The NEC President’s DEC Update

NEC news by Scott Sledge

Decent rainfall is keeping the countryside green and flowers abound in our Nimbin area, but the climate is unstable, and I don’t think we are safe from violent storms despite a good start to the season. Road repairs are still ongoing after the floods nearly 2 years ago, and the access to Lismore just south of the village may re-open as a 2-way road before Christmas. I am appalled that the priority for disaster relief money has been logging tracks, not general roadways.

Nature Conservation Council of NSW CEO Jacqui Mumford said, ‘With fire season well and truly here, NCC has today urged members of the NSW Parliament to prioritise safety and security by ending the fire risk being caused by native forest logging. Across NSW, state forest is being logged to the edge of towns. This is dramatically increasing the bushfire risk these communities face and should be stopped as a matter of priority. All the evidence we have shows that disturbed, younger forests that have been logged are more likely to burn, and do so more intensely. In contrast, older, undisturbed forests are shadier, wetter, and have taller trees leading them to be less likely to burn, and when they do they burn slower and cooler. We are calling on members of the NSW Parliament to take an important step to protect the community and the environment from the risk of bushfires by ending native forest logging.’ NEC is a member organisation of the NCC and fully supports that call.

Documentary Films. On November 25th, David Bradbury screened his latest documentary films at Lismore’s Star Court theatre. “The Road to War” asks whose brilliant idea is driving Australia into an expensive and dangerous expansion of naval armament by agreeing to purchase nuclear-powered submarines that won’t be delivered for 20 years or more. Why do we want to make an enemy of our major trading partner ? Will we continue to follow the USA into most of its overseas battles? Are we the Lucky Country or the Lackey Country?

Bradbury’s other film, “Gondwana Going?” describes the ongoing logging that is stripping Australia of its precious native forests with their climate-saving gift of removing excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it safely. Many of our best forest advocates were interviewed on the film, including Nan Nicholson, Dr. Rob Kooyman, Prof David Lindenmeyer and Dailan Pugh. I highly recommend this film.

Rising Tide Protest. Led by Bob Brown, hundreds of climate activists (reported to be more than 1000) blockaded the world’s busiest coal loading port at Newcastle the last weekend in November. The peaceful protest was soured by more than 100 arrests after the 30 hours allowed by the permit: I think it is likely Court will go easy on these activists. We have seen a spate of forest protectors in NSW Courts get released with no fines or convictions.

The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) of NSW has been active in trying to stop logging of public forests with some success, including Tallaganda SF. Logging was stopped there because Forestry Corps had failed to conduct the required Broad Area Habitat searches and the EPA found 20 Greater Glider den trees, stating “It is very important that glider den trees are are identified and protected prior to harvest.” The FC admitted to taking out 17 giant trees illegally and were fined $500,000, which we the taxpayers will pay because we subsidise the company.

NorthEast Forest Alliance. NEFAhas been especially active and supported by groups such as NEC and Northern Rivers Guardians in urging politicians to protect our native forests, as is the public wish. The NSW government has been reluctant to stop its subsidy for logging and even to fulfil its pre-election pledge to establish a Great Koala National Park (GKNP) close to Coffs Harbour. Environment Minister Penny Sharpe has announced the formation of an advisory committee, which is a step forward, but she also told loggers there would be “no moratorium” on logging except for the temporary protection of 8,500ha out of 20,000ha of Koala Hubs in State Forests. With loggers operating with no regard for our forests’ health there may be little left for the koalas if and when a National Park is finally declared.

On 25 March 2023, the Minns Labor government was elected in NSW with pro-forest conservation supporters holding a significant balance-of-power in the Upper House. Penny Sharpe became the Environment Minister and the dominance of the National Party was broken. In April the Blueprint Institute released a report entitled “Branching out: Exploring land use options for the Native Forests of NSW.” The report concluded there is no economic benefit to continued logging when forests are of more value for tourism and carbon sequestration.

On 19 September the Federal Greens released their plan—‘Protecting Native Forests, Protecting the Climate’—an integrated approach of immediate action on the climate and ecological crises by ending native forest logging and banking the carbon benefits.

NSW Greens MLC Sue Higginson had a raft of government documents relating to the GKNP released. NEFA’s initial review of EPA documents showed that since at least May 2023 the EPA attempted to negotiate changes to protocols to improve protections for Koalas within the GKNP, only to have these rejected by Forestry Corp.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith and NEFA wrote to Premier Minns in October asking him to implement the proposed changes for all forests, along with Koala Hubs.

On 16 October, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced her proposed changes to national environmental laws have been delayed by at least another year, meaning NEFA’s federal case against automatic extension of Regional Forests Agreements is of increased importance. The loggers have consistently violated the rules of the RFAs and NEFA believes their roll-over without review for another 20 years will devastate our NSW forests. We expect a Court decision by the end of this year.

in October, NEFA made a submission to the NSW Climate Change Bill, advocating use of forests to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, noting that protecting 500,000ha of loggable State Forests in NSW (north from the Hunter River) would allow the recovering forests to sequester in the order of 3.2 to 8.6 million tonnes of CO2 per annum.

On 13 November, Dr Sophie Scamps, federal independent Member for Mackellar (with assistance from WWF) produced a Forests Pledge calling for an end to industrial native forest logging. It was launched that day with backing by a variety of ex-Environment Ministers and signed by all federal teal independents, senator David Pocock, key independent MPs in the NSW parliament, most state and federal Greens politicians and more than 30 environment and civil society groups.

Court Fails to Protect Local Forests. On 20 November 2023 in the Land and Environment Court, Justice Pritchard handed down her decision on NEFA vs Forestry Corporation of NSW, giving NEFA standing to bring the proceedings but ruling out NEFA’s expert evidence and the necessity of individual harvesting {logging} plans to consider Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management. Forestry NSW is a government-owned corporation that has plans to resume logging in State Forests that were severely damaged in the recent bushfires. Animals that survived in unburned pockets between Casino and Grafton may ultimately spread to re-inhabit burnt forest habitat, but not if the small trees there are clear-felled.

NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said, “We are disappointed the EDO lost their legal challenge to the Forestry Corporation’s logging of burnt Koala habitat in Braemar and Myrtle State Forests, which leaves it up to the NSW Government to decide whether they will intervene to save this nationally important Koala population from extinction. If logging now resumes it will be devastating for the future of Koalas and the 23 other threatened species inhabiting these forests, including the Southern Greater Glider, Yellow-bellied Glider, Rufous Bettong, Masked Owl and Squirrel Glider.”

Dying Out the Forests. Logged forests have a dramatic reduction in canopy coverage and non-eucalypt species, creating a much more flammable section of forest. Photo David Gallan.

According to journalist Katharine Murphy, most of the time politics feels incremental. But every now and again, a big thing happens suddenly. Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen made it clear this week that the government intends to transform the fundamentals of Australia’s energy grid. Murphy wrote: “Bowen unveiled a radical expansion of a capacity scheme intended to reshape the national electricity market. Coal is coming out, renewables moving in and taxpayers will underwrite the transformation. This is the biggest strategic shift Australians have seen in this policy area for a decade or more. Australia’s energy sector said ‘praise be’ . Predictably, the shadow climate minister, Ted O’Brien, clutched his pearls and declared: ‘This risks locking Australia into a path from which there may be no return.’ Well, yes. That is the point. The transition is on. The Guardian Australia 24/11/23