DSE wins environmental calamity award

After months of delays, the EPA has released its report on the Audit it carried out in the middle of 2004, of logging compliance to the Code of Forest Practice.

Each year the EPA selects a sample of logging coupes across Victoria and assesses how the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and loggers have complied with the minimum environmental standards set out in the Code.

The EPA has devised a method of scoring compliance and believes that a score of 85% is an ‘acceptable level’ of compliance and using this standard they somehow find that 92% of coupes examined pass their test.

This is a wonderful figure for the industry and politicians to use to con the public into thinking there are no problems with logging, and I am sure it was designed for their use in mind.

Of course, the EPA’s idea of ‘acceptable compliance’ is complete nonsense; the Code’s only form of compliance is full compliance. Recently Justice Harper in the Supreme Court expressed an opinion that the Code is legally enforceable. So to have a Government Department effectively saying they can turn a blind eye to some of the breaches is just plain unacceptable.

Even the EPA seems to have trouble with the concept of acceptable compliance. According to the EPA, a score below 85 does not necessarily mean that a coupe has ‘failed’ but at the same time, a score above 85 does not necessarily mean that a coupe has ‘passed’ but they have met the EPA target score. Well I’m glad they cleared that up and I’m sure all this fine print will be conveniently left out off the industry’s propaganda sheets.

Try this more correct interpretation of the results – 0% coupes were fully compliant with the Code. 17% of coupes did not reach the EPAs standard of ‘acceptable’ compliance. 8% of coupes had Code breaches that the Auditors considered had caused a severe environmental impact. Most of these were in coupes where rainforest had been destroyed or damaged by logging. Illegal rainforest logging

One of the most disturbing findings in the report is the discovery of a very fishy rezoning of a Special Protection Zone (SPZ – a no-logging reserve) to a General Management Zone (GMZ – 100% clearfell logging) in the Central Highlands.

One of the Central Highlands coupes adjoined a rainforest SPZ that has special buffer requirements. DSE forest staff claimed that after detailed investigation the rainforest that was supposed to adjoin the coupe was not present and they made an application to DSE Flora and Fauna section to have the SPZ rezoned as GMZ. The application was approved and this meant that DSE only required a 20m buffer instead of the 40m buffer that would have been required for rainforest. However, when the audit team turned up at the coupe, they found that the rezoned area clearly contained a stand of Cool Temperate Rainforest. They also found that logging operations had severely damaged part of the rainforest. (!!!)

This reveals failure by DSE at multiple levels to properly manage protected areas. After last year’s Audit found that there was a lack of skill in rainforest identification, DSE was supposed to introduce training to fix this problem. While this lack of knowledge is bad enough in forest officers, it is positively alarming that nobody in Flora and Fauna spotted the problem. Let alone advertised the planned change and sought public comment!

Repeat offenders

Elsewhere in the report, the same old problems that have been reported many times by the EPA auditors and their predecessors keep on turning up. How many times have auditors complained about poor log-landing rehabilitation? Has there in fact ever been a coupe where the log-landing isn’t left looking like an advertisement for quick-set mud concrete, or left without logs on it when it was burned? The fact that issues like this just keep on turning up year after year just highlight how little clout these reports have and how little commitment DSE has to environmental care.

Otways a shocker

Of all the FMAs checked this year, the Otways FMA stands out as the clear winner of this year’s Award for Environmental Calamity.

In the Otway FMA, where 60% of the coupes failed even the ‘acceptable compliance’ test, they reported that all coupes were covered with patches of filamentous algae caused by application of ammonium phosphate fertilizer during seed sowing. The report noted that ‘there is a potential for nutrients from the fertiliser to enter the waterways that receive run-off from these coupes’.

Then there was the coupe that was supposed to have a whole lot of habitat trees retained. The loggers chopped everything down. DSE tried to explain this goof up with the excuse that ‘only 16 ha of the 30 ha was logged this year’ and tried to spin the line that the ‘Habitat trees’ are the 14 ha that didn’t get logged this year. Of course, next year when the snooping auditors are not around, DSE can knock down the remaining 14 ha.

If you still don’t think that the DSE is run by cowboys, this may change your mind: on one of the coupes there was a homestead site of local historic importance and some associated artefacts. On one of DSE’s maps, the site was marked as protected and the site survived the initial logging operation. But the good ol’ boys from DSE jumped on their bulldozer and started the regeneration operation. Their map didn’t show the old homestead site which has now been obliterated from the face of the earth and all the artefacts at the site have been substantially damaged or buried.

Dean

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