DEC’s Identity Crisis

By Peter Murphy - Preston Environment Group - July 2011

Recent actions and decisions on behalf of the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), brings into question their ability to uphold those responsibilities and obligations required of them under their own Enforcement and Prosecution Policy 2008 and Conservation and Land Management Act 1984; especially when it comes to protecting one of the world’s few ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ in the South West of Western Australia: the native forest.

Think back to 2001, when the then State Labor Government - under the leadership of Dr Geoff Gallop and advised by the Environment Minister, Dr Judy Edwards - took an axe to the then Conservation and Land Management (CALM) and proceeded to chop-out the rot which had tainted the department as an instrument of the corporate logging fraternity. At last! Cried the people, CALM had been exposed and the public would finally see an end to the conflict of interest and lack of transparency that had plagued the department for nearly two decades. CALM could now genuinely concentrate on the job the public expected of them: to conserve and protect Western Australia’s natural heritage.

The restructuring of CALM followed, with a number of staff opting to remain in conservation, while others moved to the newly formed Forest Products Commission (FPC); whose primary role was to log the native forest and on-sell the logs to the nearest bidder. It was also decided that a name- change for CALM was (for obvious reasons) warranted; hence the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) was born. Unfortunately what Gallop and Edwards didn’t anticipate; was that within the restructuring process - what also had to be disassembled, was an entrenched colonial culture of `search and destroy’ that had evolved over decades. In other words: how was Gallop and Edwards to possibly know which ex-CALM managers/staff were the genuine conservators, and which ones couldn’t see the forest for the trees?

This cultural conundrum raised its ugly head during an FPC logging operation at Yabberup forest (near Donnybrook) in 2009, when the FPC (during logging operations) - broke every logging guideline and practice cited in their own Silvicultural Guidelines Manual - all under the supervision of DEC. A DEC inquiry followed, with the FPC cleared of any wrong-doing and issued (from DEC) with nothing more than a ‘Cautionary Note’.

This was followed by controversy surrounding a DEC mammal trapping survey carried out in Arcadia forest (30-kms east of Bunbury) during 2005/06, which revealed a small colony of rare mainland quokka still hanging on. However, when the bankrupt FPC proposed to log Arcadia in 2011; conservationists cried foul - citing DEC’s own survey proving that Arcadia was indeed home to a small colony of rare mainland quokka and therefore couldn’t possibly be logged. However, to conservationist’s disgust, the DEC mammal survey disappeared off the radar. This dodgy action also brought into question DEC’s Quokka Recovery Plan (2010 - 2019), which (as I write) still sits on DEC CEO Kieran MacNamara’s desk - gathering dust. Why hasn’t such an important recovery plan costing the WA taxpayer thousands of dollars; still not been implemented?

Then there was DEC’s ‘experimental fire’ (lit during a total fire-ban during April 2011) at Benger Nature Reserve near Harvey, which (predictably) escaped and incinerated hundreds of native animals (some on DEC’s own threatened species list). DEC has promised an inquiry into the fire, but as usual; it will be DEC investigating DEC (see Benger fire video on

These serious breaches, which contravene several State and Commonwealth Acts, are only the tip of the iceberg and there are far too many other examples to document in this article.

You may refer to me as a DEC cynic, however a recent DEC logging and burning workshop in the *Wellington Discovery Forest, brought home the reality that the rot that Gallop and Edwards had tried to extricate within the department is still active. Advertised as a “Sustainable Forestry” workshop and with the fine print spruiking: ‘how logging and burning the native forest can enhance forest biodiversity values’. But isn’t it the FPC’s role to log the forest, while its DEC’s responsibility to protect its biodiversity values?

The public will soon be presented with a draft Forest (Logging) Management Plan for the period 2013 to 2024. However, DEC recently recommended that the current FMP (2004 to 2013) requires an amendment to increase the karri logging-quota from 117,000 cubic metres pa, to 170,000 over a 10-year period. Not something that you would expect from an agency whose primary role is to protect forest biodiversity values. And if and when, the new FMP is implemented - don’t expect areas of high conservation state forest to be declared as new national or conservation parks; especially if the state forest is habitat to endangered species.

The WA taxpayer expects government agencies such as DEC, the Environmental Protection Authority and the Conservation Commission to act on their behalf in protecting one of the few ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ on the planet, so that their intrinsic ecological values can be enjoyed for now and by future generations. But how can the public have confidence in a flawed submission process; especially when the proposed FMP (2013 -2024) has already been compromised by the symbiotic relationship between DEC and the bankrupt FPC (FPC Annual Report 2010-2011)?

If the symbiotic relationship between DEC and the bankrupt FPC isn’t urgently dealt with by the Barnett Government, then all the good intentions for protecting one of the few ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ on the planet initiated by the Gallop government will leave future generations asking: why didn’t we take a stand and stop the unnecessary destruction of our natural heritage?

*The high conservation Wellington Discovery Forest was excised from the Wellington National Park in a deal struck between the Greens (WA) and the loggers (Hansard - Nov 26/2004). The WDF is now used by DEC and the loggers as an eco-education site to demonstrate to primary and high school students on how Third World logging and burning practices enhance forest biodiversity values.