The Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC) has led a range of environment groups in calling on The NSW Government to immediately protect koala habitat within the proposed Great Koala National Park following release of a report by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) recommending protection of a core area of 55,000 hectares of State Forests.
The report, obtained by the Bellingen Environment Centre following a request under the Government Information (Public access) Act 2009, advised Matt Kean the Minister for Energy and the Environment of the core area that should be protected for Koalas while minimising timber impacts.
The report concludes the proposed Great Koala National Park; “.. contains suitable koala habitat, aligns with mapped Areas of Regional Koala Significance and encompasses over 60 Koala Hubs.”
Conservationist’s claims that the Great Koala National Park must be created to give Koalas needed protection from logging have been validated.
“This is despite the terms of reference for the Government report being very narrow, in an apparent attempt to thread the Great Koala National Park proposal through the tiny eye of the National Parties environmental platform,” said BEC spokesperson Ashley Love.
The report excluded many sites by requiring that impact on wood supply would be minimised. It also narrowed the study by prioritising areas of existing national parks that could either be linked together or have their boundaries extended to include koala habitat.
As a result important stand alone coastal forests such as Lower Bucca and Nambucca SFs missed out because they did not directly adjoin existing conservation reserves.
The Friends of Kalang group’s Headwaters Nature Reserve proposal was partly picked up by two of the ten koala focus areas, but important koala populations were not included because they came from citizen surveys following the Governments assessment.
The ten “koala focus areas” identified in the report would provide an additional 54,979 hectares to national park estate and make a significant contribution to the 200,000 hectares expansion to the national parks estate promised by the Minister last year.
“None of the koala focus areas are currently being logged. Only one koala focus area, covering the Gladstone, Viewmont and Newry State Forests where logging was withdrawn last December, has a logging current licence . Therefore establishing the DPIE’s park proposal will not be disruptive of current forestry operations” said the BEC spokesperson.
Five of the ten Koala Focus Areas have been burnt by the recent bush fires and two areas partly burnt. Surviving Koalas within the burnt areas are in urgent need of protection to allow them to recover, while those in unburnt areas are essential to repopulate the burnt areas. None of these Koalas can afford to lose any more of the large feed trees their survival depends upon. There is an urgent need to assess and start repairing and recovering koala populations if the Government is at all serious about giving Koalas a future, local environmentalists added.
“Given the damage to Koalas from the fires since the report the Bellingen Environment Centre urges Minister Kean to now consider expanding the proposal to include Lower Bucca and Nambucca State Forests and the Headwaters Nature Reserve proposal, “ added the spokesperson.
The Great Koala National Park proposal includes habitat of other threatened species significantly affected by the fires such as the Greater Glider, Rufous Scrub Bird, Hastings River Mouse and Tiger Quoll.
The narrow focus of the Government’s study has left out many of the areas of ecotourism potential identified by local community groups, such as the proposed international standard multi-day bushwalk from the coast to the escarpment and back again.
“We want a detailed socio-economic study of the proposed Great Koala National Park and the jobs that will flow from it as the Governments narrowly focused proposal has completely missed the ecotourism potential of the region,” added the BEC.
“The Koalas can not afford any more delays, the Minister for the Environment must heed the DPIE’s advice and act urgently to transfer the core areas of identified Koala habitat into the National Park estate as soon as possible as a first stage of the Great Koala National Park” , Mr Love added.
The above is a Media release from the Bellingen Environment Centre – Sunday 31 May 2020.
This article on the DPIE report into the GKNP also appeared in The Sun-Herald on Sunday May 31 2020 too; https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/call-for-forestry-halt-after-koala-national-park-assessment-revealed-20200529-p54xrv.html
The DPIE used a range of data sets including the NSW Governments recently established Koala Habitat Information Base to analyse the potential of the proposed Great Koala National Park to contribute to the conservation of koala populations.
The analysis determined that the proposed Great Koala National Park falls entirely within mapped areas of regional koala significance (ARKS) and encompassed over 60 koala Hubs – the latter local scale areas within the “ARKS” which contain multi-generational resident koala populations.
The report came about after the Minister Kean made a two day visited to the North Coast in May last year meeting up with local environmental groups and ‘looking for koala parks ‘. During the visit he requested his department to undertake an assessment of the community proposal for the Great Koala National Park.
When local environmental groups met Minister Kean in May 2019, they identified that the proposed Great Koala National Park had multiple social, economic and environmental values. They asked that the Department evaluate the proposal including assessment of as many of these values as possible, Including;
- Value for koala conservation,
- Value for biodiversity conservation, including other threatened species and communities,
- Catchment protection water quality and supply benefits,
- Necessity for environmental repair and job opportunities provided ,
- Carbon sequestration opportunities,
- Potential community health and welfare benefits, and
- Potential for World Heritage listing,
Regrettably, the report did not assess the potential benefits of the proposed Great Koala National Park to the regional economy arising from nature-based or koala-based tourism as it is apparent that the economic benefits of protecting the Great Koala National Park will far outweigh any benefits from continued logging. We urge the Minister to complete the assessment.
The existence of the assessment was revealed September 2019, when DPIE provided a written advice to the NSW Upper House Inquiry on Koala Populations and their Habitat that; “An assessment is currently underway to calculate the extent to which the proposed Great Koala National Park captures suitable koala habitat, using the koala habitat information base. This includes analysing whether the proposed park would protect resident koala populations that occur within Areas of Regional Koala Significance.”
A copy of the report was finally released to the Bellingen Environment Centre on Friday 1st May 2020.
The Bellingen Environment centre will forward a copy of the DPIE report to the NSW Parliament’s Upper House Planning and Environment Committee which is currently undertaking an Inquiry into Koala Populations and Habitat and who are due to report on 15 June this year.
Local environmentalists have also been working with a number of local councils and other local bodies to undertake and assessment of the potential economic benefits of the proposed Great Koala National Park to the local and regional economy.
DPIE Koala Focus Areas
1. Marengo and Chaelundi State Forests 10,216 Ha. burnt 2019
2. Sheas Nob and Clouds Creek State Forests 7,965 Ha. burnt 2019
3. Moonpar, Clouds Creek, Ellis and Sheas Nob State Forests 10,615 Ha. burnt 2019
4. Kangaroo River State Forest 5,366 Ha. burnt 2019
5. WildCattle creek State forest 5,658 Ha. partly burnt 2019
6.Boambee, Orara West and Tuckers Nob State Forests 3,512 Ha.
7. Pine Creek State Forest 1,070 Ha.
8. Gladstone, Viewmont and Newry State Forests 2,921 Ha.
9. Buckra Bendinni State Forest 1,434 Ha. partly burnt 2019
10. Oakes State Forest 6,248 Ha. burnt 2019
Key GIPA docs (GIPA = Freedom of Information requests)
1. DPIE For information – Great Koala National Park. Purpose; To brief the Minister on the highest priority habitat areas within the proposed Great Koala National Park.
2. Desktop Assessment of the National Parks Association of NSW report “A Blueprint for a Comprehensive Reserve System for Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) on the North Coast of NSW”
3. Assessment of current logging operations in DPIE koala focus areas.