Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) has been handed the heaviest fine possible for allegedly breaching a post-bushfire condition in a forest on the South Coast.
While the Corporation says the fine relates to just one tree and it is considering fighting the allegations, an MP has said the claims are shocking but unsurprising.
NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued the $15,000 fine over FCNSW’s alleged actions in South Brooman State Forest, near Batemans Bay, saying the site-specific operating condition required the Corporation to retain all hollow bearing trees.
Some threatened species depend on these trees for their survival.
EPA acting executive director regulatory operations regional Greg Sheehy said the conditions aimed to protect the environment from further harm after fires damaged the forest.
“FCNSW forest management and activities did not meet our expectations and the EPA has put them on notice that failing to meet standards is unacceptable,” he said.
The EPA had made a stop-work order to temporarily halt harvesting in part of the South Brooman State Forest in July 2020 after an inspection allegedly found damaged or felled hollow-bearing trees.
But a spokesperson for Forestry Corporation said the fine related to just one tree.
“Forestry Corporation undertook ground assessments with trained staff walking through the forest to identify trees with visible hollows and identified and protected hundreds of such trees during the harvesting operations,” the spokesperson said.
“One tree was determined by the EPA to have been a hollow-bearing tree after it was felled and Forestry Corporation has received this penalty notice.
“Forestry Corporation disputes it has felled a hollow-bearing tree in breach of the rules and is considering whether it will contest the allegation in court.”
The $15,000 fine is the largest amount the EPA can issue under the legislation.
Greens NSW MP and spokesperson for forests Sue Higginson said the campaign around the South Brooman State Forest was consistent with many around NSW since the 2019/20 bushfires.
“The fires changed everything and we have well and truly reached the time that we must stop logging our public native forest estate,” she said.
Native forests are essential in defending against climate change as carbon storers and for the survival of forest-dependent threatened species, water quality and quantity, cultural knowledge and practice, recreation, well-being, education and tourism.
Earlier this year, the Forestry Corporation was fined $45,000 for felling habitat trees in Mogo State Forest.
More recently it was alleged that between March and July 2020, contractors for the Corporation cut down 53 trees in “unburned” and “partially burned” environmentally-significant areas of the Yambulla State Forest near Eden.
Ms Higginson alleged the Corporation was “a serial offender”.
“Clearly the fines and penalties imposed upon the Forestry Corporation to date are not working as a deterrent,” Ms Higginson said.
“It is absurd that it is costing the NSW taxpayer to log our precious public native forests and contrary to the few laws that are supposed to lessen the impacts of logging.”