Letter to the Editor: Don’t put all your conservation eggs in one National Park basket

DEAR News Of The Area,

THE author’s assertion of providing “a factual foundation” (‘What is sustainability in forestry?’, Nambucca Valley and Coffs Coast NOTA, 16/2/2024) ends after his reasonably good definition of sustainable, after which the usual ideological rhetoric takes over.

His claims that the sustainable removal of timber from just twelve percent of our public forests is “an absolute basket case”, “with hundreds of millions of our tax dollars lost logging native forests in recent decades” is a deliberate misinterpretation of the facts and a classic ideologue’s description of Community Service Obligations (CSOs).

CSOs are the delivery of services including road construction and maintenance for community purposes, firefighting and prevention for community purposes, recreation and tourism activities, community and government engagement, research and development and management of the parts of State forest not available for timber production (Annual Report 2022-23, Forestry Corporation of NSW, p26).

Each year, the NSW Government funds a percentage of the cost of Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) to compensate for the delivery of services that a similar commercial business would not provide.

FCNSW annually receives a meagre $8.50/hectare to manage their 1.8 million hectares of multiple-use native forest and 34,000 hectares of hardwood plantations for the public good.

On the other hand, the National Parks and Wildlife Service receives on average $121/hectare to manage their 7.6 million hectares (before the costs were hidden within the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water after 2019).

Of the $15 million “loss” referred to, only $2 million was associated with timber harvesting of native forests and was due to extended wet weather, inflationary pressures, particularly a spike in fuel prices and investment in compliance assurance.

The balance related to the cost of delivering community services across the State.

Rather than losing money as claimed, FCNSW paid a dividend of $13.5 million (FY22: $0.4 million) to NSW Treasury for the 2022-23 financial year and their balance sheet shows their cash position remains robust at $128 million (FY22: $101 million).

Using emotive terminology such as “antiquated and barbaric”, “industrial”, “landscape-scale” and “extinction logging” fails to recognise that native timber harvesting on public forest in NSW (and Australia) is the most highly regulated in the world, is regulated by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority and is certified as sustainable to international standards through the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the largest international independent third-party certification scheme.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises that managing forests for sustainable timber production plays a vital role in mitigating climate change.

Native forest harvesting in NSW occurs on a very tiny scale, as in any one year about 0.2 percent of the 22 million-plus hectares is harvested for timber and then every harvested tree is regenerated (regrown) under NSW law.

Claims that sustainably managed native timber harvesting is a prime driver of the extinction crisis are blatantly false.

Forestry in Australia has never been responsible for any species extinctions, and it is ridiculous to suggest that such a proportionally tiny amount of renewable forest use could pose an existential threat to any species of flora or fauna.
If the author believes that “forest dependent fauna populations are in free-fall” towards extinction, perhaps he should ask himself what has changed for these species over the last 20-plus years.

All old growth forests in NSW have been protected with more than 90% of the old growth forests in National Parks.

Old growth forests are strongholds of large hollow-dependent species, like Greater Gliders, Yellow-bellied Gliders and large forest owls.

The prevalence of hollows also favours Glossy Black Cockatoos.

The area and amount of native forest timber harvesting has been halved, whilst the regulatory compliance requirements have increased exponentially.

So what has changed?

The most significant change that has occurred over the last 20 years or so has been the halving of the State forest estate and transferring vast areas of the most ecologically significant forests to National Parks.

These areas were used to active and adaptive management, as Australia’s native forests, and the flora and fauna they support, have evolved in response to active management over the last 60,000 years.

Many of the major Black Summer fires originated from lightning strikes in remote areas of National Parks and conservation areas, where they were allowed to continue to burn for weeks and months in relatively benign conditions, until they emerged on a blow-up day on multiple fronts.

Ironically, rather than focus attention on the failed lock-it-up-and-leave-it or wilderness strategy employed by conservation managers or the landscape-scale adoption of cool burning, similar to Indigenous practitioners over the past 60,000 years, there has been an increasing call to lock up more multiple use, proactively managed, production forests and condemn these forests and their inhabitants, particularly the koala, to a similar fate.

With 88 percent of NSW’s public forests already managed for conservation, it seems counterintuitive to me that you would put all your “conservation and extinction avoidance” eggs in the one National Park basket, if you are seeking to ensure the survival of any species.

Particularly, as no one knows how species are faring in the current National Park estate, as no one is willing to look (just in case it’s NOT working).

When someone does look, the results are not very flattering.

The decline in species like the Southern Brown Bandicoot (44 percent in NSW and 100 percent (local extinction) in Victoria and South Australia), Hastings River Mouse, Eucalyptus imlayensis, Prasophyllum correctum (orchid), Eastern Brown Treecreeper, Superb Parrot, Broad-headed Snake and many other species is a direct result of the creation of new national parks and the exclusion of fire and/or grazing.

Kind regards,
Timber NSW, Forest and Wood Communities Australia, Jamax Forest Solutions.

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