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Forest Code Breaches ‘Explained Away’ by FPA

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

According to an amended Forest Practices Plan this is no longer a protected Class 4 Stream in the Styx Valley Coupe SX027E.

Earlier this month Cassy O’Connor MP, Greens Leader and Forests spokesperson issued a media release:

“Blatant breaches of the Forest Practices Code in the Styx Valley demand an explanation from Resources Minister, Guy Barnett.

It took citizen scientists to reveal illegal logging operations, with multiple breaches of the Forest Practices Code, including logging outside the coupe boundary and the mysterious disappearance of previously mapped streams.

As the responsible Minister, Guy Barnett must explain to Tasmanians how this can happen in their public forests and at public expense.”

Behind this media release was information provided by Forestry Watch volunteers who had uncovered what they believed were multiple breaches of the Forest Practices Code in a Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) logging coupe known as SX027E in the Styx Valley.

The volunteers observed logging operations by STT contractors in the coupe during wet weather conditions, despite the Forest Practices Plan for the coupe explicitly specifying that harvesting operations are only to be conducted in dry weather.

Forestry Watch advised 2 September 2020: “The Forest Practices Authority (FPA) have since confirmed that logging operations were suspended due to this breach.”

Tasmanian Times contacted the FPA and their Chief Forest Practices Officer Dr Peter Volker advised:

“The FPA did not suspend works – STT immediately suspended the works on being informed by the FPA of an alleged breach under section 21 of the Forest Practices Act (contravention of a certified forest practices plan).  The breach was in relation to a prescription in the plan that stated, ‘harvesting will be in dry weather only’,” said Volker.

Moot point perhaps.

The suspension of the logging activity enabled the Forestry Watch citizen scientists to have full access to the coupe where they noted potential breaches of harvesting within streamside reserves, failing to protect sufficient hollow bearing trees within Wildlife Habitat Clumps, and logging during wet weather conditions.

“Despite streams being protected by streamside reserves within logging coupes, we observed that contractors have cut and pushed over numerous trees into the reserve boundary.” said Forestry Watch spokesperson Jack O’Hare.

“The operation of machinery and harvesting within native forest streamside reserves is a significant breach of the Forest Practices Plan and Forest Practices Code.”

They also discovered the mysterious disappearance of previously mapped streams from logging plans and changes to the Wildlife Habitat Clumps. The first logging plan for SX027E was completed and signed off by landowner and applicant Forestry Tasmanian 2 December, 2009.

SX027E as included in the 2009 Forest Practices Plan

This 2009 topographic map above clearly shows four Class 4 streams and an uninterrupted Wildlife Habitat Clump (WHC), light green strip at the bottom.  However the amended 2016 version differs in that the streams are no longer and the WHC has some chomps taken out of it.

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SX027E map as included in the original 2009 Forest Practices Plan

When TT contacted Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) as to why a 2009 plan had somehow changed seven years later. The STT spokesperson advised:

“Forest Practices Plans can be revised by completing a ‘variation’. This is a standard process that takes into account updated or new information as it becomes available or to reflect changes to operational requirements.

In the case of SX027E, the Forest Practices Plan for the site has been updated since its initial development based on improved information including: detailed and highly accurate contour and drainage mapping, increasing the level of protection provided to adjacent forest excluded from harvesting, and adjusting the permissible machinery types to protect important forest values.

Streams are managed in accordance with the Forest Practices Code requirements. More information on stream management and forest practices planning is available from Forest Practices Authority website.”

O’Hare meantime, along with a qualified hydrologist who visited this site, are not convinced. Their photographs clearly show the Class 4 stream that is no longer marked on the 2016 plan is still a stream. An inquiry is currently with the FPA seeking an explanation.

Revised SX027E map as included in the amended 2016 Forest Practices Plan

O’Hare has requested from the FPA the additional survey (containing “detailed and highly accurate contour and drainage mapping”) which resulted in the removal of two Class 4 streams, and the reduction in length of a third Class 4 stream.

The practicing hydrologist who also visited SX034C has stated: “I would like to advise that as useful as digital elevation models and desktop studies are, it was clear there is a stream at this particular site given the volume of water running down a natural channel eroded into the debris.”

TT asked Volkers: “Do you have the powers to require STT or their contractors to make good the site to the best possible outcome – such as removing all clear fell and making good the class 4 streams that have been impacted?”

