Native Forest Logging

(Private Member's Statement, 5 March 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Protecting the planet's biodiversity is vital to human life regardless of where people live because it is essential to clean air, clean water, agriculture and pollination. This bushfire season wreaked havoc on the State's biodiversity and a large number of my constituents have contacted me calling for an end to any further native bushland destruction from logging. Over five million hectares of land burned in New South Wales alone, including two million hectares, or 41 per cent, of the national park estate and 875,000 hectares, or 40 per cent, of State forests. Over a billion animals and hundreds of billions of insects were killed. At least 5,000 koalas died in this State alone, with around 28 per cent of their habitat in northern New South Wales and 21 per cent in southern New South Wales burnt. Some critically endangered species have likely become extinct.

The fires have reduced, fragmented and isolated native flora and fauna habitat but much can recover if we protect what is left to give wildlife access to natural refuges. Protecting all native forests that survived after the fires is critical to ensuring wildlife and habitat can recover. But logging operations have already commenced or are planned in rare unburnt habitat for threatened species impacted by the fires. Previous assessments that approved current logging operations are no longer relevant and we need to reassess the consequences of logging after considering the full impact of the fires on the State's threatened species and ecological communities.

The Natural Resources Commission's process of remapping and rezoning old-growth forests in north‑east New South Wales to open them up to forestry operations began before the fires and must cease now. Some 29,000 hectares of previously protected old-growth forests on privately owned land have already been opened up to logging and if these rules are applied to public forests at least another 14,600 hectares could follow. These old-growth forests were previously off limits to logging because of their ecological, Aboriginal, aesthetic and research significance. They are especially important following fires because old-growth tree hollows provide much-needed refuges for species to nest and breed in. These hollows take decades, if not centuries, to establish.

The forestry industry wants to go even further and log native forests burnt in the wildfires. This would prevent tree regrowth and kill any new flora shoots that start to appear from the ash. The movement of ash-laden soil from logging operations and machinery would pollute rivers and streams, potentially killing fish en masse. Scientists also tell us that when forests already damaged by fire are logged they become more prone to fire for decades. Logging increases the risks by opening the canopy and drying out the forest floor, making it easier for fires to travel and burn through landscape more intensely. Logging also increases the fuel load by leaving debris such as branches, stumps, leaves and small abandoned logs that dry out. Furthermore, young trees burn more easily than older trees.

It is unfathomable that the State can take a business-as-usual approach to logging after this devastating bushfire season. Native forest logging is destructive and our environment will survive the aftermath of the fires only if it is given the chance to recover without disturbance. We need to halt native forest logging while an independent comprehensive scientific assessment is undertaken on the impact of these fires across the entire network of native forests, threatened species and ecological communities. The focus of the assessment must be to ensure the environment has the best chance of recovery.

Native forest logging is unsustainable and provides little community benefit. Indeed, most cleared trees are used for woodchip. Propping up the industry with government support will not help anyone. Plantations are more sustainable and economically viable, and we should fast-track transitioning the industry in this direction. There is no justification for opening currently protected areas to logging. This is not environmentally sustainable and it is not economic. I understand the cost involved in remapping currently protected old-growth forests actually exceeds the value of buying out wood supply contracts.

The transition must coincide with support for forestry workers, including to guarantee sustainable well‑paid jobs in their communities. We know that forest conservation and national parks bring tourism and the Government could also promote industries like oyster farming. A good, creative Government can find solutions that protect forestry communities. We must protect the remaining native flora, fauna and ecosystems for future generations. The best road to biodiversity recovery and the adaptation to an environment with more frequent ferocious wildfires is to expand wilderness areas. I call on the Government to put a moratorium on native forest logging, commit to permanently withdrawing operations in old-growth forests on both private and public land, and refuse applications to log forests that have burned.