There are 5.2 million hectares of public native forest within the coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) regions in New South Wales on and east of the Great Dividing Range. 4.3 million hectares or 83% of these forests are set aside in formal or informal conservation reserves. State Forests which comprise 1.55 million hectares or 30% of the public estate within the coastal IFOA regions in New South Wales are managed for a variety of reasons including timber production, recreation, and conservation. While commonly associated with timber harvesting, 43% (675,717 hectares) of the native State forest estate is set aside for conservation in informal reserves.
State forest conservation areas include formal Flora Reserves, and a suite of informal reserves including riparian protections, ridge and headwater connection, old growth patches, rare and non– commercial forest types, rainforest, heath, rock outcrops, steep slopes, wildlife corridors, large forest owl protection areas and species specific exclusion zones. These informal reserves receive legal protection via the State Forest Management Zones (FMZ) across the landscape. These informal reserves facilitate the movement of forest fauna and provide important habitat for a unique subset of species. When harvesting occurs in adjoining forest land the reserved areas provide refugia and opportunities from which re–colonisation can occur. Additionally and importantly, the juxtaposition of the undisturbed forest in informal reserves and open areas created by harvest operations creates an ecotone and a variety of successional forest habitats.
In addition to describing the current extent of these areas in State Forests in eastern NSW, we reviewed research that assessed their effectiveness as a complementary conservation measure to formal Reserves. Our review indicates that there is a considerable body of knowledge supporting their effectiveness at the local level. To date, however, there has been limited investment in extending and testing these findings more broadly across the landscape.
The current forestry regulatory framework is a mix of broad landscape exclusions, general protective conditions implemented routinely regardless of the result of biodiversity surveys and also the option of implementing a condition in lieu of survey, but relies heavily on localised pre– harvesting surveys of threatened species. The costly nature of these surveys and the requirement for these surveys to comply with licence conditions, however, limits the ability to undertake post– harvest surveys or monitoring on a broader scale with available resources. A new model is currently being developed whereby minimum standards are set for informal reserves across the landscape, in conjunction with local scale protection of key habitat features. The new direction has arisen from recognition that effective biodiversity conservation demands a holistic approach. However, the effectiveness of this approach and proposed retention thresholds needs to be rigorously monitored. This would require transferring effort from pre–harvest surveys towards monitoring occupancy trends and status of biodiversity over time.