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IFOA trial - Frequently asked questions

What was the purpose of the trial?

      The NSW Government is currently remaking the four coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs) into a single consolidated licence. The remake's objectives are to:

  • reduce the costs associated with implementation and compliance
  • improve the clarity and enforceability of the IFOAs, including the conditions of environment protection, threatened species and fisheries licences held by the Forestry Corporation of NSW
  • recognise innovations in best regulatory practice, incorporate advances in technology and deliver a contemporary regulatory framework that is fit for purpose.

The IFOA remake must ensure that access to existing wood supply levels is maintained with no erosion of environmental values.

The trial addressed a number of outstanding matters in the development of the Coastal IFOA. It applied different options for protecting threatened species and their habitat, riparian areas, and tested different standards for harvesting intensity in the regrowth zone.

The trial was not intended to be a scientific study, but rather an opportunity to implement a range of options to help clarify and finalise negotiations around the threatened species licence requirements at the landscape, stand and site scales. The information obtained from the trial is being used to further refine the rules for timber harvesting and inform the finalisation of a draft Coastal IFOA.

What was the scope of the trial?

The trial demonstrated three different matters being actively considered for inclusion in the draft Coastal IFOA:

  1. A range of new or improved multi-scale landscape measures for the protection of threatened species and habitats. It is proposed that the protection measures will be implemented at the landscape, stand and site scales.
  2. New stream classification and protection measures that will be applied to all streams that have been accurately identified through new LiDAR technologies.
  3. Establishing two thresholds for harvesting intensity within the existing regrowth zone.

The trial demonstrated how each measure interacted to deliver fit for purpose measures that meet the objectives and key principles of the IFOA remake.

Was the trial method publicly released?

In June 2015, the Government finalised the IFOA remake trial method (PDF 1.8MB)  which set the scope of the specific threatened species protection options and settings to be applied as part of the trial, and detailed the methods for undertaking the trial, analysing the results and engaging with stakeholders. 

Where was the trial conducted?

The trial was conducted in five operational areas in Queens Lake, Lansdowne, Kiwarrik, Ingalba and Styx River State Forests. The harvest plans and harvest plan operational maps are published on the EPA website

How will the trial be evaluated? Will the results be made available to the public?

The settings applied in the trial will be evaluated against the objectives and key principles of the IFOA remake. The Government has developed a range of qualitative and quantitative assessment criteria to evaluate the suitability of each threatened species measure being demonstrated through both the desktop planning and field exercises. The assessment criteria for the trial are detailed in the IFOA remake trial method (PDF 1.8MB).

A final report on the findings of the trial will be released with the draft Coastal IFOA. The public will be invited to make submissions on the draft IFOA at that time, and will be welcome to comment on the findings of the trial.

Was the trial a scientific study?

No. The trial was not intended to be a scientific study, but rather a small-scale desktop planning and field demonstration of a range of different threatened species measures. The trial provided a practical example of how the proposed landscape, stand and site based protection measures interacted in actual logging operations. The trial also provided the opportunity to give these settings a test run to ensure they were clear, efficient and enforceable.

Why did the Government not conduct a scientific study?

The Government recognises that the current IFOAs do not adequately allow for the evaluation of the effectiveness of the licence conditions in achieving their intended outcomes. A lack of comprehensive, consistent or long term baseline data on threatened species to date means it would not be possible to conduct a scientifically meaningful analysis of the proposed Coastal IFOA measures at this time.

The trial was intended to be a small-scale desktop and field demonstration of the range of proposed measures that have been designed to protect threatened species during forestry operations. Its purpose was to see how the measures complement each other at an operational scale to provide equivalent or improved landscape protection, connectivity and habitat outcomes.

The trial provided an opportunity to give the proposed threatened species measures a 'test run' in a practical setting, to help ensure each measure is fit for purpose prior to finalising the draft Coastal IFOA.

The Government acknowledges the value in having long-term monitoring to ensure that the IFOA is effective in protecting threatened species and habitats. As part of the Coastal IFOA, a strategic monitoring framework will be established to ensure that threatened species measures are effective in achieving intended environmental standards and outcomes. This commitment is outlined in more detail in the Discussion Paper (PDF 1.97KB).

Were pre-harvest surveys conducted in the trial sites?

Forestry Corporation of NSW undertook all required threatened species pre-harvest surveys in accordance with the current IFOA survey requirements.

The findings from the pre-harvest threatened species surveys will enable a comparison of the current IFOA outcomes with proposed landscape, stand and site based threatened species measures being considered for the Coastal IFOA.

As the trial was a demonstration of settings and not a before and after scientific study, no additional flora and fauna surveys were undertaken. This was because building up the level of survey data necessary to provide a scientifically meaningful analysis would take many years (for further information see Why is the Government not conducting a scientific study?)

What is a multi-scale landscape condition?

