Integrated forestry operations approval (IFOA) outlines the conditions and settings for harvesting timber on NSW state forest and Crown timber land, including provisions for the protection of the environment and for threatened species conservation.
Advice on Coastal IFOA operations post 2019-20 bushfires
The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces has requested the Commission through a terms of reference to provide independent, evidence -based advice on forestry operations under the coastal IFOA as the NSW public forest estate recovers from the 2019-20 bushfires.
The Minister requested this advice in confidence.
The request is in accordance with sections 13 (1) (d1) and 13 (1) (g) of the Natural Resources Commission Act 2003.
In February 2012, the NSW Government announced it would remake the IFOA for the Eden, Southern, Upper North East and Lower North East coastal region of NSW, with the aim of delivering a single new IFOA for forestry in coastal NSW.
Since 2014, the Environmental Protection Authority, Forestry Corporation of NSW and the then Department of Primary Industries have worked together to develop settings for the new Coastal IFOA. The parties came to an agreement on most but not all of the settings.
In July 2016, the Premier asked the Commission, through a terms of reference, to review outstanding settings for the new Coastal IFOA. The Commission was to independently advise on the extent to which the proposed IFOA settings would, or would not, deliver the Government’s twin commitments of no erosion of environmental values and no net change to wood supply.
In developing its advice, the Commission engaged independent ecology and forestry experts to inform its advice.
Overall, the Commission considered that the intended outcomes-based approach to the coastal IFOA reflects current best practice. The approach aligns with the scientifically supported shift to retention forestry which has the goal of maintaining a greater diversity of species and habitats.
The agreed multi-scale landscape approach with enhanced permanent protections for threatened species at a range of spatial scales, will build on existing IFOA environmental protections. It will also complement the national park system which extends over 33 percent of the coastal IFOA region. Tree retention and threatened species protection areas will be permanently retained within clumps and excluded from harvesting to provide habitat for fauna. This will be in addition to the 38 percent of the existing state forest estate already permanently excluded from harvesting in the coastal IFOA region.
The new arrangements allow for intensive harvesting in some parts of the forest landscape to meet the regeneration requirements for preferred species (primarily blackbutt) and to increase efficiency in wood supply.
The Commission recommended a suite of settings that it considered went closest to meeting the objectives and commitments of the IFOA at the state scale. However, the Commission determined at that time that it was not possible to meet the NSW Government’s commitments around both environmental values and wood supply under the expected cumulative impact of the agreed and recommended settings.
Specifically, analysis estimated that annual high quality wood supply could decrease in certain wood supply zones on the north coast under recommended settings for the protection of koalas and new mapping for threatened ecological communities.
In addition to the recommended settings, the Commission suggested a range of improvements to deliver a contemporary regulatory framework, including options to improve clarity and enforceability, while reducing costs associated with implementation and compliance. The Commission also emphasised the importance of implementing effective monitoring and adaptive management processes.
The NSW Government has adopted the Commission’s recommended settings and released the draft IFOA for public consultation in May 2018.
Remapping old growth forests and rainforests
In November 2017, the Premier asked the Commission under a subsequent terms of reference, to provide supplementary advice on whether the NSW Government could remap and rezone old growth and rainforests on north coast state forests, as a way to meet its twin commitments for environmental values and wood supply.
The Commission ran a pilot to remap old growth and rainforests on 13 sites nominated by the Environment Protection Authority and the Forestry Corporation of NSW in north coast state forests. The Commission engaged the then Office of Environment and Heritage’s Native Vegetation Information Science Branch to independently undertake remapping using existing peer-reviewed protocols to reassess old growth and rainforest for private native forestry. The Commission found the existing protocols are objective and can be improved through mandatory field work when remapping on state forests.
The Commission found the accuracy of current mapping could be significantly improved by applying modern technologies and new data.
The Commission’s report identified significant errors in current old growth and rainforest mapping, both in terms of forest extent and location. For example, no old growth was found in six of the 13 remapped sites. Further, four of the 13 remapped sites found old growth largely outside of the current mapped areas. In one site, field work identified high quality habitat in areas remapped as no longer having old growth. Overall, the extent of old growth forest reduced by 78 percent and rainforest by 35 percent when aggregated across all the 13 pilot sites.
Importantly, the pilot showed NSW can continue to meet its commitment under the North East Regional Forest Agreement by only remapping old growth forest ecosystems that are above the JANIS reservation targets.
The Forestry Corporation of NSW’s analysis estimated there is sufficient volumes of high-quality commercial timber within areas that may be remapped to offset the estimated short falls arising from the recommended IFOA settings.
The Commission concluded that the Government could meet the twin commitments by implementing a risk based, two-way remapping process with built-in environmental safeguards to meet verified wood supply shortfalls.
In May 2018, the NSW Government accepted the Commission’s proposed process to remap old growth forests. The Government has committed to further remapping to improve its understanding of the NSW forest estate. It will request the Commission to oversee additional old growth remapping on north coast state forests. This work includes overseeing the then Office of Environment and Heritage developing an additional environmental habitat values assessment. Once finalised, the framework will provide the scientific basis for any future mapping of old growth sites.