The bushfires of 2019/20 were unprecedented and the impacts on the environment are substantial. The NSW Government has projects underway to quantify the environmental impacts of the 2019/20 bushfires and to release its wildlife and biodiversity recovery plan. Third party reports have indicated a loss of over 1 billion native species and possibly a 71% loss of koalas in known koala habitats across northern NSW.
The EPA has been working with NSW Government agencies including the Department of Planning Industry and Environment's Energy, Environment and Science Division and soil science, Department of Primary Industries, Local Land Services, independent scientific experts and Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) to understand the impact of the fires on local communities, socio-economic factors, the environment and important wildlife, and also timber supply and jobs. This work has informed the EPA’s regulatory decision-making about logging in areas affected by the fires and logging of burnt timber.
The rules for timber harvesting in coastal State forests, the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operation Approval (IFOA) were not designed with the current situation in mind and have not been set up to manage the environmental risks associated with harvesting in landscapes that have been so extensively and severely impacted by fire. This has required the EPA to issue site-specific conditions that tailor additional protections for the specific circumstances of in these burnt forests.
Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) has written to the EPA and advised where site specific conditions do not apply that they intend to return to harvesting under the standard conditions of the Coastal IFOA, in NSW State forests, and to no longer seek site-specific conditions the EPA has put in place to manage the extraordinary conditions in the burnt forests. FCNSW has provided a report to the EPA explaining these factors ‘2019–20 Wildfires-Environmental impacts and implications for timber harvesting in NSW State forests’ (PDF 8.4MB). The report provides FCNSW’s assessment of the impact of the 2019/20 fire season on biodiversity, soil and water values and implications for managing ongoing timber harvesting operations in native State forests. A copy of FCNSW’s letter to the EPA is available (PDF 155KB).
The EPA has commissioned a report to further understand the current conditions and any adaptations needed to the regulations. The report by independent ecologist Dr Andrew Smith (PDF 2.4MB), considered the Coastal IFOA and site specific operating conditions in the context of the environmental risks of harvesting timber in burnt landscapes. The report also considered the principles of ecologically sustainable forest management and the precautionary principle.
The findings of Dr Smith’s report, in conjunction with additional and current information used to support the development of site-specific prescriptions and operational advice from EPA officers working in areas affected by the bushfires has informed the EPA’s position, that a return to operating under the Coastal IFOA alone, is not tenable at this time.
In view of this evidence, the EPA has now written to FCNSW (PDF 148KB) and advised them of its concerns. The EPA has also reiterated its commitment to working with FCNSW to rapidly identify and implement a long-term approach to manage the risks posed by timber harvesting in the post-fire landscapes of coastal NSW.