FORESTS NSW has been convicted, fined $5600 and ordered to pay costs of $19,000 by the Land and Environment Court.
The charges came after pleading guilty to an offence that resulted in significant potential harm to the habitat of a threatened species – the critically endangered smoky mouse – in the Nullica State Forest near Bega.
The court ordered that in lieu of paying the fine, Forests NSW is to pay $5600 towards funding a program to monitor the smoky mouse in South East Forest National Park for three years.
The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) prosecuted Forests NSW for burning around 60 hectares of a 70 hectare exclusion zone which was specifically set up to protect the habitat of the smoky mouse and has since been listed as a critically endangered animal.
NSW Minister for Environment Robyn Parker said the State Government expects an independent regulatory process where government agencies face the same rigorous standards and the same force of law as industry when it comes to environment protection.
“This should not have happened and the loss of a substantial area of this endangered animal’s habitat was completely avoidable if the right systems had been in place,” she said.
“I have reinforced to the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) that it should be active as well as independent in its regulatory obligations to protect the environment; no matter who they are investigating.”
Chief executive of OEH Lisa Corbyn said: “This is the first threatened species prosecution of Forests NSW under an Integrated Forests Operations Approval (IFOA)”.
“The Office of Environment and Heritage is building an active crown forestry compliance and enforcement program to help protect threatened species, water quality and aboriginal cultural heritage damage from logging,” she said.
“This includes undertaking regular spot checks of Forests NSW logging operations and responding to concerns and questions raised by the community.
“In this instance Forests NSW were found to have breached their threatened species licence for the Nullica State Forest which stipulates that around 880ha of smoky mouse habitat is to be maintained in exclusion zones.
“A subsequent investigation by the OEH determined that Forests NSW had lit a post logging burn and did not take adequate steps to prevent it from burning into the nearby exclusion zone.”
Forests NSW pleaded guilty to the breach of its threatened species licence in Nullica State Forest and have taken steps to ensure that these types of incidents don’t happen again.
The court heard that when officers from the OEH were in the area conducting routine field survey work, they observed a fire burning in one of the smoky mouse exclusion zones in Nullica State Forest.
Further investigations revealed the destruction of the exclusion zone was preventable and was the result of internal communication breakdowns within Forests NSW.
The smoky mouse was listed as an endangered species in 1995 under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
It was subsequently escalated to critically endangered last year as its population and distribution had been reduced to a critical level.