sustainable Development and Precautionary Principles. Noting these principles, this request provides in-depth evidence of the critical need for a comprehensive, urgent review by the EPA”
The NSW Government has blocked the release of a 2020 review of CIFOA which called for an urgent halt of native logging in regions hit by the bushfires.
The report was subsequently leaked to The Guardian. Among its recommendations was the suspension of all logging in the high-risk zones of Narooma, Nowra and Taree. Logging is continuing unabated in these areas almost three years later.