Native forestry and other industry is permitted within NSW and Victorian government social distancing, public gathering and travel restrictions. But many non-commercial activities such as travelling to document the environment ahead of forestry activity or observing the logging process are not.
Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel said community groups and volunteers picked up “government slack and held loggers to account”, and logging should proceed only in areas they had already surveyed for wildlife.
“Current government forest protection surveys are limited in scope and range and either have to be ramped up to cover all potential logging areas across the state or logging should be stopped or at a minimum restricted to those with robust comprehensive surveys,” Mr Ruchel said.
Chris Schuringa, spokeswoman for East Gippsland conservation group Goongerah Environment Centre said it was “unreasonable” that logging in native forests was allowed to continue while “critical surveying done by volunteers” was potentially illegal.
NSW’s state-owned Forest Corp is currently building roads and readying to cut timber in the Nambucca State Forest on the north coast, a known habitat for threatened species such as the sooty owl, masked owl, powerful owl, grey-headed flying fox, koala, little bentwing bat, yellow-bellied glider and the threatened slender marsdenia plant.
North East Forest Alliance member Susie Russel said there was “a lot of angst” among her peers over the government restrictions.
“We don’t trust government agencies and the Forest Corporation to do proper monitoring of habitat but we felt the way the media could spin it if police were called out to a protest could be very counter-productive,” Ms Russell said.
A NSW Forestry Corp spokesperson said it continued to engage with community groups interested in its operations.
A spokesman for the NSW Environment Protection Authority said it would continue to monitor compliance with forestry operation requirements.
Community groups fill gaps in public expenditure on the environment. Thirteen leading ecologists published a paper in October in the journal Conservation Letters that found spending on Australia’s threatened species dropped to $49.6 million in 2018-19, from $86.9 million in 2017-18. They forecast a rise to $54.6 million this fiscal year.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in January she “didn’t accept the money has been wound back” and while some programs were scaled back others, such as regional land management, had increased.
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Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.