Local, Science/Environment

Bellingen Council votes to express logging concerns to State Government

Five per cent of Bellingen Shire’s forests could be clear-felled and almost 20 per cent subjected to a doubling in harvest intensity if new logging regulations go ahead, councillors were told at yesterday’s Bellingen Shire Council meeting.

By Janene Carey

These estimates, based on mapping analysis, were put forward by Ashley Love from the Bellingen Environment Centre, who along with Kevin Evans, former CEO of the National Parks Association of NSW, addressed council about proposed changes to how the Forestry Corporation operates in the shire.

Mr Evans, who lives in Gleniffer, said Forestry Corporation had lost its social licence and the Regional Forestry Agreements set up 20 years ago to stem loss of biodiversity, minimise community anxiety and give assurances to the timber industry had failed to achieve any of these things.

“There’s significant anxiety in the community that our forests are being abused and trashed,” he said, adding that Australia should follow New Zealand’s lead in exiting native forest logging and transitioning to an industry based on 100 per cent plantation timber.

He urged councillors to get behind the idea of a Great Koala National Park as a way of moving from extraction to biodiversity protection, better management of water catchments and ecotourism, citing the $80 million package supplied by the state government for the Riverina community when its river red gum forests were protected from logging.

“This was a massive commitment to invest in the future of the community,” he said. “A win for biodiversity and jobs and growth in sustainable industries.”

Mr Evans said studies by Mid North Coast ecologists had determined that this region is a national hotspot for koalas, which means there is the opportunity to use them as a flagship species for protecting the natural environment.

However, commenting on the agenda item for the council meeting, Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey suggested koalas were being used for political spin.

“The Greens couch their anti-logging crusade as the ‘Koala Park’,” she said. “It’s for PR purposes. It’s a well-known secret that the koala tag sells. But what they are really doing is locking up forests that communities need for sustainable wood, they are locking up forests we maintain and worse still – there is no evidence this will save any more koalas.”

Council voted 4-3 (Harrison, Jenkins and Carter in the negative) to communicate its concerns about the draft revision of the IFOA to the NSW and Federal governments.

Cr Fenton put the motion and she, Cr King, Cr Wright-Turner and Cr Klipin all spoke in support of it.

Cr King pointed out the impact of clear-felling on Bellingen’s water supply.

“If we get big rainfall events we know it’s going to impact our rivers. When you have cleared areas with lots of sediment, they’ve got to go one way and that’s into the river system.”

He said the motion was “beyond politics”, it was about the need to fight for the whole community.

“We will be held responsible for not speaking up when we see the scale of what’s coming,” he said.

Discussion in the negative focused on adequacy of information provided, the impact on employment and financial ramifications.

Cr Carter wanted to defer the motion until Forestry Corporation had a chance to put its case to council; however, other councillors said Forestry had been offered many opportunities to do so.

“Forestry has received multiple invitations from our council to come and talk to us about their plans for forestry in our shire and they haven’t done it,” Cr Wright-Turner said.

Cr Harrison said she found herself “in a moral dilemma over this”, wanting clear waterways and good forestry governance, but not wanting to support the Great Koala National Park because of its effect on Dorrigo timber industry jobs.

Cr Jenkins said he was not happy that nobody seemed to know how much it would cost.

“I find myself in a bit of a quandary,” he said. “The information supplied to me to justify the support of this motion is inadequate.”

The motion that passed was:

1.That Council note prior in-principle support for a Great Koala National Park in our region (23/8/17) and call on the Federal and NSW governments to:

      A. Recognise that the Regional Forest Agreements have failed to deliver environmental protection or industry security in Bellingen Shire;

      B. Recognise that the benefits of non-timber forest values of biodiversity, ecosystem services and clean and consistent water flows are vital for the future of regional economies and ecosystems;

      C. Establish, with appropriate ecotourism infrastructure investment planned in conjunction with Council, the Great Koala National Park as an immediate priority and;

      D. Commit to a just transition so all current employees and contractors are offered suitable alternate employment opportunities out of native forest logging on public land and the transfer of public forests to protected areas when the RFAs expire.

2.That Council also contribute the above advocacy points plus the concerns noted in the motion background material around water supply, water quality, infrastructure. Biodiversity (particularly koalas, turtles, old growth forests, riparian zones and rainforest remnants), tourism and related economies, fire risk and local jobs, via submission on the draft Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals Remake document for our region.

First published in the Bellingen Courier-Sun, Thursday 27 June 2018.

See: https://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/5492911/warning-bell-on-shires-forests/?cs=486

Picture: Bellingen Courier-Sun.

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