'Like a scene from a doomsday sci-fi movie': Flames burn through Tarkeeth Forest
IT was described as a 'scene from a doomsday sci-fi movie' when flames burned through thirty hectares of windrows in Tarkeeth State Forest as part of Forestry Corporation's logging operation.
Tarkeeth State Forest, located 7km south-east of Bellingen, has so far been subject to three burn-offs across sixty-five clear-felled hectares between August 2016 to April 2017.
A burn-off in October went out of control and cut off homes in Fells Rd, smoldering for a month.
Advocate Paul Hemphill said the burn-offs were having a significant impact on Bellingen residents' health.
"On the ground, many residents felt ill, with headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties and stress as the the smoke was borne on the the wind as far as in Bonville to the north and Kalang Hall in the west," said Mr Hemphill.
"Aggressive harvesting methods also created high levels of dust pollution along the unsealed haulage route between July and October last year, and as drought conditions prevailed through spring and summer, the clear-felled terrain turned into a dust bowl, generating airborne particles across a vast area."
Forestry Corporation have announced that a total of 850 hectares will be subject to clear-felling, which equates to potentially 40 burn-offs.
Mr Hemphill said Forestry Corporation had failed to have any regard to the interests of the Bellingen community.
"Forestry Corporation has not properly considered the long-term adverse social and health impacts on surrounding residents or our broader community, or made provision in its operational planning for using less polluting methods, including permitting public or commercial firewood collection and employing a 'mulch and plant' forest reestablishment method.
"Its spokespersons argue that public safety, topography and economics render such methods impractical. They constantly reassure us that it's practices are safe and responsible, and that replanting provides lasting economic benefit to all.
"And yet, when it conducted harvesting operations in Tucker's Knob State Forest, it acquiesced to local residents' requests and did not burn windrows or spray herbicide."
Mr Hemphill and the Not In My Forest Action Group have said they are not against the harvesting of timber, but are taking action against the 'outdated' and 'aggressive' methods being employed.
Forestry Corporation were criticised and fined $15,000 from the NSW Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 after clear-felling of Tuckers Nob State Forest had caused more than 100m3 of sediment to wash into Bellingen's Never Never Creek.
Forestry Corporation have also proposed a logging operation around the headwaters of the Kalang and Never Never rivers to take place in Roses Creek State Forest in May and Oakes State Forest in January next year.
"It's time Forestry Corporation modernized its methods, and move away from this toxic mix of burning and poisoning - particularly as it is aware that Tarkeeth State Forest is so close to homes and to the Kalang. It is not as if it is in the middle of nowhere, some kind of terra nullius," Mr Hemphill said.
"With the air once again noxious with fumes and fine smoke particles, perhaps it is time Bellingen Shire Council made urgent representations to Forestry Corporation to reduce, and where possible eliminate, the air pollution being generated by forestry operations across Tarkeeth."
Forestry Corporation said they will be harvesting over several years and replanting trees as they go.
A spokesperson for the Corporation said they have completed a range of environmental and logistical assessments, surveys and consultations with local neighbours to develop their plan.
However, Mr Hemphill said it is a one-way relationship between Forestry Corporation and residents.
"The harvesting plans were made before neighbours were approached, and "consultation" was not a two-way, collaborative process. Rather, neighbours were merely informed about what will be done, and no concessions were made.
"For example, we asked for a wildlife corridor and visual buffer to be left along Fells Rd, which residents use. We tried to negotiate to obtain a buffer between residents and the industrial zone which residents have to drive through. This was refused, so we basically have to drive through a wasteland.
"Residents did however manage to get FC to agree to standard operating hours being implemented. But obtaining just this one, reasonable concession was a torturous process."