Forestry Corporation of NSW has received a warning from the state's primary environmental regulator over logging operations at Tantawangalo State Forest.
They [the NSW EPA] have more power than they think they do.- Campaigner Scott Daines
The NSW Environmental Protection Agency issued the state-owned company formal warning letters following an investigation into a range of alleged non-compliances during operations in the forest between 2015 and 2017.
"Formal warning letters were issued for alleged inadequacies in the protective measures required for rocky outcrops, hollow-bearing trees and stream side buffers," an EPA spokesperson said.
"A range of other allegations could not be substantiated or were found to be compliant with the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, with no further action taken."
Forestry Corp admitted the company is working to improve processes, and said they spends months completing surveys before any logging occurs.
"We have highly trained staff and work hard to meet all our environmental obligations in the forest," a Forestry Corp spokesperson said.
We are also continuing to work collaboratively with the EPA to improve our processes and to objectively define and map what constitutes a rocky outcrop, which can be difficult.
"Before we touch a single tree we spend several months completing detailed environmental surveys to identify environmental features that need protection, like rocky outcrops. This is something we take very seriously."
Forestry Corp said their operations in a compartment of the forest were completed in 2017, and the company does not intend returning to the area for "another 20 to 30 years".
A letter from the EPA to the complainant, Scott Daines from South East Forest Rescue, further outlines reasons for the warnings, which included the logging plan for the compartment not being publicly available and retained trees not being protected.
The letter states the EPA felt enforcement action was not a "viable" option given the ambiguity of a nearly 20 year old Threatened Species Licence, which can make proving offences beyond reasonable doubt a difficult process.
The letter says the EPA is hoping to ensure "there are enforceable and clear rules around the protection of rocky outcrops and cliffs in the future".
It also acknowledges the work of alliance members, who the agency said they would like to have regular pre-operational engagement with alongside Forestry Corporation NSW.
"I know this news will be very disappointing for you and understand that you'll likely question this outcome," the letter says.
"I would also like to acknowledge the efforts that you have put into these matters, and your level of dedication to the field work and the reporting components is admirable."
Mr Daines, who has been campaigning for 20 years, said the logged compartment is part of an important wider catchment area feeding into the local water supply.
"The whole area has been turned into regrowth, which will affect water quality into the future because there will be less water flowing into the creeks. Those compartments had trees hundreds of years old." he said.
He said the warning letter has "vindicated" the actions of campaigners, criticised the time it took for the investigation to conclude, and said the public should have the right to take allegations to court.
"It's the government versus the government, and the EPA is constrained even if their heart is in the right place," Mr Daines said.
"They have more power than they think they do. The government couldn't sack the whole department if they stuck together. That would be a scandal."