For one of the first critiques of Private Native Forestry see “The Forgotten Forests” by Carmel Flint elsewhere on this website.
The Private Native Forestry (PNF) Code of Practice (COP) was originally intended to foster environmental protection within the scope of farm forestry. In direct contradiction of the spirit and intent of this legislation , it is being used with the intention of logging/clearing native forests and woodlands for commercial firewood.
All that is required is to agree to abide by the COP. This assures the granting of ‘biodiversity certification’ by the NSW Environment Minister. The COP is deemed to automatically satsify both the Native Vegetation and Threatened Species Acts.
There is no requirement for ANY environmental survey. It is left to the developer to follow prescriptions within the COP to protect threatened species or items of cultural significance IF he finds any. In Mount Rae forest the developer is a full time commercial firewood merchant . Leaving it to the developer in this case to notify if he happens to come across a threatened species is unwise…
In my view this is one of the worst failings of this interim act. The vast majority of private lands have never undergone any ecological or cultural surveying . PNF approvals without the requirement to undertake any targetted surveys promotes ignorance as an excuse for logging High Conservation Value (HCV) lands . Failure to adequately recognise an Endangered Ecological Community, threatened species or item of indigineous heritage (such as a scar tree) , or in fact ANY existing components of an ecosystem, makes any subsequent prescriptions for such species or items largely redundant.Important habitat containing a host of non wood values is thus routinely logged with the approval of the very department entrusted with their protection.
A commitment to abiding by this inadequate code ensures approval and the granting of biodiversity certification by the Environment Minister for PNF clearing. It is this certification that negates the need for any other approvals. It certifies that PNF meets the “improve or maintain clauses” of the stricter Native Vegetation (NV) and Threatened Species (TS) acts. Without demonstrating how.
Biocertification by the NSW Environment Minister removes the need for Species Impact Statements, bypasses the Threatened Species Conservation act , bypasses the Native Vegetation act and removes any controls under Local Environmental Planning requirements.
The Mount Rae forest case is clearly an example of where it falls far short under both acts. The same logging was opposed by the Threatened Species Unit (South) of the Environment Protection and Regulation Branch prior to the introduction of the PNF COP in July 2007. They were not even consulted after this date. A section 91 licence to clear in known threatened species habitat would be required by any other landowner, but a commercial firewood merchant is now exempt from this requirement.
In Mount Rae Forest the developer and the Southern Tablelands Farm Forestry Network (STFFN) seem unable to identify ANYTHING and despite copious scientific evidence to the contrary maintain Mount Rae Forest has NO conservation value. This is of course complete nonsense and in direct contradiction to statements from NSW Government scientists and independent consultants.
All applications for landclearing require approval of Property Vegetation Plans by the local Catchment Management Authority. Not so PNF clearing applications. Biocertification by the Environment Minister removes this requirement.
The NV act makes provisions for the collection of domestic firewood, fenceposts and clearing under Routine Agricultural Management Activities (RAMAS) . Many believed PNF would also protect against commercial explotiation of such low end products as firewood. However PNF allows clearing for any purpose , and so commercial and industrial level clearing for firewood , biomass and woodchips is effectively now sanctioned by the Office of Environment and Heritage in direct contradiction of the NV act. A departmental spokesperson told me that the end product of logging is a social issue , not the departments.
Biocertification supposedly “ensures” operations meet the “improve or maintain” clauses . How? In Mount Rae forest it clearly cannot. My own on ground experience would lead me to believe that commercial scale clearing with heavy machinery in proven habitat for threatened species is not a recommended tool for improvement. Neither would it maintain or improve Endangered Ecological Communities (EEC’s) . Reliance on the developer in Mount Rae forest to assess broad scale mapping and ‘ground truth’ his property with the help of forestry connections has also demonstrated flaws in this process. However, regardless of identification , logging of EEC’s is allowed under PNF. Such lands should be targetted for protection by the Environment Minister, not recommended for logging.PNF would now appear to be a way of facilitating logging approvals .
Ministerial approval of PNF also enables the bypassing of the Soil Conservation Act with other landholders restricted to clearing on lands to 18 degrees of slope , but PNF allowing clearing of lands up to 30 degrees of slope.
Biocertification also overides any need for a development application in areas where previously local council consent was needed for forestry operations (such as Upper Lachlan Shire ). In the Mount Rae forest case councillors unanimously voted NO to this operation when they still had a role in the decision making process . Their time and effort in applying local knowledge and actually requiring environmental surveys when OEH does not , and seeking advice from the scientists of the OEH is now all meaningless under the hasty , ‘tick the box ‘process that is PNF.
In the last 4 and a half years nearly 300,ooo hectares of forests and woodlands on private lands have been approved for logging. All by the department of Environment and Heritage in direct contrast to the science and conservation principles they previously espoused.
In summary PNF is a law which effectively allows a pathway around legislation for those who would exploit important habitat for financial gain. Is PNF part of the ‘streamlining’ of processes or just another example of political expedience at the expense of the environment? (see POLITICS elsewhere on this website).
Mount Rae Forest is not the only area in NSW where perverse outcomes are being recorded . The following letter was published in the GOULBURN POST newspaper by the President of the North Coast Environment Council :