The Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC) argues that the Coffs Harbour and Bellingen regions will be hit hard by the NSW Government’s recent announcement it will sacrifice old growth, koala and other threatened species habitat and stream protection in native forests to prop up the ailing timber industry.
“The Existing Regional Forest Agreements have identified transition from public native forests to plantations for the last twenty years. Accordingly, the timber yield from native forests on public land has halved over that time” said a BEC spokesperson.
A package of reports and proposed changes released by the Government today confirmed what environmentalists have known for years – there is not enough wood left in the native forests to supply the over committed government contracts even at the reduced harvesting rates.
The proposal announced by the NSW Government is a series of environmentally destructive measures to cut into already scarce and irreplaceable old growth and other parts of the forest reserve system to eek a few more years of timber supply.
In 1988, a National Forest and Timber Inquiry said that old growth forests were irreplaceable and should be protected. In NSW, it took another fifteen years for such a policy to gain teeth on public forests. Over the intervening period much of the remaining irreplaceable old growth was squandered and what remains now is even more scarce.
Thirty years after the national call for old growth protection, Environment Minister Upton has used a backroom team of mappers from the Office of Environment and Heritage, whose credibility has been seriously questioned over vegetation mapping, to map old growth forest away.
The original approach, started thirty years ago, to identify, delineating and protect remaining old growth forest involved all agencies and key stakeholders in an open and transparent process that stretched over almost ten years.
The Environment Minister’s discredited mapping team, working largely away from public scrutiny, have devised a new method of mapping which, from trials and early applications, eliminates most old growth at the stroke of a mapper’s pen.
“Environment Minister Upton’s staff should not be facilitating the destruction of irreplaceable old growth forest habitat but should be out identifying which old trees in the forests are habitat for threatened and other arboreal species and seeking to have them protected”, said the BEC spokesperson.
“The announcement that pre-logging surveys for koalas will no longer be required is going to be a case if you don’t look you don’t see for local koalas” added the spokesperson.
“North Coast Koalas have declined by 50% over the past 20 years, removing the pre-logging survey requirements, while allowing widespread clear felling in their habitat, could be their death knell.
The removal of koala pre-logging survey requirements comes little more than a week after the release of the NSW Government’s widely criticised Koala Conservation Strategy.
For the Coffs Harbour region the Strategy overlooks the need for a koala hospital between Port Macquarie and Lismore.
“The only proposed koala reserve in the region in the Strategy is less than 3000 hectares area in marginal habitat, on steep land at the headwaters of the Kalang River and is unlikely to be suitable for koalas and is inaccessible to most visitors “ said the BEC.
Alternatively, the proposed Great Koala National Park would protect an additional 175,000 hectares of generally good quality coastal habitat. It also proposes a local koala hospital and visitor and education centre at Pine Creek on the Pacific Highway south of Coffs Harbour.
“It is time to end the logging of public native forest and complete the transition to plantations”, said a BEC spokesperson. “Native forests must recover so they can provide many benefits to local communities though tourism, such as through establishing the Great Koala National Park.”
“Recovering forests will also provide for environmental repair, carbon sequestration and storage, wildlife habitat and provision of clean, abundant water for downstream users’ the spokesperson added.
The Bellingen Environment Centre will be calling public meetings at Bellingen on Sunday 3rd June and at Coffs Harbour on Thursday 14 June, 2018 to enable the community to express opposition to the NSW Government’s latest forest proposals.
This is a Press Release from the BEC, 15 May 2018.
An article on the origins and thinking behind the Great Koala Park will appear in Outlook soon.