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TravelGuides – Secret document urges native logging halt in NSW regions hit hard by black summer bushfires | New South Wales

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TravelGuides – Secret document urges native logging halt in NSW regions hit hard by black summer bushfires | New South Wales

The New South Wales government has kept secret a document calling for a halt to native logging in regions hit hard by the black summer bushfires and recommending revising agreements to account for the increasing threat of global heating .

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The Natural Resources Commission report on the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA), a copy of which was obtained by Guardian Australia, called for the suspension of timber harvesting for a minimum of three years in three zones it deemed to be “extreme risk”. These are Narooma and Nowra on the south coast and Taree on the mid-north coast.

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In those areas, “there is a risk of serious and irreversible harm to environmental values from the cumulative impacts of fire and harvesting,” the report said, adding that a temporary suspension was needed “in line with the precautionary principle”.

It also identified six other zones the commission categorised as “high risk” where logging would be restricted in 75% of the area. Only seven of 27 native forest regions were “low risk”, where harvesting could continue under “standard” rules.

Those risks included threats to vulnerable and critically endangered fauna and flora, including koalas and the long-nosed potoroo.

The Natural Resources Commission recommended logging restrictions for most of the management zones including some halts after the 2019-20 fires.

The NSW government asked the commission to prepare the report after the 2019-20 fires burnt about 4.8m hectares of the state, including 64%, or about 700,00 hectares of the native state forest estate. The Coastal IFOA was only adopted in 2018 “on the basis that it reflected best practice forest management … [including] enhanced protections for habitat and native fauna”, the report noted.

Although completed in June 2021, the government has not released the report, which explores the prospects for logging and jobs in regional communities. As an indication of the sensitivities, “the Commission was not able to consult with the forestry sector or forest industry, which also impacts the accuracy of estimates”, it said in the report.

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The independent upper house MP Justin Field said that two years after the fires, the government was “keeping secret a report that the logging rules are not fit for purpose to deal with extreme events”.

“The report called for an urgent response, including immediately stopping logging in some areas and putting in place significant additional protections in many others,” Field said. “Some of these areas are being logged today without those additional protections undermining forest recovery.”

Government ministers were approached for comment, including the deputy premier, Paul Toole. “The report is cabinet in confidence, and it is therefore not appropriate for me to comment,” the minister for planning and public spaces, Rob Stokes, said.

A spokesperson for state-owned Forestry Corporation declined to comment on the report. The fires and a surge in demand, though, had contributed to supply shortages even with the salvage logging of burnt plantations.

“Forestry Corporation has harvested 5m tonnes of fire-affected timber from softwood plantations and supplied it to industry,” the spokesperson said, adding it had also replanted a record 16m seedlings this season, up from a normal 10m.

“[The corporation] has been working to maintain a responsible level of structural hardwood timber production from plantations and native forests, under strict conditions that balance the production of renewable timber with environmental protection,” the official said.

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Preliminary modelling conducted by the government predicted the recovery of burnt areas in the north coast would be much quicker than for the south coast.

“The NSW government should initiate a rapid assessment of forestry industry size, viability and resilience to changes in wood supply for south coast subregions in full consultation with industry,” the report said.

Other recommendations included a call for a “large-scale, funded, scientific field sampling strategy” to improve the existing “recovery index” and for updates every January using new satellite imagery to inform authorities of the state of the forests.

Climate change also features prominently, with the commission recommending Forestry Corp “accelerate its sustainable yield modelling program to account for “projected climatic and fire regimes and post-fire mortality and growth assumptions”.

The existing Coastal IFOA had not been designed to reduce the risks of logging in a severely fire-affected landscape after the record bushfire season, the report said. The trends indicate the threats will intensify.

“The 2019-20 [fires] significantly changed disturbance regimes and the direction and magnitude of this change are likely to be reinforced in coming decades,” the report said. “This means that the area of the Coastal IFOA that will be exposed to high frequency and high intensity wildfires is likely to increase substantially.”

The commission recommended the government develop a new framework to address the risk and priorities, and use research to fill data gaps.

“This information will not only inform decisions made in relation to the Coastal IFOA, it will also be critical to inform the development of actions or plans to aid in the response to future, large-scale fire events,” it said.

TravelGuides – Secret document urges native logging halt in NSW regions hit hard by black summer bushfires | New South Wales

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