ENDANGERED ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITY

Lands on the left are claimed by a non-resident firewood merchant and his forestry supporters to be a “dead and dying” and “moribund”. That an understorey is non-existent and comprised only of a leaf litter layer. That it is not an EEC . Lands on the right are owned by myself and another landowner and have been studied by ecologists over many years and are recognised by the State Government as an EEC, containg threatened species and a healthy and diverse understorey of numerous native orchids, grasses herbs and forbs.One side of the road approved for the highest level of protection. The other side (consisting of exactly the same vegetation) is afforded the highest level-commercial scale-degredation.

Ecologists from the now Office of Environment and Heritage (then DEC and DECCW) walked through lands in this forest prior to it’s subdividion and sale in response to reports of endangered orchids. (which they verified) 

 Following complaints of clearfelling with a bulldozer  many years later the same departmental scientists conducted ground inspections on the very lands now approved for firewood logging.

It was these scientists who wrote to council in 2005: “I advise however that the forest type dominated by Eucalyptus radiata in the Mount Rae area is very significant as less than 5 % of it’s original distribution remains. It is also poorly reserved. It would thus be eligible for listing as an Endangered Ecological Community. It is hereby strongly recommended that council does not support any further removal of this vegetation type.”

This 2005 recommendation to council stated clearly that there was to be “No further removal of standing trees”.

In 2006 two properties adjacent to those now approved for logging were assessed by a Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Authority Officer for a conservation project. The process of ‘ground truthing’ vegetation was carried out by a professional under the approved  process any landowner would go through using P5ma and SCIVI reporting . The result – these lands (which match that of the Firewood Barons ) did not match the description of Western Tablelands Dry Forest but did match that of Tablelands Basalt Forest.  They were predominantly E.radiata  with E. dalrympleana and Acacia melanoxylon. They contained a sparse shrubby layer with Acacia dealbata and the understorey layers were surveyed and found to contain numerous herbs and native grasses.

In 2007 the Firewood Baron applied to local council to conduct commercial firewood clearing using a bulldozer on Lots 2 and 6 and lots 10 and 11 in Mount Rae forest . These lots were those of non-resident landowners who had signed documents in 2006 giving permission to the Firewood Baron to conduct logging operations.     

The response to council from the Office of Environment and Heritage (then DEC) contained this comment on significant vegetation :

“DEC opposes the operation on 4 grounds … No 2: impact on significant vegetation…it is DEC’s understanding that much of the proposed operation will be carried out in forest dominated by Eucalyptus radiata. DEC has previously advised that this forest is very significant in the Mt.Rae area as less than 5% of its original distrubition remains . It is also poorly reserved. It should be noted that the vegetation type referred to above, known as Tablelands Basalt Forest , has been nominated for listing as an Endangered Ecological Community (EEC). Whilst it is not DEC’s role to determine EEC’s , DEC is of the view that this type meets the criteria for listing as endangered…

In 2007 my own land was assessed for a NSW State Government Conservation Agreement . Vegetation was surveyed and and identified by independent ecologists as Tablelands Basalt Forest.”The owner and the Minister recognise that the conservation area contains a significant area of remnant Tablelands Basalt Forest. The property forms a part of a remnant patch of forest that is significant locally. ”   On hearing that the same Environment Minister (Mr Philip Koperberg) who was to sign my conservation agreement had just granted ministerial exemptions and biocertification to a commercial firewood logging operation on identical lands on 3 properties in this forest I did not sign and withdrew my application. The blatant hypocrisy involved should be apparent to all. The backflip and betrayal  of  this forest, the landowners who had listened and supported the department at great personal cost,the scientists within the department who had spent years opposing this scale of clearing by a political appointee and some departmental bureaucrats beggars belief.

I re-entered this agreement in 2010 as it would seem to me that in the face of such government hypocrisy only the actions of individuals can matter. The Environment Minister (at that time Mr Sartor) wrote: “I am pleased to see that the Conservation Agreement protects native vegetation including an endangered ecological community listed under the Threatened Species Act 1995. ..” 

 Four other properties also had surveys conducted for such agreements. The results of detailed  plot surveys performed by botanists and ecologists from the Office of Environment and Heritage Conservation Partners Program revealed vegetation matching the description of the now listed EEC  Tablelands  Basalt Forest . No Western Tablelands dry forest was identified. These detailed surveys identified numerous understory plants and vegetation rated as being healthy. Not “dying’ and “moribund” as forestry interests falsely claim. Management recommendations by these government scientists was feral animal control, not the purchase of a bulldozer or forestry harvester and clearing for firewood…

One of these other landowners also  adjoining those for logging has  entered such an agreement ( 20011) . As well as findings that the property contained the above vegetation type –  “approximately 95% of the original extent of this vegetation type has been cleared at the time of this agreement .” , lands were also found to contain  “Snow Gum -Mountain Gum  Tussock grass-Herb Forest . In the  Hawkesbury Nepean catchment approximatley 90% of the original extent has been cleared. ”  A third propert was assessed as “This property supports Tablelands Basalt Forest EEC . Habitat features include tree hollows , dams, fallen timber and food plants such as wattles and native grasses..vegetation -95% cleared Ribbin -Gum – Narow leaved peppermint grassy open forest “. Whilst this property is not yet under a government Conservation Agreement , the landowner has joined the Wildlife Land Trust and made a commitment to managing for future conservation. Not managing as future  firewood…  

Survey by Tony Saunders-Merops Services:

“this habitat type does not appear to be common in the local government area and large areas of continous forest are rare in the shire. The health of the site may also depend on whether it continues to exist as part of a larger forest remnant and whether other parts of the forest offsite are altered”

So if everyone  recognised the rare nature of these lands how can they be logged?Simple:

  1. Private Native Forestry  ALLOWS logging in Endangered Ecological Communities.  The department entrusted with protecting High Conservation Value habitat allows its degradation. 

2. Regardless of this,  the developer denies that these lands contain Endangered Ecological Communities  , just as he (falsely) contended that these lands did not contain threatened species and understorey plants.The opinion of departmental scientists  and CMA authorites were not considered . (just as the past studies and opinion of the Threatened Species Unit on flora and fauna apparently  have no place in the PNF process) 

The following is from the Private Native Forestry Code of Practice Guideline.

 EHP (Ecological Harvesting Plan) assessment process. 1. PNF staff provide assisitance to identify EECs through mapping, fact sheets and field visit.2. Landholder identifies EEC on their property.

well I guess that it. The PNF staff can’t identify an EEC from a field visit and so its once agian left up to the developer…   

  In Mount Rae Forest we are informed the developer supplied information to the department by the Southern Tablelands Farm Forestry Network (STFFN) . They claimed copious scientific evidence from the “ANU” (Australian National University) .

Question in NSW Parliament: “Is it true that the Mount Rae area and the property in question subject to PVP, contains Tablelands Basalt Forest   (an EEC)  Answer: “I am advised that consultants from the Australian National University , engaged to undertake soil and vegetation typing of the property in question did not find Tableland Basalt Forest.”

In fact the “ANU” turned out to be studies by students from the Fenner School of Forestry at the ANU and a leading forester . This forester at the ANU Fenner School of Forestry  was also a committee member of the Southern Tablelands Farm Foresrty Network.  I obtained the “copious ” science that this area was the more common Western Tablelands Dry Forest and wrote the following letter in local media:    

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