The damning results of the Environment Protection Authority audit of logging practices in East Gippsland was released in January. Never daunted by criticism, the DSE crowed about its 'continuous improvement'! The results show a worsening of adherence to many environmental protection codes - not an improvement.
In past internal DSE audits, loggers and foresters scored poorly on such things as marking of reserved areas, road construction, log landing/snig track rehabilitation and waterway buffer protection. Recommendations for improvements were made, but the latest EPA checks show both loggers and the DSE itself are increasingly ignoring these environmental regulations.
History of failure to respect environment
Clearfell operations cause massive environmental damage as it is, without calling major breaches of minimum standards "improvements".
Many of the breaches and consequent recommendations in this report have been repeated again and again in earlier government internal audits. This shows the DSE is unable to control elements in the industry that avoid compliance at every opportunity.
Despite documenting serious breaches in every coupe, the questionable scoring system used allowed the DSE to claim an overall 85% compliance. If we broke the speed limit in only 15 km out of every 100 km we travelled, would the authorities pat us on the back? It's to be remembered that these code rules are the MINIMUM for environmental protection, but even these low standards are consistently breached.
Conservation groups have requested that the next EPA audit, due to begin in April this year, should also report on any effective actions that DSE has taken to improve this appalling situation.
The Department has become so run down that there are few people with the skills to identify areas of rain forest. The EPA report suggests foresters be given training to recognise such basic areas of conservation. This is astonishing. These are the officers who are sent out to ensure logging crews comply with regulations yet are unable to identify basic forest types.
We have to wonder how many patches of magnificent rainforest have been destroyed through Departmental incompetence. Botanists need to be employed rather than foresters who have had a non-obligatory half day training and many couldn't identify a rainforest plant if one tapped them on the shoulder.
A serious instance of Departmental fraud was uncovered during the course of the audit at an East Gippsland coupe called C19. The Auditors found a huge number of environmental breaches that should have been marked on the Coupe Clearance Certificate. However, all were overlooked and a certificate was signed off for the coupe as having no breaches. Once signed and issued, the public pay for environmental rehabilitation work, not the logging contractor who caused the damage.
Audit scoring system
The scoring system used in this audit does not reflect the problems it uncovered. For example, at coupe C19, the following examples of breaches were found:
- Inadequate marking of exclusion areas
- Felling of trees into filter strips
- Illegal removal of trees from buffer zones
- Buffer widths too small
- Non compliant roading
- Inadequate rehabilitation of stream crossings
- Non compliant snig tracks
- Coupe litter not removed
- Inadequate landing rehabilitation
With a list as long as an arm, any reasonable person would think that this coupe should score pretty close to zero. Under the new EPA system, this coupe gets a compliance score of 72% or a B score!
High scores for paper-shuffling in the office are used to disguise poor in-forest performance. The correct completion of paperwork contributes to a quarter of the total score.
Loggers lose an equal amount of points for littering as they do if they log a habitat tree. Also equal points are lost whether one metre or a hundred metres of rainforest buffer is logged.
While this latest audit process had a number of improvements to earlier methods, the findings indicate that the industry still takes every opportunity to abuse its privileged position. Instead of making recommendations that are promptly ignored by all, we need to see a huge increase in the penalty given to loggers and also a penalty system for the DSE foresters and operators who often show just as much disregard.
It is quite possible to have full compliance with environmental codes and these results show how useless the penalty system is.
Of coupes checked in East Gippsland (and considering the assessment limitations), 34% of the coupes failed to reach EPA's standard of 85%. The fact that the DSE Secretary can boast that these results represent a 'high achievement' once again demonstrates the complete contempt DSE has for our environment.
The EPA's intended improvements for this year's auditing of logging across the state include:
Review of the way coupes are assessed
An increase in number of coupes for audit, and an inclusion of roads (2 km per region)
Selection of coupes will include fire salvage coupes (that should be interesting!)
A report on how/if the last recommendations were taken on board
And possibly others as they speak with stakeholder groups (loggers and conservationists).
Neither the DSE nor the industry should be given advance warning of the logged coupes to be checked.
Working coupes should be inspected and pre-logging audits are needed to compare 'before' with 'after' (rainforests could easily be destroyed with no evidence remaining).
Check coupes before the hot burns as intense regeneration fires destroy a lot of evidence. At least 10 code rules were unable to be checked after burns.
The EPA should check all aspects of the Code's guidelines for rainforest.
The most breached rules should receive special attention in the next audit.
A review should be undertaken comparing CSIRO recommendations for forest protection and the DSE Code rules.
Checks should be done on older regrowth to check if species composition returns to pre-logging diversity (as stated it should by DSE).
The adequacy of the Code itself needs to be checked by the EPA
The scoring system needs improving
Audit of work by government forest officers is needed and sanctions recommended
87% is too low for an 'acceptable level of compliance'. It needs to be higher.
Checking only 7% of the total number of coupes logged in any year is too low a sample.
Checking a small percent of each component of the Code (100 mts of buffer within a coupe with 2km of buffers) is not giving a good indication of true compliance. Samples of samples reduces the accuracy of the audit.
Compliance with rules to ensure water quality is looked after cannot be properly assessed in a drought or by eye. Long term monitoring needs to be done (all part of revision of the adequacy of the Code)
Shape up DSE
Breaches discovered need to be repaired. If that's not possible, twice the area of replacement forests should be added to the reserve system.
Botanists should identify rainforests, cartographers should mark coupes and engineers build roads. Foresters have proved to have extremely limited skills in these areas.
The penalty system needs to be more severe
The EPA needs to be given further authority and resources to enforce the code requirements rather than merely report on them.
Improve the process that determines rainforest buffers and other environmental protection measures.
These shocking Audit results from East Gippsland, combined with other recent events such as the Snowy National Park logging fiasco last summer, all undermine what little confidence the public has in the Department's ability to control the logging industry in East Gippsland.
Without any effective enforcement mechanism in place, the industry is having a real laugh.