When it comes to reporting breaches of environmental laws, many are reluctant to contact the relevant authorities directly, fearing a lack of confidentiality.
The recommended avenue for reporting such breaches is through the EnviroLine where the operators, despite assurances of confidentiality, then request contact details in case investigating officers require further information.
Local environment groups provide an avenue for those who wish to remain anonymous, which saw one such recent report, alerting us to extensive under-scrubbing of forest north of Grafton.
Under-scrubbing is the process of bulldozing all under-storey vegetation, leaving only larger trees, and in this instance, not only had tens of thousands of native trees, shrubs and other plants been bulldozed, but many of the remaining trees had been damaged in the process. That scarring invariably leads to an early death by fire. The bulldozed vegetation was heaped into windrows some three metres high ready for burning, further damaging and/or killing nearby standing trees.
The cleared area is known to support Koalas, an iconic species that is in serious decline and facing extinction. The State Government is proudly reporting the spending of millions of dollars protecting them, so surely this clearing couldn't possibly be legal.
In this instance the EPA acted promptly, and responded to the complaint within days, explaining the clearing had in fact been approved. While that in itself was hard to believe, the reason given for the destruction was even harder to fathom. That, they informed us, was to enhance grazing potential!
The land in question has very low fertility soils, incapable of growing pasture so, in a good year, might support one bullock to 5 hectares. It seems unlikely therefore, that grazing was the objective, but allowable “thinning” for that purpose provided the justification.
The end result will be the loss of some 90% of the forest's biodiversity, serious erosion potential in the short term, and a guaranteed weed invasion over the longer term.
At a time when we desperately require more trees and forests to sequester carbon, these decisions make no environmental, social or economic sense.
- John Edwards
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 20 , 2020.