Smoke ‘n mirrors budget: forests and koalas are great but logging and money are better!

by Suzanne Arnold | Sep 21, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey ignored pleas for further funding for the Natural Resources Commission. Did he put at risk the monitoring of deforestation and koala protection? Sue Arnold reports.

In June this year, the NSW Government rejected renewing funding for the Forest Management Improvement Program (FMIP) which essentially monitored state approved native forestry operations (CIFOA), and federal regional forest agreements. The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was charged with responsibility for the program by the Gladys Berejiklian government.

The NRC was charged with developing and overseeing twenty-year monitoring, evaluation and reporting plans for CIFOA and Regional Forest Agreements. The below graph of the role played by NRC demonstrates the extensive scope of the program.

FMIP processes

The CIFOA requires that the effectiveness of its conditions and the extent to which its objectives and outcomes are achieved are continually monitored.

In a previous interview, Todd Maher, acting Executive Director of the Commission, advised of government resistance:

“Funding for the cross-tenure Forest Monitoring and Improvement Program ceased in FY22. Further funding was requested but not secured. The CIFOA monitoring program continues. Funding allocated to this program ceases in FY23. The Commission is seeking to secure further funding for this program.”

In the FMIP final report, the following statement is made:

“We strongly recommend that forest monitoring begins as soon as possible, especially of priority species and including those most at risk from climate change and fire regime changes, as identified above. Adequate and ongoing resourcing of forest monitoring is needed to provide continuous data streams and best-practice data management, analysis and reporting mechanisms.”

When asked how the state native forestry operations would be monitored if the September budget failed to restore funding, Maher advised that the responsibilities would be “split up between agencies’ using their current budgets”. These agencies are likely to be staffed from the Forestry Corporation of NSW, Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Department of Primary Industries and the Department of Planning and Environment.

The Forestry Corporation drives the forestry industry, using out-of-date scientific research to support its operations, rejecting any attempts to upgrade species declared endangered by the federal and state governments. This, combined with insufficient attention to compliance, cross-agency efforts and future monitoring, is seen as unacceptable by many scientists and ecologists.

No attempt has been made to include provisions requiring protection from climate change impacts or wildfires in the CIFOA.

Conservation organisations have previously expressed major criticism of the NRC monitoring program and its deficiencies, accusing the commission of accepting poor quality science to support claims that koala density is ‘not affected’ by logging. Many groups have raised concerns about the reviews of species management programs essential to carrying out ecologically sustainable forestry operations.

However, without a legally required monitoring program which covers the extent of responsibilities laid out by the CIFOA and the FMIP, industrial logging of native forests in NSW may end up costing the government more than the industry is worth.

Legal challenges

At least four different legal challenges against Forestry Corporation are underway in the Land & Environment Court.

Budget papers detail an acknowledgement of:

“expense risks that could impact the budget including: unforeseen legal expenses or costs associated with litigation, and reimbursement or compensation may be required for Forestry Corporation should any improvements to protection measures be required to ensure that koala hubs in the Great Koala National Park are protected from forestry operations until the GKNP is established.”

Any improvements to protection measures for koala hubs have also not been included in the budget. The $172 million in “koala funding,” described as a ‘”Minns Labor government commitment to saving koalas in NSW, ensuring future generations will continue to see them in the wild,” has no depth as

native forest logging and major urbanization projects in koala habitat continue to gain approval.

The Koala park

The Great Koala National Park (GKNP) budget of $80 million is to “assess and establish the GKNP on the mid north coast to preserve tracts of koala habitat.” Prior to Labor’s election, it was presented as a promise for “an $80 million planning process to take into account expert scientific and stakeholder advice, including an independent economic assessment of the park’s impact on local jobs and communities.”

With the recent announcement that 106 koala hubs in the GKNP would be spared from logging, amounting to 8,400ha, or 5% of the total.

Bowing to pressure – Minns and Sharpe throwing crumbs to the Koalas

No other endangered species has been acknowledged or acted upon.

One outcome that the Minns government can be certain of is that public fury over the ongoing logging of native forests will increase.

Sue Arnold is a former Fairfax investigative journalist. Her speciality is environmental issues and she is a regular contributor to Australian and international publications. Sue heads up Australians for Animals Inc., a 32-year-old wildlife charity and is Founder and CEO of the California Gray Whale Coalition based in San Francisco.

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