The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has commenced five prosecutions in the Land and Environment Court against Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCN) for allegedly breaching licence requirements in 2018.
Allegedly committed by FCN’s contractors, the offences – the felling of trees in exclusion zones and protected areas, some of which are specifically set up to protect koala habitat – took place in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest (west southwest of Glenreagh).
The FCN states in a media release that it had set aside “three times” the required kola habitat “under the rule set” and that the “EPA’s allegations relate to nine trees”, despite “protecting an additional 6,000 trees”.
The prosecutions follow the EPA issuing a stop work order on Saturday July 18, to cease tree harvesting, in compartments 32, 33 and 34 of the forest, where “serious breaches of forestry operations rules” were alleged to have been committed.
The EPA alleges that the current alleged breaches occurred in compartments 539 and 540 of the forest, in breach of Forestry Corporation’s licence.
The EPA’s acting chief executive officer, Jacqueleine Moore, said it was unacceptable to put vulnerable species, such as the koala, in danger by breaking the rules.
“We have strict procedures in place to protect wildlife, and if they are disregarded it can put these animals under threat,” Ms Moore said.
The EPA alleges that: Forestry Corporation’s contractors felled trees and operated snig tracks (tracks created by harvesting machinery) within a koala high use area exclusion zone located within Compartment 539 of the forest; and, contractors felled trees in protected rainforest areas and an exclusion zone around warm temperate rainforest.
Offences relating to koala exclusion zones carry a maximum penalty of $440,000 each; the other “three offences carry a maximum penalty of $110,000 each”.
“In this instance, after a long investigation process that involved interviews and a consultation process with Forestry Corporation, the EPA has decided that these actions warrant prosecution,” Ms Moore said.
“We’re sending a strong message that laws created to protect the environment, and in particular vulnerable species like the koala, must be adhered to.”
A Forestry Corporation media release states: “Without commenting on the merits of the prosecution, as this matter is before the courts, during this renewable timber harvesting operation 21 hectares of koala habitat was set aside, which was three times what was required under the rule set, protecting an additional 6,000 trees, and the EPA allegations relate to nine trees.
“Forestry Corporation recognises the importance of complying with the strict environmental regulations that apply to forestry operations and carried out a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to these alleged offences.”