EPA fines NSW Forestry more than $500,000 in one month for destroying South Coast habitat

New South Wales’ Forestry Corporation (FCNSW) has been fined $230,000 after destroying a bat habitat in the Dampier State Forest near Bodalla on the state’s south coast.

It brings its total fines this month to more than $500,000.

The new fines relate to logging in the area in May 2019, after FCNSW failed to appropriately mark the boundary of a known environmentally sensitive area, which was a roost for the Eastern Horseshoe bat.

The corporation is also facing another prosecution for alleged offences in Yambulla State Forest, near Eden.

‘Rogue operator’

Nick Hopkins from the Coastwatchers Association Inc is one of many volunteers who spends his weekends gathering evidence of suspected illegal logging activity to pass on to the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

He said the volume of fines painted a picture of a rogue operator.

“Finally their non-compliance is catching up with them,” he said.

A pile of tree logs.
Forestry Corporation of NSW has been fined for logging in Dampier State Forest.((ABC News: Gregor Salmon))

Mr Hopkins said it was frustrating that it often took years for the breaches to be brought before a court.

“If it was a private corporation that was proven to be unable to operate compliantly with its licence, it would’ve lost its licences years ago,” he said.

“But because it’s a state-owned operation and the fines are paid by the taxpayers of NSW, there doesn’t seem to be long-term repercussions.”

The corporation has been ordered to do an audit on the systems that are in place to prevent the destruction of sensitive environmental sites, “including understanding the level of experience and competency required to comply with the law”.

But it is not enough to reassure some community members.

“I don’t have faith that they’ll be able to train [the contractors]because this has been going on for years and years,” Mr Hopkins said.

‘Not a systemic issue’

Despite the prevalence of fines, FCNSW senior compliance manager Linda Broekman said non-compliance was not a systemic issue.

“We manage two million hectares of state forests across New South Wales, and we harvest and re-grow just a tiny proportion of those every year,” she said.

“We comply with hundreds of environmental conditions.

She said forests were difficult operating environments but acknowledged it was disappointing when mistakes were made.

“Where mistakes have occurred, we’ve set aside hundreds of additional trees to make sure there is no net cost to the environment. We’ve also employed more people on the ground to manage compliance.”

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