SUBMISSION

TO

THE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

ON THE

DRAFT CODE OF PRACTICE
FOR
PRIVATE NATIVE FORESTRY


FROM
CLARENCE ENVIRONMENT CENTRE
29-31 SKINNER STREET
SOUTH GRAFTON
NSW 2460

Summary

Having read the Draft Code of Practice, the Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) makes the following general comments:

We see the Code as providing some good basic outcomes for environmental protection, but it fails to address a number of vital issues, and provides little legislative muscle to ensure compliance.

In this respect we note there is no requirement for the prospective Private Native Forestry (PNF) operator to submit harvest plans for approval. While there is existing legislation that can be enacted in the event of threatened species destruction, and pollution of waterways, we consider a preemptive approach is preferable. Therefore we ask that pre-logging surveys; approval of Harvest and Forest Management Plans, and post- logging monitoring be a requirement of this legislation.

CEC also notes the exemption from the Code's requirements of all PNF enterprises less than 100ha. This means a vast area of coastal NSW forestry will remain unregulated. We see any exemptions based on the size of the operation as unacceptable, and therefore urge that all PNF operations, be required to comply with regulations relating to stream-bank exclusion zones; protected land; erosion control; harvest limits; and threatened species and habitat protection.

In the case of PNF enterprises greater than 100ha, CEC notes there is no requirement for operators to conduct pre-harvest flora and fauna surveys, and only those threatened species and communities mapped on data bases, such as the NSW Wildlife Atlas, need be addressed by the required Plans. As the vast majority of private properties have never been subjected to any ecological survey, all threatened species, and their habitat, on private land will remain at risk. Therefore we see any Code that fails to require pre-harvesting surveys for flora and fauna, as failing to protect threatened species, and therefore unacceptable.

A major concern is the Listed Species Ecological Prescriptions, attached to the Code, which appear to be a decade out of date. This has resulted in some 75% of the State's threatened species being excluded.

The CEC is concerned that vital issues relating to commercial firewood collection; control of invasive weeds; and cleaning of machinery to prevent spread of both weeds and diseases, have been overlooked. All are listed as Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act, but the Code fails to provide any regulation in respect these issues.

In general we believe the requirements of the Code are altogether too complex, with duplication occurring in key areas of planning and reporting procedures.

Finally, the proposed 2 year lead time for the introduction of the proposed Code of Practice is seen as highly undesirable. This legislation has already been three years in preparation, and has allowed panic logging to occur across the state on a massive scale. The Clarence Environment Centre considers a further two year extension is unacceptable and also unnecessary, and immediate implementation is vital.

DETAILED ASSESSMENT OF
THE PRIVATE NATIVE FORESTRY DRAFT CODE OF PRACTICE

1. Broadscale clearing


The Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) notes (section 1.1.) that: "Under the PNF regulation, broadscale clearing proposed in a draft PVP for the sole purpose of private native forestry is to be regarded as improving or maintaining environmental outcomes if: * The clearing is in accordance with the code".

We believe broadscale clearing can never be "in accordance with the code", considering those requirements listed in Sections 3 and 4, specifically:

  • Single tree selection and thinning operations must not reduce stand basal area below the limits specified in Table A.
  • The sum of canopy openings must at no time exceed 20% of net harvestable area.
  • Habitat trees must be retained.
  • 10 hollow-bearing trees must be retained per 2ha where available
  • One recruitment tree representing the range of species must be retained for each hollow-bearing tree
  • A minimum of six feed trees per two hectares must be retained where available.
Therefore, Section 1.1 should read: "Broadscale clearing will require development consent".

Other forms of Broadscale Clearing

Whilst some significant landscape features are excluded from logging under the draft Code, there are no measures in place to prevent such areas being cleared or degraded by other activities, including those described as exemptions for routine agricultural management activities under the Native Vegetation Act 2003.

We assert that under the current legislation, broadscale clearing of native vegetation has been widespread, yet there has been few, if any, successful prosecutions under the Act.

