Conservation groups have written to the NSW Minister for the Environment and Minister for Primary Industries asking them to take urgent action to stop illegal logging of Rufous Scub-bird habitat in Styx River State Forest, east of Armidale, and instigate an independent inquiry.
The Rufous Scrub-bird is a small secretive understorey bird of highland wet forests in north-east NSW. It is a living fossil with a lineage dating back 97 to 65 million years but is now listed as vulnerable to extinction, with burning and logging recognised as primary threats.
North East Forest Alliance Spokesperson Dailan Pugh said that in 2007 a Forests NSW ecologist saw Rufous Scrub-birds at 7 locations in compartment 502 of Styx River State Forest.
“Forests NSW identified these records as extremely reliable and they were included in NSW’s Wildlife Atlas.
“Forests NSW’s Threatened Species Licence requires that all suitable habitat within 320 metres of such records must be protected from logging and management burns.
“When a local conservationist inspected the area in March he was shocked to find that Forests NSW had burnt the bird’s habitat and were in the process of logging it. When he checked their logging plans he found that all the records of the Rufous Scrub-birds had been deleted” Mr. Pugh said.
North Coast Environment Council President Susie Russell said she had met with the regional forester about the issue. “I was told that when planning the current logging Forests NSW questioned their ecologist about his records and decided that he had erroneously identified a common bird for the Rufous Scrub-bird.
“In an astounding move, apparently without undertaking new surveys, Forests NSW then attempted to delete all records made by their ecologist and proceeded to ignore both the records of the Rufous Scrub-bird and the mapped habitat in their planning process.
“We know that Forests NSW are desperate for timber and it seems they are prepared to go to any length, including breaching their licence conditions, to obtain it” Ms Russell said.
Clarence Environment Centre spokesperson, John Edwards, said that in response to Forests NSW’s claims that no suitable habitat existed in the area, he organised a visit to the area by two experienced ornithologists.
“Contrary to Forests NSW’s claims, both experts agreed that there are extensive areas of ideal habitat for the Rufous Scrub-bird and that it appeared that logging areas would have been good habitat prior to being trashed.
“Conservationists are dismayed that despite it being over a month since blatantly illegal logging of the habitat of a threatened species was reported to the new Environmental Protection Authority they have failed to undertake a proper investigation and refused to stop the logging.
“We have therefore appealed to the responsible Government Ministers to immediately stop the logging while an independent inquiry into this sordid affair is undertaken” Mr. Edwards said.