Research and evaluation

The Coastal IFOA research and evaluation program provides the monitoring program the opportunity to respond to changes to environmental conditions, policy, knowledge or technology and provide a program to investigate best practice forest management and monitoring.

Research program

The proposed suite of research projects will highlight risks and find better ways the conditions and protocols of the Coastal IFOA can achieve their outcomes. Research questions that the program seeks to answer include:

  • How can we objectively assess the impact of injuries to retained trees during forestry operations?
  • Are the current conditions for the design and rehabilitation of temporary log crossings effective in reducing their impacts on waterways in NSW coastal hardwood state forests?
  • How are koalas responding to conditions, including changes in tree retention rates, species, distribution and size?
  • Can technology improve the probability of detection for a range of species and habitats in forestry operations?
  • What are the implications of changing fire intensity and regimes on the achievement of the Coastal IFOA’s objectives and outcomes?

Project: Strengthening the evidence base to assess damaged trees

At the 2022 Coastal IFOA annual health check, parties agreed to develop an evidence base to objectively assess the impact of injuries to retained trees during forestry operations. Currently there is no agreed understanding of the type and level of injuries that retained trees can sustain above which they are unable to provide the ecological function for which they were retained.

The types of retained trees included in the assessment are prescribed in the Coastal IFOA, such as hollow-bearing trees, nectar trees, giant trees, dead standing trees, Glossy Black cockatoo feed trees, Glider sap feed trees and Koala browse trees.

We engaged researchers from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University to review the scientific literature covering current knowledge of how trees respond to physical injuries to the stem and crown. The review also investigated recovery times and/or the impacts on tree longevity following damage.


Based on scientific literature, the researchers found trees impacted by mechanical injuries during forestry operations respond in similar ways to those trees impacted by fire, drought and storms. Trees either resprout from epicormic buds beneath the bark or from underground lignotubers depending on the species. Only a small number of eucalypt species cannot resprout following severe injury and rely on seedling regeneration to recover.

Based on this literature review and evidence from field observations, the researchers have assessed the risk to the ongoing function of retained trees due to different types and levels of injury. The researchers have set out an approach, including further field data to set objective injury thresholds for different types of injuries for retained trees as codified under the Coastal IFOA.

About the researchers

  • Professor Brendan Choat is a national leading expert in plant physiology, specialising in quantifying physiological thresholds of tree mortality.
  • Dr Rachael Nolan is a leading researcher in the new field of “pyro-ecophysiology”, working at the intersection of plant ecophysiology, fire ecology and forest fire management.
  • Dr Eli Bendall leads field campaigns monitoring drought recovery of trees and post-fire tree mortality across south-eastern Australia.

Project: Reviewing the use of temporary log crossings in NSW coastal state forests

The Coastal IFOA Monitoring Program includes annual health checks to consider the programs results and further opportunities to expand the evidence base to inform forest management. The 2021 health check initiated an assessment of the effectiveness of temporary log crossings in State Forests.

A temporary log crossing is where logs are placed in a drainage feature to enable the short-term passage of a machine or vehicle. There are knowledge gaps around how well their potential impacts on waterways are being managed.

The Steering Committee engaged Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Ltd to review the use of temporary log crossings in NSW coastal hardwood state forests and the effectiveness of the current conditions for their design and rehabilitation in reducing their impacts on waterways.

Jacobs has delivered a report that:

  • reviews published and grey literature on temporary log crossing design and use in NSW and other jurisdictions
  • advises on the effectiveness of temporary log crossings compared with traditional causeway crossings
  • suggests potential opportunities for adaptive management of the Coastal IFOA
  • explores the costs and benefits of further research and proposes monitoring options.

Jacobs advised that temporary log crossings can reduce biophysical impacts compared to traditional causeway crossings in certain forest circumstances, thus improving outcomes for water quality and aquatic habitat. Jacobs identified potential amendments to the relevant protocol that would bring a range of temporary log crossing requirements into alignment with those applied to traditional causeway crossings.

The project was informed by multiple field visits and extensive collaboration with agencies, the Commission team and independent expert Dr Peter Hairsine.

Project: Koala response to harvesting

Since 2019, researchers at the Australian National University, Western Sydney University and the Forest Science Unit at the NSW Department of Primary Industries have investigated how koalas, and their habitat responded to harvesting in state forests on the NSW North Coast.

The Commission has released as report synthesising the research findings. Overall, the research found the nutritional quality of trees is critical for koala survival and selective harvesting did not have an adverse impact upon koala numbers on surveyed north coast state forests.

More information on the program and the final report can found on the Koala Research page.

Project: Novel techniques to detect and monitor Hastings River Mouse

The Commission is partnering with the NSW Saving our Species program to test and compare the detectability of the Hastings River mouse using a range of novel survey methods and technologies. This will include testing the use of detection dogs and camera traps (with specific set-up for small mammals) against traditional trapping methods.

The use of detection dogs has been identified as a highly effective means of locating threatened, cryptic species, especially when traditional methods are unable to detect low‐density mammal populations. The Saving Our Species program is currently using detection dogs for small mammals such as the smoky mouse.

The first step in this project is to train a detection dog, as this will take up to 12 months before the research project can commence.