To ensure areas that are excluded from logging are not available for clearing and degradation via these routine agricultural management activities, permanent protection for these areas should be written into the Native Vegetation Act.

2. Planning and Management Harvesting Plan

The Code requires a Harvesting Plan be prepared only where an area proposed for PNF exceeds 100ha in any five year period. Our understanding of the Code suggests that if the total volume of timber harvested is less than 1,000 cubic metres over the five year period, the area of exemption may be expanded accordingly beyond the 100ha. With little opportunity to accurately check the actual volume of timber harvested, this aspect of the Code appears uncontrollable.

In coastal NSW, we suggest the percentage of operations under 100ha, and therefore exempt from the PNF requirements, will be unacceptably high, thus rendering the Code's objectives highly ineffectual, in terms of the industry's ecological sustainability.

We consider the inclusion of these exemptions allows loopholes, whereby landowners wishing to avoid the bureaucracy can simply undertake logging in an area of 100ha or less over a five year period then move on to another 100ha section. This operating of smaller harvest areas may also be facilitated if the property consists of more than one portion (Deposited Plan).

Mapping of threatened species

The requirements for the Harvesting Plan (Section 2.1.a.) only requires the mapping of "recorded locations of any species, populations or endangered ecological communities...". There is no requirement for flora and fauna surveys, therefore the operator need not include the location of any threatened species, population or community that has not been listed on data bases such as the NSW Wildlife Atlas.

Few private properties have ever been assessed for threatened species, and with no requirement for pre- harvest surveys, threatened species, and key habitat areas will inevitably be overlooked or ignored. Therefore, the CEC considers pre-logging surveys of flora and fauna must be required.

Checking the accuracy of the mapping of significant landscape areas to be excluded from logging, appears to be wholly reliant on satellite imaging. This technology is unlikely to identify many areas of high value habitat, nor will it identify rare vegetation associations worthy of conservation.

Monitoring

While a Harvesting Plan is deemed necessary to conduct PNF on areas larger than 100ha, it is only required to "be in an approved form", with no requirement to actually submit the Plan for approval. This fact, in conjunction with the proposed 15 year audit cycle, "preferably soon after forestry activities", allows DNR to advise the landowner to "become informed of ways of improving forest management". With no requirement for pre-logging surveys, and no requirement for approval of a harvest plan, the proposed post harvest audit will fail to provide any environmental protection.

Therefore, we consider a pre-clearing assessment should be a prerequisite for all PNF activities, regardless of the size of the operation, with follow-up audits to ensure compliance with the Code's requirements.

A further concern (Section 2.1.7.) is that a landowner can "amend the (unlodged and unapproved) Harvesting Plan at any time (except for matters referred to in Parts 3.1 and 3.2)", Allowing mapping details to be altered as long as the changes are noted. This suggests that recorded locations of threatened species, and details of flora and fauna management actions can also be modified.

Forest Management Plans

Having read the requirements of both the Harvesting and Forest Management Plans, and recognising this comes on top of a required Property Vegetation Plan (PVP), we feel there is considerable duplication, and suggest DNR explore all possible avenues to simplify these plans.

At the same time we note the requirement for written long-term planning objectives for forest management (2.2.6.b.ii). In this, there is no specific definition of 'long-term', and there is an allowance for the plan to be modified by the landowner (albeit noted on the plan). This is unsatisfactory, and we repeat the call for these plans to be approved, and that a time period be set for long-term objectives, eg. 50 years.

3. Silvicultural operations - Harvesting limits

We found the proposals for harvesting limits to be complex. While formulas used to calculate 'stand basal area', for example, may be familiar to forest professionals, we feel these requirements will confuse many landowners. Also, given there is little or no monitoring proposed, we suggest the limits will be unenforceable.

We are also concerned that no size limits have been set for the logging of individual trees, and ask that limits be set to exclude small trees and also to prevent the harvest of larger old-growth trees. These limits seen are particularly important for some Ironbark species and also River Red Gums, both of which are known to be in decline.

