29 June 2021

Parliamentary Inquiry Puts Spotlight on Forestry Operations in NSW Native Forests

By Senior Solicitor Cerin Loane

An Upper House inquiry into the forest and timber products industry is underway in NSW. While the terms of reference for the inquiry are quite broad, the inquiry is expected to put a spotlight on the legal framework regulating forestry operations and highlight ongoing concerns about the future sustainability of logging native forests, particularly following the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season. 

There are significant concerns amongst scientists, and the community, that the management of forestry operations in NSW is poorly done, and inconsistent with ecologically sustainable forest management (ESFM). These concerns have been heightened following the 2019-2020 bushfires, which saw bushfires burn over 5.5 million hectares of land, including 38% of the NSW national park estate and 42% of NSW state forest.i 293 threatened animals and 680 threatened plants have sightings recorded in the fire ground.ii 

The inquiry provides a critical opportunity to examine the scientific, economic, and environmental evidence as to the viability and sustainability of the industry continuing to undertake forestry operations in native forests. From a legal perspective, the failings of the current regulatory regime mean the overarching goal of ESFM is not being achieved and is unlikely to be achievable under the current framework. 

EDO’s submission to the inquiry highlights the following: 

  • Forestry operations have significant, detrimental impacts on the environment and biodiversity, including threatened plants and animals, water and soil quality, and carbon emissions. These impacts have been exacerbated by the 2019-2020 bushfires. 
  • The 2019-2020 bushfires were unprecedented in terms of scale, intensity and extent and have put significant pressure on our native forests ecosystems and the timber and forest products industry, as a user of native forests. 
  • In addition, ongoing and intensifying environmental challenges – including climate change and declining biodiversity– will exacerbate impacts of forestry operations on native forests ecosystems in NSW. 
  • Scientists, and other stakeholders, have expressed concern that that the existing regulatory framework – in particular the Coastal Integrated Forestry Approval (IFOA) and the NSW Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) – is not consistent with the principles of ESFM. 
  • The current regulatory framework is also inadequate for responding to major events such as the 2019-2020 bushfires. Extreme weather events such as this are predicted to occur more frequently into the future. 
  • There is growing evidence that logging of public native forests may be no longer tenable, for both economic and environmental reasons, and particularly following the ecological and wood supply impacts of the 2019-2020 bushfire season. 

We recommend that:  

  1. Forestry operations in NSW native forests should be suspended following the 2019-2020 bushfires in both fire-affected native forests and unburnt areas serving as species-recovery refugia pending the outcome of the NRC post-bushfire advice. 
  1. The process by which the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) prepares its independent, evidence-based advice on forestry operations under the coastal IFOA as the NSW public forest estate recovers from the 2019-20 bushfires should be transparent, and the NRC advice must be made public. 
  1. The current legal framework for regulating forestry operations in native forests on public and private land must be revised to better align with the principles of ESFM, including with respect to increased transparency and reporting, third party enforcement rights, and responding to environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. 
  1. IFOAs, in particular the Coastal IFOA, should be revised and updated to take into account the impacts of the 2019-2020 bushfires. 
  1. The Government must finalise the Private Native Forestry (PNF) Review, including reporting the outcomes of the review and consultation on the Draft PNF Code. No changes should be made to the PNF Code until the PNF Review is finalised. 
  1. The Parliamentary Committee should examine the scientific, economic, and environmental evidence as to the viability and sustainability of the forestry and timber products industry continuing to undertake forestry operations in native forests. 

More information about the inquiry is available on the NSW Parliament Website

You can read EDO’s full submissions here. Previous EDO submissions and reports, including on forestry regulation, are available on EDO’s website.