Volker advised:

“The FPA conducted a site inspection and confirmed that there are no class 4 streams adversely impacted by the operation. All watercourses have been treated in accordance with the Forest Practices Code and the prescriptions in the Forest Practices Plan.”

Forest Practices Officers have powers to request any damage to be repaired and if the request is not followed a notice of demand can be made (see section 41 of the Act). The plan has a reforestation requirement which is enforceable.”

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There is another is truly fascinating aspect to all of this: if indeed a contractor is prosecuted for illegally logging timber during wet weather, section 47D of the Forest Practices Act 1985 allows the same contractor to take the timber as ‘legal’ and sell it.

47D.   Salvage of illegally harvested timber or native vegetation

(1)  If a person is found guilty or convicted of an offence under section 17(4) , (5) or (5B) , section 18B , section 21(1) or section 41(5) in relation to any timber or threatened native vegetation, the Authority, notwithstanding that the timber or threatened native vegetation may have been harvested or cleared contrary to, or not in compliance with, the provisions of this Act or the Forest Practices Code, may allow another person to purchase or acquire that timber or threatened native vegetation.

O’Hare commented:

“Volker has seemed to skip the step here of asking a contractor to make good and rehabilitate the breached area. I think that the contractor will receive a very small fine (there’s no minimum) and will walk away with a huge amount of timber. Pretty good economic argument for the industry there.”

The FPA has since advised there is no requirement to abandon work on the coupe.

“The matter is a technical breach and has been rectified by the certification of a variation to the plan under section 23 of the Act,” said Volker.

“The prescription in the plan is not required as the soils are of a nature that the coupe can be harvested in wet conditions without causing damage to soil or water. The current harvesting operation is a cable operation which has negligible impact on soils as most of the weight of logs during hauling is carried by the cable.

The plan was originally certified in 2009 when a ground-based harvesting operation was planned. A subsequent variation in 2018 was made to enable the completion of harvesting with a cable extraction system, the dry weather prescription was overlooked when that variation was applied for and certified.”

And, in a final comment from Forestry Watch volunteer O’Hare:

“They modified the FPP on the 31st of August so works could continue. Blatant industry corruption at its finest out in plain sight. Volker in my experience has referred to ‘oversights’ or ‘technical breaches’ in a way to diffuse pressure on actual physical problems occurring.”

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“Quite a hard one to figure out,” he said.

In response to a range of questions put to STT over SX027E, a spokesperson avoided the questions and provided the following:

“Sustainable Timber Tasmania is committed to operating in a manner that meets or exceeds the Forest Practices Code.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania investigates matters of alleged breaches of the Forest Practices Code in full co-operation with the Forest Practices Authority.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania was notified of alleged breaches of the Forest Practices Plan on the coupe SX027E on 27 August 2020 and proactively suspended activity to allow investigations to occur.

Initial investigations have confirmed that no environmental harm has occurred, harvesting is within permissible harvest boundaries, and streams have been protected by machinery exclusion zones that allow for the careful extraction of timber due to the low erodibility of the soils in accordance with the Forest Practices Code.

The Forest Practices Plan for the site has been updated since its initial development based on improved information including: detailed and highly accurate contour and drainage mapping, increasing the level of protection provided to adjacent forest excluded from harvesting, and adjusting the permissible machinery types to protect important forest values.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania welcomes direct engagement with stakeholders regarding its forest management activities.”

FPP, FPC and FPA explained

The Forest Practices Plan (FPP) is a document that has been prepared and certified by an authorised forest practices officer. It must comply with the Forest Practices Code. An FPP involves developing special values evaluations and can take months, or years to finalise. The planning process typically involves site surveying, consultation with experts and consultation with potentially affected stakeholders. The FPP is a legally enforceable document that the harvesting contractor is required to follow.

The Forest Practices Code 2015 (FPC) is a part of the broader framework for the delivery of sustainable forest management in Tasmania. The objective of Tasmania’s forest practices system is provided in Schedule 7 of the Forest Practices Act 1985. It contains instructions for protecting special values, such as soils, geomorphology, visual landscapes, water, biodiversity, threatened plants and animals and cultural heritage. It also contains a map showing reserves, roads, harvesting boundaries and log landing areas.

Forest Practices Authority (FPA) is an independent monitoring and enforcement agency, and is based on a co-regulatory approach involving self-regulation by the industry. All non-compliances are investigated and any serious problems are reported to the Forest Practices Authority, which has the power to prosecute and issue fines for breaches of a Forest Practices Plan.

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Source: Tasmanian Times

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