Miki, a six-month-old working cocker spaniel, started his training in April 2021 to become a Hasting River mouse detection dog. Miki is learning to recognise Hasting River mouse odour through the use of scats and bedding material collected from traps set by field ecologists from Saving Our Species and Forestry Corporation for NSW. Miki is also learning to discriminate between the odour of Hasting River mouse and other small mammals that he will encounter in the environment.

Video - Miki training to become a Hasting River mouse detection dog

Project: Drones to detect cryptic species

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment are investigating the use of drones to improve detection for the cryptic koala and greater glider. Drones will be fitted with thermal imaging cameras and flown over Kalanteenee State Forest to provide information on the population density and distribution of koalas. These results will be compared to acoustic detection surveys being undertaken in the same area.

Working with Forestry Corporation for NSW, thermal imaging cameras will also be used in areas subject to spotlight surveys for the greater glider, with comparison of density estimates using the two techniques and ground validation in real time.

Surveys will be undertaken in winter 2022, when thermal differentials and the likelihood of detections are highest.

Project: Implications of changing fire intensity and regimes on Coastal IFOA objectives and outcomes

The Coastal IFOA monitoring program committed to investigate the risks to achieving Coastal IFOA outcomes under changing fire regimes. The Commission engaged researchers at the NSW Bushfire Risk Management hub, University of Wollongong to provide independent research on the matter.

The research team evaluated:

  • the specific risks to achieving the Coastal IFOA objectives and outcomes as result of the legacy landscape scale impacts of the NSW 2019/20 wildfire season
  • the broad implications of predicted changing fire regimes on the achievement of the Coastal IFOA’s objectives and outcomes options to mitigate risks.

The researchers found:

  • The 2019/20 fires impacted about 3.6 million hectares of forests across all tenures within the mapped Coastal IFOA region.
  • Around 60 percent of the total state forest and national park area within this region was burnt, almost half of which was subject to high or extreme fire severity.
  • Previous timber harvesting did not increase the fire extent or severity of the 2019/20 fires. However, there is potential for cumulative impacts in harvested landscapes that are subject to fire.
  • The 2019/20 fires mean now only 10 percent of forested areas are currently within their recommended fire frequency thresholds.
  • Half of state forest and national park area is now classified as ‘vulnerable’, meaning the 2019/20 fires effectively doubled the extent of vulnerable forested vegetation on these tenures.
  • Under the climate change scenario of hotter temperatures and little change in rainfall, of the 24 assessed threatened species, seven species are predicted to have their habitat reduced by over 75% by 2070.

The University of Wollongong report is available here.

The data used in the analysis is available on the NSW SEED portal.

Evaluation program

The proposed suite of evaluations will determine the effectiveness of the practices used in coastal native hardwood state forest in NSW.

Project: Compliance evaluation

To assess the effectiveness of Coastal IFOA conditions, it is important to know whether they are being implemented as intended. In particular, to understand if instances of non-compliance – either alleged or proven - are likely to have compromised the outcomes of any conditions or the ability to monitor their effectiveness.

The Commission has engaged Technical Forest Services to assess whether non-compliances are compromising the outcomes or ability to monitor the effectiveness of the Coastal IFOA conditions. This is one of four primary evaluation questions established under the Coastal IFOA monitoring program.

Dr. Peter Volker will lead the team from Technical Forest Services. He is a forest scientist with over 40 years of national and international professional experience. Peter has qualifications and experience in government regulations and compliance investigations. He has a strong technical and operational background, with a strong interest in sustainable forest management and integration of production and conservation in the landscape.

The evaluation will begin in early 2023.

Project: Drainage feature crossings and roading

The program will adapt existing methods for assessing the effectiveness of road networks in forestry operations as, for example, outlined in Croke and Mockler (2001). This method uses remote imagery and surveys to assess the hydrological connectivity of the road and stream networks. Alluvium and the NSW Soil Conservation Services have been engaged to assist the Commission with this evaluation.

Project: Species and habitat survey and modelling conditions and practices

The program has engaged a team lead by Dr Sarah Munks, a leading ecologist and adjunct senior researcher at the University of Tasmania and Dr Phil Bell of Biodiversity Maintenance Australia. They will evaluate the effectiveness of species and habitat survey and modelling conditions and practices used in the Coastal IFOA. Specifically, this evaluation will determine the effectiveness of practices used in the coastal native hardwood state forest in NSW to identify and protect species and habitat of importance.

Project: Coastal IFOA koala browse tree review

The NSW Forest Monitoring Steering Committee with support from experts will review the Coastal IFOA koala browse tree list for the upper and lower north-east CIFOA subregion. This review is based on advice from our koala research report.

The Steering Committee will advise on whether to:

  • list ironbarks (particularly Eucalyptus paniculata and possibly E. siderophloia), flooded gum (E. grandis) and spotted gum (C. maculata) as secondary browse species
  • elevate small-fruited grey gum (E. propinqua) from a secondary to primary browse species.

The Steering Committee will also analyse the potential impacts to wood supply and other environmental risks of such adjustments to the Coastal IFOA koala browse tree list with advice from relevant agencies and experts.

This review will inform the NSW Government’s five yearly review of the Coastal IFOA.