Old growth remapping
In November 2018, the NSW Premier asked us, through a Terms of Reference, to independently oversee a program to reassess old growth forest mapping and associated special environmental values on coastal state forests. The purpose of the program was to address a shortfall in wood supply, which was identified in our review in 2016 of the proposed conditions in the draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval.
Our supplementary advice in March 2018 identified significant errors in old growth forest mapping on state forests. This means there are areas of forest that have been mapped and protected as old growth forest that are not old growth forest. It also means there could be areas of old growth forest that have not been mapped and protected. Rezoning some of these incorrectly mapped areas could have addressed the wood supply shortfall.
We established an expert panel and worked with the Environment, Energy and Science Group’s (EES) Science Division, within the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to develop an assessment and decision-making framework. The draft framework was delivered to the Government in August 2019 for review, prior to community consultation.
Since then, the 2019-20 fires burnt over 5 million hectares of NSW, including 890,000 hectares of native state forest. On the NSW north coast, over 100,000 hectares of mapped old growth in state forests was burnt.
In April 2020, we worked with 2Rog Consulting Pty Ltd and conducted a desktop assessment of the impact of fires on mapped old growth forest, using early burnt area mapping prepared by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. The assessment found that over 45 percent of mapped old growth in north coast state forests experienced full or partial canopy burn in the 2019-20 fires.
We determined that the program could no longer be implemented in accordance with the timelines and funding under the Terms of Reference. This is because the proposed old growth assessment method would have applied remote sensing techniques to assess canopy cover and structural maturity. Where the fires burnt the forest canopy, the proposed remote sensing approach could not be accurately applied.
In April 2020, we advised the Government not to continue assessment in accordance with the Terms of Reference. Based on this advice, the NSW Government suspended the reassessment of old growth forest mapping.
- Old growth reassessment framework (June 2020)
- Extent of 2019-2020 bushfires impact on old growth forest (April 2020)
- Terms of Reference (November 2018)