Forestry Corporation NSW (FCNSW) has been hit with fines and costs totalling $285,600 after the Land and Environment Court ruled its activities had done “actual harm” to koalas.
Thursday's decision relates to the NSW Government-owned corporation felling trees at Wild Cattle State Forest, near Coffs Harbour, in 2018.
An investigation by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) – and a subsequent prosecution which began in 2020 – resulted in FCNSW pleading guilty to four charges.
The charges related to the felling of trees in protected rainforest and within a Koala Exclusion Zone, the latter of which resulted in a $60,000 fine.
Fines handed down by Justice John Robson totalled $135,600, and FCNSW was ordered to pay the EPA's legal and investigation costs of $150,000.
He said the activities likely had an “adverse impact” on habitat available for breeding females and their offspring.
“As such, I accept the position adopted by the prosecutor and find that there has been actual harm,” he said.
An “error” was to blame for the breaches, according to a statement released by FCNSW to Yahoo News Australia.
It said the issues were “isolated incidents”, adding they have since improved their systems.
Conservation groups say breaches not isolated incidents
NSW Greens MLC Sue Higginson welcomed the judgement, but slammed the FCNSW as a "serial offender".
“It is outrageous that in the Court the Forestry Corporation argued that their unlawful activity was insignificant and that the koala habitat destroyed was not habitat of an ‘important population'," she told Yahoo News Australia in a statement.
"The koala has been listed as an endangered species. Every population is important and significant when dealing with a species that faces extinction by 2050."
Nature Conservation Council (NCC), an environment advocacy group, released a statement lamenting that fines could not replace lost habitat.
It listed a series of previous fines FCNSW has received since 2020.
Apr 2022 — $45,000 for destroying habitat in Mogo State Forest
Feb 2021 — $15,000 for failing to mark a prohibited zone in Olney State Forest
Feb 2021 — $30,000 for breaches in Ballengarra State Forest
Mar 2021 — $33,000 for failing to keep records at Boyne, Bodalla and Mogo State Forest
Apr 2020 — $31,100 for breaches in Tantawangalo and Bago State Forest
“Regrettably, today’s fine is another instance of destructive and unlawful behaviour by a company entrusted with managing 2 million hectares of forest,” NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.
“This is not an isolated instance — Forestry Corporation is a repeat offender.”
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