Multi-scale landscape protection involves the protection of habitat for threatened species at a range of spatial scales – landscape, stand and site.

Landscape scale measures include the protection of large areas excluded from harvesting to protect specific values. This includes setting minimum thresholds for habitat retention across specified landscape units. The landscape protection measures capture high conservation old growth forest, rainforest, wetlands and stream and habitat corridor networks.

Stand scale measures include the protection of important habitat and forest structural diversity that are to be applied throughout all harvest areas. It includes measures such as tree retention for the protection and recruitment of hollows or food resources, setting minimum thresholds for retaining forest structure (basal area) and the retention of small unharvested refugia patches (wildlife clumps).

Site scale measures include specific protection measures that must be applied for a record of a threatened species, such as exclusion zones around threatened plants, bird nests and bat roosts. Site scale measures would be required for species that may not be catered for in landscape or stand scale measures. These would be implemented based on survey results where a threatened species or unique habitat is actually located.

Landscape and stand scale measures will be implemented in every harvesting operation whether or not threatened species records are present.

What does stream classification mean?

The current IFOAs currently use the Strahler stream classification system. It assigns streams to an 'order' according to the number of tributaries (branches) associated with each stream. The classification follows the principle that as a stream gets larger, it is given a higher classification and larger protection measures must be applied.

The new LiDAR mapped stream network contains many previously unmapped streams which did not require the same level of protection under the current IFOA. Changes to the amount of streams now being mapped in the upper catchment means that the currently used Strahler stream classification system is no longer appropriate.

The trial considered the suitability of a new 'catchment area' based classification system for LiDAR mapped streams. The new classification system will assign a 'class' to each stream based on the area of land (catchment) that drains (feeds) into that stream. The 'class' will determine the width of the riparian protection zones that must be applied.

Further information on the adoption of new technologies in improving the identification of streams and stream classification systems can be found in the IFOA remake discussion paper (PDF 1.97MB).

What are stream protection measures and how were they applied differently in the trial?

The current IFOA include provisions for implementing protection zones around a stream network. The provisions maintain corridors of undisturbed vegetation across the landscape that provide habitat for wildlife and protect the aquatic environment by maintaining soil stability and sediment trapping. New protection measures that were applied in the trial have been designed to maintain the overall quality and quantity of the existing stream network.

The new LiDAR mapped stream network contains many previously unmapped streams that are not required to be protected under the current IFOAs. Under the trial, protection measures were applied to previously unprotected streams. As well as the addition of these numerous small, unmapped drainage lines, there were some changes to the widths of existing stream exclusion zones where individual streams may have increased or decreased exclusion zone widths depending on the size of the catchment and the accuracy of previous mapping.

However, across the landscape the measures that were applied in the trial would result in no net change in the area of protected areas around streams.

The stream protection measures that were applied in the trial were based on catchment area thresholds. This meant that the width of stream protections did not necessarily change at stream junctions, instead they changed at set catchment area thresholds. These thresholds could occur at any place along the length of a stream.

What different thresholds for harvesting intensities were tested and where were they applied?

The current IFOAs specify that logging can only occur under specified silvicultural practices including Australian Group Selection, Single Tree Selection, Thinning and Alternate Coupe Logging. These silvicultural practices focus on the process for undertaking harvesting operations rather than ensuring that improved environmental and sustainable forestry outcomes are delivered. The IFOA remake proposes a new multi-scale landscape approach to threatened species management and will set harvesting intensity limits on basal area removal and harvest return times. Under the trial, the requirement for specific silvicultural treatments was removed and a range of harvesting intensity thresholds was applied.

The setting of thresholds for harvest basal area retention is an important factor in ensuring that the new IFOA conditions will achieve the dual purposes of ensuring that harvested areas are adequately regenerated and that important ecological and habitat features of forests are retained and protected. For some forest types, such as those dominated by species including blackbutt, higher levels of sites disturbance and access to sun light are required to achieve adequate regeneration for timber production purposes.

The harvesting intensity thresholds applied during the trial will be assessed in combination with multi-scale landscape threatened species protections to ensure that forest structural diversity, mature forest elements, and landscape connectivity are maintained during timber harvesting operations. The harvesting intensity thresholds will also be assessed to ensure that they provide adequate settings for regeneration for timber purposes.

The trial established three zones that specified thresholds for harvesting intensity depending on past logging history, the regeneration needs of the forest and the structural diversity of the forest. It included:

  • lower intensity harvesting practices in the existing non-regrowth forest zone, and
  • establishing two thresholds for harvesting intensity within the existing regrowth zone:
    • higher intensity harvesting in blackbutt dominated areas
    • lower intensity harvesting in all other areas.

Higher intensity (higher basal area removal) harvesting was applied in blackbutt dominated forests in a limited number of trial sites. A range of retained basal area thresholds, rather than 'removal' thresholds, were also tested during the trial, which may have delivered more intensive harvesting practices in a small subset of the trial sites.

