Setback for Forestry's plans to log the Kalang Headwaters

Big, healthy koala photographed on the Horseshoe by Jonas Bellchambers in August 2019, before the fires began
Big, healthy koala photographed on the Horseshoe by Jonas Bellchambers in August 2019, before the fires began

At first, the Friends of the Kalang Headwaters thought the NSW Environmental Protection Authority had been prompted by bushfires and "environmental bungles" to rescind Forestry's licence to log in Roses Creek and Scotchmans State Forest.

The group has been waging a long campaign to protect the biodiversity of these native forests in the Kalang headwaters, staunchly backed by many in the community, including the council, which voted last year to support it being declared a nature reserve.

So FoKH were excited to announce on Monday that the areas had been "taken off the logging list", hailing this as "a wise decision".

"FoKH understands the decision was made shortly before Christmas at the height of the fire threat, after a series of environmental bungles by FCNSW including the logging of threatened species habitat, and landslides caused by roading operations," the media release said.

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"The Bellingen Shire community has been calling for this area to be protected for months," spokesperson Caroline Joseph said. "Not only does the area contain one of the largest populations of koala left on the East Coast, these unlogged forests are vital to the water supply of the shire."

But further inquiry by the Courier-Sun revealed that Forestry has only suffered a setback relating to a change in the rules under which it operates.

Forestry can still log the Kalang Headwaters, but it has to redo all its planning processes in line with the new Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval regulations, which were updated in 2018.

In November 2019, the EPA did revoke Forestry Corp's ability to operate in Roses Creek and Scotchman State Forests under the former IFOA, invalidating the harvest plan they had drawn up in March 2017.

It's not entirely clear why they chose to do this at that point in time, given that the new IFOA came into effect on 16 November 2018, but an EPA spokesperson said the decision was "not related to the recent bushfires" and "does not prevent logging occurring in these forests".

"The November 2019 decision to amend the Coastal IFOA to remove Roses Creek and Scotchman State Forests was made to ensure that any logging operation undertaken in these forests complies with the most modern, effective and enforceable environmental regulations," the EPA response said.

"IFOAs set rules that must be applied in all logging operations on State forests to ensure the protection of threatened plants, animals, habitat, ecosystems, soils and water. These rules are set by the NSW Government and are regulated by the NSW EPA."

For their part, Forestry NSW told the Courier-Sun that they would "look to plan sustainable harvesting and regrowing of timber in Scotchmans and Roses Creek under the new Coastal IFOA" in the future.

"Forestry Corporation chose not to implement harvest plans for Scotchmans and Roses Creek late last year as there was a significant risk of fire affecting the area and our staff were busy with firefighting," a spokesperson said.

"At the moment Forestry Corporation have chosen to harvest alternative areas which will provide higher yields of poles and other products required by local communities as they begin to rebuild vital infrastructure after the fires.

"Forestry Corporation is still heavily involved in firefighting across the state and while some operations are underway on the north coast, mostly in hardwood plantations, we will be undertaking assessments of fire-affected areas over the coming weeks and months.

"The plan for these forests was developed under the previous Integrated Forestry Operations Approval. In the future Forestry Corporation will look at a new harvesting plan for this area under the new ruleset and will engage with the community at that time."

One of the "alternative areas" that they appear to have chosen to harvest in the meantime is Newry State Forest.

"This morning as I pulled into to my usual fire trail to do my run in Newry State Forest off Martels Road, I was confronted by multiple logging machines," said Miriam Verbeek in an email to the Courier-Sun on the weekend.

"I confess to being shocked. I realise that it is state forest but at a time like this, with a billion wild animals fried in the current firestorms still raging along the highlands and coastal areas and the threat of fire still at our doorstep, to find these monsters in the forest as if all is 'situation normal' took my breath away. There is already precious little habitat for surviving animals to live in."

Newry SF logging. Photo by Miriam Verbeek

Newry SF logging. Photo by Miriam Verbeek