Politics, Science/Environment

Community mobilises against Kalang headwater logging plans

More than 100 people braved cold rainy weather to attend a community meeting in Bellingen last week about logging due to start near the Kalang River headwaters.

By Janene Carey

They signed petitions, listened to talks by ecologists and local councillors and heard from a few of the residents who formed themselves into the Kalang River Forest Alliance two years ago when the threat first arose.

The Kalang River headwaters

In giving the Welcome to Country, Michael Donovan acknowledged the work of the volunteers who organised the meeting and said the Gumbaynggirr people “stand in solidarity with you all” in opposing desecration of their homeland by Forestry Corporation.

Forestry Corp has told the Courier-Sun it will be harvesting compartments selectively and excluding areas with “rainforest, old growth and steep slopes”, but ecologist Mark Graham argued the whole ecosystem would be affected by the silt from the highly erodible soils washing from the ridges down into feeder creeks for the Kalang River.

“The compartments at the top of the Kalang Valley provide us with life-giving water,” Mark said, explaining that native forests help create abundant rainfall and also serve as giant sponges, carbon sinks and potential sources of new medicines.

He noted the Kalang forests are currently in good condition, not much affected by weeds or bell miner associated dieback, but the disturbance caused by heavy machinery would likely lead to the kind of downward spiral seen in other areas of the north coast.

“The risk is that our forests will be industrially liquidated and the bell miners will spread outwards and kill adjoining areas of forest,” Mark said.

Mark also spoke about the wildlife that will be affected by the logging, including rufous scrub birds, tree creepers, whip birds, koalas and quolls.

“These compartments at the head of the Kalang are a critical part of corridors that keep some of the most ancient biodiversity on the planet alive. And as things get hotter, these corridors become even more important.

“The science is clear – when you remove too much biomass and erode ecosystems, they can’t continue functioning as they have. And so many of the incredibly valuable, priceless and irreplaceable plants and animals we’ve got around the Kalang run a great risk of not being viable into the future.

“We need to be saying, ‘no, no, no – this is not right’, it’s not acceptable.”

Mayor Dominic King (pictured below) noted that the fact so many had turned out on such a night showed the level of passion in the community.

“We need to make a stand here,” he said. “This community has the social capital to put up a really strong fight.

Bellingen Mayor Dominic King

“We can be the Bentley of the forests. We can be that place that makes change. Not only have we got the potential to do that, we have an obligation. Because if we can’t get it right in this amazing place, who can?

“It’s game on, let’s get stuck into them.”

It’s game on, let’s get stuck into them.

Resident Catherine Jones then spoke about the formation of the Kalang River Forest Alliance.

“Two and a half years ago, we were alerted that Forestry was going to go into the Kalang headwaters. Forestry are supposed to send letters to all the neighbours. They let one neighbour know. The Kalang Progress Association called an urgent meeting and we formed the Kalang River Forest Alliance.

“Instantly we had the Bellingen Environment Centre on board, and they’ve been pivotal to this campaign ever since. We’ve had all the forest NGOs on our side.”

Catherine said she’s lived in Kalang for 34 years and there’s no other place on Earth like it. “I’m here to make sure no one damages it.”

Catherine said Forestry had no social licence to go into the Kalang and asked people in the audience to put up their hands if they agreed.

All hands went up.

She said the next action planned was on Tuesday – a community rally outside Forestry’s office in Coffs Harbour from 10.30am.

People are also being asked to write letters, help with a survey, come along to future meetings and follow the Facebook pages @KalangRiverForestAlliance and @BellingenEnvironmentCentre for further updates.

First published in The Bellingen Courier-Sun – 27 June 2019. See: https://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/6243638/kalang-meeting-declares-fight-on/?cs=11489

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