We have documented proof (reported to Forests NSW and DIPNR, 2003) of instances where old-growth trees have been cut down to provide logs of less than 2.5m in length. Further evidence has been provided of instances where old-growth, non-timber species have been felled to harvest burls.

Harvesting limits, both in size and numbers, should be more closely aligned with the provisions for environmental protection (see below).

4. Protection of the environment

The proposal to protect the significant landscape features (Table C) is fully supported by the Clarence Environment Centre, with the following qualifications.

Existing roads

Roads are notorious vectors for weeds; disease; and vertebrate pests, all of which are listed as Key Threatening Processes under the Threatened Species Conservation Act. They can also contribute to major pollution through erosion. The Code suggests maintenance of existing roads through wetlands be allowed: This is highly undesirable and those roads should be closed. Elsewhere, where existing roads impact significant vegetation communities, we ask that landowners be required to explore alternatives wherever possible.

Pre-harvest surveys

Given there is no requirement to pre-survey proposed PNF lands, important vegetation communities may not be identified. Therefore, we again ask that Harvesting and Forest Management Plans be submitted for approval, and that approval require mandatory flora and fauna surveys be undertaken.

Heritage sites

Across Australia Abotriginal heritage sites on private land have been hidden, and in some cases destroyed, through fear that land tenure may be affected if the site becomes known. The Code (Table C) specifically requires that, "Forest operations must not occur within 10 metres of a listed heritage site." It is imperative that landowners be required to protect all sites, listed or otherwise. At the same time heritage sites should be seen as an asset to the landowner, not a liability or impediment. To this end assistance or compensation should be made to encourage the landowner to take on custodianship of the site.

Protection of Biodiversity Hollow-bearing trees.

The CEC endorses in principle the the requirements outlined in the Code to protect habitat and biodiversity (Section 4.2). However, the outlined Minimum Standards (Table D) needs to be strengthened.

We note that in respect of 'Broad Forest Types' "10 Hollow Bearing trees per 2 hectares, where available", must be retained. We point out that in the majority of previously logged forests it is highly unlikely that ten hollow-bearing trees exist in any two hectares. Loss of habitat, and in particular old-growth trees, has been determined as the major contributing factor in the decline of all threatened species, large numbers of which are hollow dependent.

We therefore strongly urge DNR to amend the requirement for tree retention to read "All hollow-bearing trees, living and dead (stags), must be retained". Given that so few old-growth/habitat trees remain across the landscape, this requirement should be no imposition on the landowner.

Feed trees.

A list of feed trees is provided (Table E), with the explanation that "a feed tree is a tree that provides a source of nectar or other food for wildlife." The CEC is extremely concerned that only recognised timber species are protected under this proposed legislation, and suggest the list is irrelevant as all native trees, and shrubs provide food and shelter for wildlife.

There is no requirement under the Draft Code to protect critically important feed species from trampling during logging, or thinning during silvicultural activities. While all trees provide food and refuge for wildlife, we give the example of oak species (Allocasuarina) which provide the only source of food for threatened Glossy-black Cockatoos. Protection of these non-harvest species during logging operations should not be overlooked.

Minimising damage

We have reservations about the inclusion of the word "practicable" in the requirement that, "as far as practicable, forestry operations must not damage protected trees". Damage to trees dramatically reduces the lifespan of those trees, often leading to their demise before reaching old-growth stage. While accidents will occur, good forest management should make damage minimisation a priority, and be written into the Code.

Wildlife habitat corridors.

The Code contains no reference to wildlife corridors. It is essential that wildlife corridors, particularly for nomadic arboreal species such as Koala, be identified and mapped on all Forest Management Plans. Those plans also need to contain specific mitigation measures, to be approved by the appropriate authority.

Drainage stream-bank protection

River bank protection is the most contentious issue facing PNF. The need for legislation to ensure retention of riparian vegetation, so preventing topsoil loss and improving water quality, is paramount.