Notably the conditions trialled were designed to ensure that intensive harvesting would be balanced by the implementation of the new multi-scale landscape approach, which includes improvements to the retention of hollow-bearing and recruitment trees, feed trees, wildlife habitat clumps (unlogged habitat patches) and a range of threatened species and habitat protection measures.

The trial did not permit clear-felling operations and was limited to the five harvest areas (or compartments) in the Lower North East Region that will be approved by the EPA.

How is the information being collected during the trial being used?

The information obtained from the trial is being used to:

  • demonstrate the application of the different provisions being trialled
  • assess their ease of application
  • ensure the enforceability of the conditions
  • assess for comparative environmental outcomes
  • determine any wood supply consequences
  • assess the operational efficiencies and costs for both the conduct of the operation and the EPA's assessment of compliance.

The information obtained during the trial is being used to further refine the proposed conditions and inform the finalisation of a draft Coastal IFOA.

How can I be involved in the development of the coastal IFOA?

The new draft IFOA will be placed on public exhibition for a minimum of six weeks during the next stage of public consultation. Supplementary information will be released with the draft IFOA, including a report on the conduct and findings of the trial.

The public will be invited to make written submissions on the draft IFOA which will inform the finalisation of the IFOA and any associated legislative amendments. This will be the opportunity to provide feedback on the trial and any outcomes.

During this stage of consultation the EPA, FCNSW and DPI will also conduct targeted information sessions with peak environment and industry stakeholder groups.

Was the trial legal?

Yes. The NSW Government made legal changes to permit the conduct of the trial. An amendment to the Lower North East IFOA (amendment 6 (PDF 44KB) was granted to enable the application of threatened species measures and silviculture practices that were not previously permitted.

The trial was implemented in strict accordance with the terms of the EPA-approved scoping document Trial of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (PDF 132KB).

The amendment only permitted new harvesting practices and proposed landscape provisions to be applied for a three-month trial period, or a shorter period if earlier terminated by the EPA.

The trial was restricted to five harvesting areas (or compartments) in State Forests in the lower north east IFOA region of NSW. The trial sites were approved by the EPA.

Who conducted the trial?

The trial was conducted by the Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) under the close supervision of the EPA and the Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries (DPI).

What was the EPA's role during the trial?

As a joint partner in the trial, the EPA oversaw the implementation of the trial and ensured that the trial was conducted in accordance with the strict conditions of the IFOA amendment and the scoping document Trial of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (PDF 132KB). The EPA also assisted in the collection and analysis of all information obtained from the conduct of the trial.

The EPA is using the trial findings to inform the finalisation of a draft Coastal IFOA.

How did the Government manage environmental risks during the trial?

The Government carefully managed the trial to ensure appropriate controls were in place to minimise any potential environmental impacts. The trial was restricted to a small number of sites in the Lower North East region and was carried out in strict accordance with the requirements specified and approved by the EPA.

The specific conditions allowed for in the trial are now prohibited. The operations conducted under the trial were subject to all remaining IFOA requirements.

All timber harvesting operations outside of the designated trial area must continue to comply with all the regular conditions of the Lower North East IFOA.

Did the trial increase the overall volume of timber produced under the Lower North East IFOA?

No. The overall volume limits on timber harvesting under the Lower North East IFOA did not change. Timber harvested as a result of the trial was counted as part of the existing volume cap.

Did the trial allow harvesting on steep slopes?

No. The trial was conducted for the specific purpose of testing new proposals for threatened species protection as part of the Coastal IFOA remake. It is separate from the Forestry Corporation of NSW's proposed trial of harvesting on steep slopes, which has not been approved by Government.

The trial prohibited timber harvesting on areas that exceed 25 degrees in slope, or areas that have previously been excluded from forestry activities due to steep slope considerations.

Where else can the amending instruments be viewed?

The amending instruments to the Lower North East IFOA are available on the Lower North East region forest agreement and IFOA webpage. Hard copies can also be provided by request, or are available for inspection during ordinary office hours at the offices listed below:

  • Environment Protection Authority
    Level 14, 61 Goulburn Street, Sydney NSW 2000
    Phone: 131 555
  • Forestry Corporation of NSW
    121-131 Oratava Avenue, West Pennant Hills NSW 2125
    Phone: 02 9872 0111

How do I find more information on the NSW Government coastal IFOA remake?

The NSW Government released a discussion paper (PDF 1.97MB) on the key elements of the new coastal IFOA. This was available for public comment until 9 April 2014. Information on the coastal IFOA remake is also available.

Who can I contact for more information?

  • Telephone the EPA Forestry Section on 02 9995 6713
  • Email the EPA at info@environment.nsw.gov.au or
  • Write to the Principal Manager, Forestry Section, EPA, PO Box A290, Sydney South NSW 1232
Page last updated: 13 July 2016