The unprecedented 2019/20 bushfires had a major impact on regional communities, the environment, wildlife and local forestry industries. The EPA has been working with Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) and the community to ensure controls put in place are implemented and effective.
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.
As a result, the EPA has been working collaboratively with other government agencies and FCNSW to understand the impacts of these fires and apply precautionary environmental controls called site-specific conditions, that supplement the existing IFOAs.
These additional conditions aim to mitigate the specific environmental risks caused by the bushfires at each site, and are tailored for the specific impacts on plants, animals and their habitats, soils and waterways at each site. The additional conditions maximise the protection of unburnt or lightly burnt forest and limit harvesting intensity to assist with wildlife and biodiversity recovery efforts.
For example, in sites where koala habitat may be present, the site-specific operating conditions put in place nearly double 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.
Increased regulatory presence to ensure native forestry operations comply with these stringent rules
The EPA’s role is to ensure native forestry operations comply with these stringent rules.
Given the heightened environmental risks caused by the 2019-20 bushfires, the EPA is increasing our regulatory presence on the ground at all stages of logging operations and is working 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.
The EPA will also encourage voluntary compliance with the IFOAs and site-specific operating conditions by educating the FCNSW and their logging contractors on these requirements and providing feedback on areas where they can improve environment outcomes.
The challenge of managing logging in landscapes so significantly impacted by fire means the EPA is increasing its operational, technical and legal resources for forestry regulation to increase the speed of on-ground deployment and timeliness of investigations.
NSW EPA officers are actively monitoring forestry operations, including checking that conditions imposed to protect the environment post bushfires, are being complied with. The EPA has a range of regulatory tools to address non-compliances, including education, stop work orders, remediation orders, clean up notices, penalty infringement notices and prosecutions.
Members of the community can help the EPA by reporting details of illegal activity to the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.