When a tree falls in a forest … then locals hear the sound

Police and the rescue squad were called to release two people locked onto mechanical equipment at the Tarkeeth State Forest during the week: Bellingen locals, Sean and AJ are adamant NSW Forestry Corporation's clear-fell operation is flawed. Image supplied.
Police and the rescue squad were called to release two people locked onto mechanical equipment at the Tarkeeth State Forest during the week: Bellingen locals, Sean and AJ are adamant NSW Forestry Corporation's clear-fell operation is flawed. Image supplied.

WHILE protesters at Tarkeeth State Forest are continuing to be a thorn in the side of NSW Forestry Corporation’s clear-fell logging project, nearby residents are still hopeful a meaningful discourse can provide a way forward.

Adele and Paul Hemphill have lived in the Valley for three decades. For most of that time they enjoyed the sanctuary that comes with having a State Forest as a neighbour - quiet, beautiful and nature-rich.

But they are also pragmatic, they are not ‘NIMBYs’. They’ve equally weathered the selective logging operations carried out in early the 2000s.

However, Forestry Corporation’s current project – a five year clear-fell, burn, spray and then replant has caused the Hemphills grave concern.

“The big thing is the aggressive nature of harvest – clear-fell over a large area over an extended period of time,” Mr Hemphill said.

“The remains of what cannot be marketed will be burned, and then the sections will be sprayed. These are the wrong methods.

“In 2002, the forest was thinned without hassle. They improved the road. It was a selected harvested.

“The current harvest is 20th century ideology. It does not reflect the understanding we have of nature and biodiversity we have now. There has to be an understanding we are interconnected. You can't clear-fell between two rivers, everything flows downhill – if you use selective methods it mitigates this.”

An ex-accountant, Mr Hemphill sees it is a nuanced debate. He has some sympathies, an understanding of Forestry Corporation’s dilemma, but he is perplexed and frustrated that concessions are few and far between.

“Clearly the clear-fell operations cost a lot less than a selective harvesting,” he said. “A hell of a lot more ... and you couldn't harvest as much. It is the cheapest way to get rid of this uneconomical plantation and start again.

“And to a certain degree we were consulted. We had an amicable discussion - we talked about the industry, looked at maps, we appreciated where they were coming from.

“But we are on the front line. We hear the noise, we will see, smell the smoke, and Forestry Corporation will use our road. So we formally requested a visual buffer, for noise and dust too. We asked for 100 metres to protect us and the wildlife – a wildlife corridor. And though Forestry Corporation listened, at the end of the day they gave us zilch.”

There are no more than 10 families who live along Tarkeeth’s thoroughfare, Fells Rd, and the border with the State Forest contains healthy blackbutts – one of Forestry Corporation’s preferred species.

If Forestry Corporation conceded this territory, it would also concede dollars and good timber for milling. Yet, after days of blockade – the costs of police staff, loss in workers' time and machinery waiting dormant – the question arises as to the price of bringing residents onboard.  

“Everyone should sit down and compromise,” Mr Hemphill said. “Mediate and negotiate. We want a fair and reasonable discussion - for visual and ecological reasons.

“We should sit down and talk about a buffer … and more broadly we want to underscore – forest neighbours are looking for a sustainable selective harvesting to provide a permanent supply of quality timber to local mills, and support local jobs."

Response from NSW Forestry Corporation 

“We understand that harvesting and replanting plantations will have a short term visual impact, but in the long term we are running a fundamentally sustainable business, growing trees and wood for the future,” a spokesperson said.

“During 2016 we will be harvesting and then replanting around 100 hectares of Tarkeeth State Forest, a similar size to the area we harvested and replated in 2012 and which has already regrown with young trees and returned to a forested vista, made up of fast growing vigorous young trees.

“By harvesting and replanting over the course of a number of years we see a more gradual transition in the landscape to younger, more vigorous forests. The impact of this will also be both visually and ecologically offset through areas protected from harvesting. This is a model for sustainable forestry.

“We have carefully planned our activities in Tarkeeth State Forest to ensure they exceed the strict environmental requirements of the Plantation and Reafforestation Act and Code. We also consulted at length with neighbours and other stakeholders and we believe we have achieved an appropriate balance between many competing values and objectives. 

“Within the plantations, more than 100 hectares have already been set aside as wildlife corridors and buffer zones around waterways and environmental features in addition to the more than 500 hectares of native forest within Tarkeeth State Forest that will not be touched in this operation and the vast adjoining areas of State Forest and National Park in the Bellinger Valley.”

Statement from Greens Forestry spokesperson David Shoebridge 

“Though some of the logged forest is plantation, Forestry Corporation's clear-felling practices means that erosion and run-off will affect a far broader area than just what is being logged. 

“We strongly support the community protesting against the unsustainable and damaging clear-felling of their local forests.

"We saw in nearby Tuckers Nob Forest that clear-felling on steep sites leads to serious environmental damage, especially to local creeks and waterways. Forestry Corporation seems to have learned nothing from the $15,000 fine they received for breaches in Tuckers Nob, with almost the exact same practices being reported in the Tarkeeth.”