The Code has addressed this issue by setting riparian exclusion limits. However, the majority of PNF operations are run in conjunction with other farming activities. Cattle are currently causing major damage to river banks, on farms and in state forests, and this issue has to be addressed.

The CEC therefore urges DNR to add a requirement for all watercourses to be fenced off to ensure the exclusion of domestic stock. As the entire human community would benefit from cleaner water and healthier rivers, the cost impost should not be borne by landowners alone. We suggest that tax-payer subsidies be made available for the purpose.

Again, any legislation is only as good as its implementation. An adequate framework has to be developed to ensure compliance.

5. Construction of Forest Infrastructure

The CEC finds little fault with the Code's requirements for the construction of roads and log dumps. If compliance is monitored, including pre-harvest inspections as well as the planned post harvest audits, the Code's requirements appear logical and necessary.

6. Ecological Prescriptions

The Listed Species Ecological Prescriptions, accompanying the Code are a decade out of date, and lists just 48 out of a total of 225 threatened fauna in NSW. Large numbers of flora species have also been omitted, while name changes, and changes in various categories made since the mid 1990s have not been brought up to date. (eg. The endangered plant species, Sauropus albiflorus subsp. Microcladus, received a name change in about 1998 and is now listed as Phyllanthus microcladus. Newly listed species over the years, have also not been included.

Before legislation is enacted, the ecological prescriptions list must be corrected to include the approximately 75% of the State's threatened species which currently receive no mention. Regular updates must also be undertaken.

7. Additional issues not covered by the Code of Practice.

Firewood collection.

Commercial collection of firewood, both from reclaimed timber, and dead wood within the harvest area, is commonly undertaken by contractors in conjunction with regular logging activities.

Firewood collection is estimated to involve the uncontrolled collection and burning of 1.5 million tonnes of firewood each year in NSW. The collection of firewood is a listed Key Threatening Process under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act, which makes it a criminal offense under the Act. Yet the Code fails to mention the activity, and the omission which must be corrected.

Invasive weeds and spread of disease.

The Code fails to include any recommendations for prevention of the introduction, and spread of invasive native weeds into private native forests. Logging machinery, trucks, and smaller vehicles should be required to be cleaned prior to commencement of operations and entry to the property.

This cleaning requirement should also be extended to include prevention of fungal diseases such as the die- back pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi.

Public Register.

As a part of the Native Vegetation legislation, there was an agreement that all PVPs be placed on a public register and made available for public scrutiny. This agreement has been broken by the CMA, who now claims legal advice prevents public access to this information.

The issue of transparency has to be addressed in all current Native Vegetation legislation. All PVPs, FMPs and Harvest Plans should be open to scrutiny through a public register. Failure to make this information available will compromise the Code's integrity.

Patch clear-felling

The DNR currently allows intensive clear-felling of up to 20% of the net harvest area over successive logging events. This is broadscale clearing by stealth, and is totally unregulated, not subject to any tests required for clearing under the 'maintain or improve' criteria. This legislative loophole is demonstrably unsustainable and will have a devastating environmental impact. This loophole has to be closed.

Environmental destruction by fire.

Timber Communities Australia, an organisation representing the timber industry, has already stated it would not blame landowners if they allowed wildfire to destroy their forests to improve grazing potential (Grafton's Daily Examiner newspaper, 2nd August 2006).

This advocating of environmental destruction is irresponsible scare tactics currently being employed in an attempt to influence DNR to water down the proposed PNF legislation. Nevertheless, there appears to be no legislation to prevent landowners from adopting high frequency fire regimes to promote grazing lands. The CEC urges DNR to consider adding legislation requiring all landowners to maintain or improve the integrity of their forests' biodiversity.

Implementation date

Finally, the proposed 2 year lead time for the introduction of the proposed Code of Practice is seen as highly undesirable. This legislation has already been three years in preparation, and has allowed panic logging to occur across the state on a massive scale. The Clarence Environment Centre considers a further two year extension is unacceptable and also unnecessary.

Immediate implementation is vital.

Compiled by J. Edwards
For the Clarence Environment Centre