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Opinion: Vic Eddy – NEFA wants to just lock up forests not manage them

After my 55 years in native forest management, news that Timber NSW has been “blocked” from court action against the Regional Forests Agreement is of some concern. In my career I had 17 years’ experience in the far north east of NSW when the environmental movement was just gaining momentum. Most State Forests I have managed are now National Park. From 1988 I managed a private forest in south west NSW for 17 years until NSW National Parks bought the property because they considered its forest was one they wanted and they believed it was in in good condition.

The North East Regional Forest Agreement is being challenged in the Federal Court by the Environmental Defenders Office acting on behalf of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA). That is of considerable concern because unless it has acquired a legal identity in recent years NEFA is a powerful organisation that legally does not exist. It used not to have a formal executive or a bank account but appeared to have access to whatever funds it needed for its activities.

When NEFA challenged the Forestry Commission over proposals to access logs in the Chaelundi forest their challenge was launched in the name of one of its activists who appeared to have access to unlimited funds but very little if any of his own.

As for the Environmental Defenders Office they appear to be a Law Office that specialises in environmental law. Their interest appears to be centred on winning legal arguments with little real concern for the environmental outcome. At a seminar some years ago, they proudly described how they had successfully prosecuted a developer for clearing what should not have been cleared. The court case bankrupted the developer, so he didn’t clear any more but what he had cleared was left to its own devices. The EDO’s job was to win the prosecution, not rehabilitate a sensitive environment so they had won, but the environment had still lost, and we now had a developer completely offside.

So here we have NEFA through the EDO challenging the North Coast RFA. It was my understanding that in NSW the RFAs were thrashed out State Forest by State Forest, compartment by compartment for their conservation or productive future. As a result, most of the native forests that I had a hand in managing became National Parks or conservation reserves. Hence it bemuses me that they now see a need to re-do the process, because the remaining State Forests are now needed for their conservation value. Does this really mean that the conservation reserves have been so poorly cared for that they have lost the value they were set aside for, and the remaining State Forests under production management are now the better habitats?

There have been claims in recent times in NSW that the koala is at risk of extinction in the near future unless immediate action is taken to lock up the remaining koala habitat. Does this mean that what was prime koala habitat in my time, and became National Park in Premier Carr’s time or since, has now lost that value under their stewardship?

In 1968 I experienced a very bad fire season. That fire season started in Eden at the Victorian Border in June mid-winter and stepped its way relentlessly north reaching me near the Queensland Border on the 18th November. We had 14 separate fires within a fortnight, and we kept them as separate fires with our meagre resources. Kyogle saw fit to appoint an emergency fire controller during that period to oversee the crisis in their Shire. To illustrate the severity at that time an unstoppable crown fire went through Banyabba Pine Plantation between Grafton and Casino and at Kyogle rainforest burned. I guess we were fortunate that we were able to contain the situation unlike state and nationwide in the summer before last. In tying more and more forested country into larger and larger conservation areas are we losing control and putting more and more sensitive ecosystems at risk?

It seems to be NEFA’s aim to lock up country, but it is always up to someone else to care for that country in the manner that NEFA deems fit.

Vic Eddy was a District Forester at Forbes, Glen Innes and Mildura. From the start of 1989 I was the company forester for AB Rowe & Son where he managed a private river red gum forest of 170 square kilometres until it was purchased by NSW NPWS in 2005. He retired in 2010 and has been the forestry consultant for the Culpra Milli Aboriginal Corporation.