VOICES FOR THE EARTH: Will punishment fit the crime for logging breach?
A RECENT headline with images of freshly logged giant tree stumps certainly grabbed attention. As did the Environment Protection Authority's (EPA) report that the State Government-owned Forestry Corporation had been issued with an immediate stop work order.
RELATED ARTICLE: 'Serious' alleged logging breaches uncovered by EPA
That order is in place, pending an investigation over the alleged illegal felling of giant trees in the remote Wild Cattle Creek State Forest, in violation of forestry regulations.
The EPA's executive director of regulatory operations, Carmen Dwyer, described the incident as a "serious failure in the planning and identification of trees that must be retained in the forest".
However, breaches of this type occur so often, that many suspect the paltry infringement penalties applied are no deterrent, and may actually encourage these illegal activities.
Ten years ago, Forests NSW (now Forestry Corporation) was found guilty of exactly the same offence at Grange State Forest near Jackadgery.
In that case, instead of mapping and protecting old growth lowland rainforest, the harvest plan mapped it as scribbly gum forest. The fact that there was no scribbly gum present should have alerted their ecologists to the mapping error, four of whom put their names to that plan.
The very size of those brush box trees taken from Grange - close to two metres in diameter at the stump - should have rung alarm bells. Everyone from harvesting contractors, to carriers and mill operators would have known they had been illegally logged, but nothing was officially reported, so that was left to local environmentalists.
Forests NSW was only fined $15,000. Less, in fact, than it cost the EPA to investigate. But who actually pays the fine? As Forests NSW lost over $8 million through its native forests division that year, the fine was paid by taxpayers.
No individuals are fined or dismissed as a result, so nothing changes and breaches continue unabated.
On this occasion, Ms Dwyer asserted "these are serious allegations and strong action is required to prevent any further harm to giant or other protected trees".
The language is strong, let's hope action matches the rhetoric!