Bushfire-affected forestry operations

Five million hectares in NSW were burnt in the 2019-20 bushfires, including more than 890,000 hectares of native State Forests. This is over 40% of the coastal and tablelands native State Forests in NSW.

Following the bushfires we continue to work with other NSW Government agencies and the Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) to understand the impact of the fires on the environment and wildlife, local communities and the forestry industry, and to encourage a precautionary approach to where and how forestry operations occur.

Initial precautionary rules for managing the impacts of the bushfires

FCNSW are authorised by the NSW Government to undertake forestry operations under the Forestry Act 2012, and must comply with environmental rules called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs).

The IFOAs set out conditions designed to manage the impact of native forestry operations on the environment, including rules which protect soils, water, ecosystems, native plants and animals, including koalas. However, these rules never contemplated the scale and severity of the 2019-20 bushfires on our landscapes, waterways and native plants, animals and ecosystems.

We issued FCNSW with a set of supplementary site-specific environmental conditions that were applied to forestry operations in selected areas of fire-affected State Forests to help in bushfire recovery efforts for fire-affected regional communities. The conditions were required in addition to the prescriptions set out in the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, and were issued on a case by case basis, only where it was determined that the environmental risk associated with harvesting operations could be reasonably mitigated.

The additional conditions aimed to mitigate the specific environmental risks caused by the bushfires at each site, and were tailored for the specific impacts on plants, animals and their habitats, soils and waterways at each site. The additional conditions aimed to maximise the protection of unburnt or lightly burnt forest and limited harvesting intensity to assist with wildlife and biodiversity recovery efforts.

Site-specific operating condition requirements

The Coastal Integrated Forestry Operation Approval (IFOA) was not designed to moderate the environmental risks associated with harvesting in landscapes that have been so extensively and severely impacted by fire. This  required us to issue additional site-specific conditions that tailored protections for the specific circumstances of these burnt forests.

The rules for timber harvesting in fire-affected areas included:

  • a new requirement which required the retention of unburned or lightly burned forest in these sites to ensure they could provide ongoing refuge and food for animals that persisted during the fires
  • increased protections around landscape features like rainforest, rocky outcrops and heathy vegetation as these areas often provide important shelter and food resources for animals, and the right environmental conditions for the regeneration of unique native plants 
  • increased protections for hollow-bearing trees and important feed trees to ensure more nesting and food resources were retained and protected
  • in sites where koala habitat may be present, the site-specific operating conditions put in place nearly doubled the amount of protections for koala feed trees and habitat. FCNSW are still required to check for the presence of koalas before any trees are felled and put in place temporary exclusion zones around areas where koalas are identified
  • intensive harvesting was not be permitted in burnt areas to lessen erosion risks and biodiversity impacts
  • increased requirements to prevent or minimise erosion and water pollution in local creeks and rivers given the fires had removed most of the ground cover and destabilised soils. These requirements include:
    • the significant expansion of protections around streams
    • stricter limits to reduce the distance water can flow on roads, tracks and log dumps
    • requirements to stabilise exposed soils during and after harvesting operations. 

Increased regulatory presence ensured native forestry operations complied with these stringent rules

Given the heightened environmental risks caused by the 2019-20 bushfires, we increased regulatory presence on the ground at all stages of logging operations and continue to work closely with community, industry, Aboriginal and environment groups, who are concerned about the impact of logging on the environment, their communities and their regional economies.

NSW EPA officers are actively monitoring forestry operations, and have a range of regulatory tools to address non-compliances, including education, stop work orders, remediation orders, clean up notices, penalty infringement notices and prosecutions.

Site-specific conditions are issued on a case by case basis, and only where it is considered that the environmental risk associated with harvesting operations in bushfire affected forests can be reasonably mitigated.

Upper North East IFOA Subregion

Lower North East IFOA Subregion

Southern IFOA Subregion

Eden IFOA Subregion

Page last updated