EPA – loses community trust, retains political attitude

News reports this week suggest the EPA’s performance inquiry received very few complimentary submissions. On the issue of native forest logging, in its submission, the EPA kicks off with the extraordinary claim that ‘The management of Australia’s forests is guided by the National Forest Policy Statement’.

Exactly how the EPA figure this is unclear, but it does acknowledge concerns ‘around the ecological impacts of logging, sustainability of harvesting, timber supply, and the operational needs of the timber industry.’

Regrettably it also confirms an intention to ignore these concerns, as the EPA reiterates the government’s position that there will be ‘no net change to wood supply’. It also confirms that while Crown forests ‘provide the major source of native timber and wood-based products. Forests on leasehold and private land also contribute to this supply.’

While it was apparent the government has been supplementing its unsustainable wood supplies from private land, it seems unlikely  the aforementioned concerns will be addressed while this situation continues.

Concurrent with the inquiry, the EPA has released it’s ‘Private Native Forestry and Crown Forestry Environmental Compliance Priorities‘. There are ten priorities, the lamest being ‘Forest Health – to improve the knowledge base on the occurrence of BMAD in forests.’ To achieve this the EPA is providing FNSW, and the (north coast) BMAD working group, details of it observations of BMAD during compliance activities.

In reality Forestry have ignored BMAD for 20 years, and the EPA’s approach was criticised in North East Forest Alliance submission to the inquiry  –

” Referring complaints about logging to the BMAD Working Group is an abrogation of the EPAs responsibilities to protect the environment. The BMAD Working Group has no authority or ability to intervene and investigate impacts or monitor outcomes. Dealing with cases of BMAD is outside the ambit of the working group, who havent even met for months.”
Another EPA priority is the basal area and tree retention requirements.

cyp170

Although Forestry have a lower limit of 10m2 per hectare, the basal area retained for private forest logging is a minimum of 12m2 per ha, including habitat trees, etc. To put this figure in perspective the tree above (E.cypellocarpa) has a diameter at breast height of 170 centimeters. This diameter equates to a basal area of close to 2.3 m2. Hence, retaining 4 of these trees per hectare in state forest, or 5 trees per hectare on private land, is consistent with the basal area retention requirements.

However, trees of this size are few and far between. Measurements of trees during the initial koala surveys (n=17, 692), found only 67 (0.4%) were greater than 120 centimeters DBH, and only 4 (0.02%) were greater than 170cm. Trees of this size could be hundreds of years old, and began their lives at a time when ecological processes still operated. The EPA’s priorities, not being consistent with the National Forest Policy statement, aren’t aimed at restoring these processes.

For example, recent research from Eucalytpus wandoo forests in Western Australia found ‘More vertebrate diggings and scats were recorded beneath healthier E. wandoo trees. Diggings and scats were also correlated with time since last fire and seasonal differences, with more time since last fire and wetter months related to more diggings and scats.’

While this outcome may seem logical,  what it takes to change the EPA’s illogical political attitude, and work toward forest restoration, remains uncertain.

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