The NSW Government is in the process of changing the broad suite of legislation which protects the natural environment. While this presents an opportunity to improve environmental protection, it also presents an opportunity for the Government to weaken it.
One area of particular concern for environment groups is changes to the rules governing logging operations, changes which will seriously weaken protection for koalas. These new Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs) being written by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be available for public consultation early this year.
Koalas in this state are already in serious trouble – a situation which resulted in the listing of the species as vulnerable under the federal EPBC Act in 2012.
The new IFOAs plan to replace on-ground surveys with habitat models to streamline pre-logging koala surveys.
Dr Oisin Sweeney, Science Officer with the NSW National Parks Association, said, “The experts that reviewed the EPAs models found that they can’t predict the occurrence of koalas because they don’t take into account either the social nature of koalas or past disturbance.”
“Basically koalas, like humans, like to stay close to their families. These social ties mean that habitat is not the sole driver of koala occurrence. The models don’t consider past disturbance either: intensive logging and fires leave a legacy which affects whether koalas will use an area.”
Dr Sweeney is also concerned that the EPA has not analysed the effect of the current regulations on koala populations. “It is extraordinary that despite huge documented declines in koala populations across the NSW coast, the EPA would consider weakening logging regulations without knowing what the current ones do.”
The North Coast Environment Council’s Susie Russell is scathing about the proposed changes.
Ms Russell said, “This is pretending to look for koalas, not looking for koalas. And we know from past experience in Royal Camp [State Forest] that if you don’t look you don’t find and if you don’t find you don’t protect.”
Questions obviously need to be asked about why the EPA, which does not have a good record with forestry compliance, is weakening koala protection.
- Leonie Blain
This post originally appeared in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 11 January 2016.