The Leard state forest has been closed by the Forestry Corporation of NSW amid risks posed by the Maules Creek mine protesters in the case of a fire.
The Forestry Corporation of NSW decided to close the forest until the end of March after receiving a letter from NSW police and holding talks with the Rural Fire Service.
In statement the corporation said “the increased fire risk posed by a large group of people in the forest and obstruction of forest roads required for emergency access” was the reason for the closure.
“The fire hazard in the area is particularly concerning as a result of low rainfall and high temperatures recently leaving the forests very dry. We can't take risks when it comes to safety,” it said.
“Signs have been erected and people occupying the site were informed of the closure yesterday and asked to leave the forest area.”
They say if the mine goes ahead it will destroy the Leard State Forest, affect water and force farmers off their land.
Protesters say they will defy orders to move out of the forest claiming the decision is aimed at disrupting activism rather than protecting the public.
“On the face of it, it appears that emergency fire controls are being misused to stifle legitimate community protest over the destruction of a forest that has been identified as having national environmental significance,” said Kate Smolski, Nature Conservation Council of NSW campaigns director.
While a spokeswoman for the Leard Forest Alliance said the group was prepared to be fined, vowing to stay put at the site, SMH reported.
“People are willing to make great sacrifices to stand up for a forest that is special,” Georgina Woods said.
Woods rubbished claims that the group’s presence would pose a risk to emergency response vehicles.
“We're prepared for whatever we need to do in case of fire but we had much hotter temperatures here two weeks ago than this week, and nobody thought it was necessary to close the forest then,” she said.
“It's pretty clear that it's a response to direct action to save the forest.”
Having lost a court case which would have prevented the $767 million project from going ahead, the group says it will continue its fight against the new mine.
Jacks Creek state forest, which has been earmarked for CSG drilling work by Santos, has also been closed.