Mayor Dominic King of Bellingen, whose formerly lush shire is now desiccated and encircled by bushfires, is pleading with the state government to halt logging of native forests until the bushfire crisis is over and the extent of the damage to koala populations and their habitat is understood.
By Jenny Noyes
Bellingen, which lies on the Bellinger River between Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Heads is home to forests known to support significant koala habitat that are subject to ongoing logging operations.
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has announced the death of Lewis the koala who suffered burns from the NSW bushfires.
In the aftermath of bushfires destroying the state’s most important koala habitat near Port Macquarie, killing hundreds of the vulnerable animals, Cr King said remaining habitat areas must be protected from the dual threat of fires and logging.
He has written to NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean, and last week released a public statement calling for the logging of native forests to be halted until enough rain falls to put out the fires and the full impact of the damage can be assessed.Advertisement
His calls are being echoed by the NSW Greens, with Upper House MP Cate Faehrmann urging Minister Kean to “take urgent action to protect NSW’s national parks, forests and precious native wildlife in the face of these unprecedented fires”.
Cr King said his community has so far been lucky to avoid the worst of the fires that ripped through nearby Nymboida and Nana Glen, but residents have a “constant sense of fear and panic” about what’s coming – and they are concerned not only for their own lives and property, but for the impact to biodiversity in the surrounding forests.
For the past two weeks, residents in the Bellingen shire area have been told to get ready for bushfires – burning to their south, west and north – to arrive at their door.
Recent rain has slowed some of the fires, but was not enough to dampen the tinder-dry forest, and with new ignitions over the past week the threat has returned along with worsening weather conditions.
At the same time, Forestry Corporation is continuing its logging operations at Sunny Corner near Bellingen and Clouds Creek, north-west of Dorrigo – both primary habitat areas.
Local ecologist Mark Graham, who belongs to an environmental group advocating against logging in the local water supply areas, said more than 15 trucks have been documented carrying logs from Sunny Corner and Clouds Creek.
He said it was “diabolical” that the logging operations were continuing in important habitat areas during the bushfire crisis.
“At a time when so much of the landscape has burnt, it’s a very damaging act to be logging some of the last unburnt refuges of koalas in particular and many other species,” he said.
Cr King said rather than slowing or halting the logging as bushfires decimate other forests in the region, it appeared operations had “ramped up” in recent weeks.
“It’s like they’ve got the foot on the accelerator to have the last go at these forests,” he said.
So far, Cr King has not received a response from the minister, and said a meeting he had scheduled to discuss the matter in October was cancelled at the last minute.
A spokesperson for Minister Kean, who is currently in Europe, said Forestry Corp worked with the Rural Fire Service on a daily basis “to assess fire danger risk, with forest operations taking place only on days and in locations deemed safe. No harvesting is taking place in areas of State forests which have been affected by fires.
“The NSW Government is also prioritising koala habitat conservation through the NSW koala strategy and the Biodiversity Conservation Trust,” he said, and pointed to a funding injection of almost $7 million to the wildlife rehabilitation sector caring for animals affected by the fires.
A spokeswoman for Forestry Corporation said timber harvesting in Gladstone State Forest was “being conducted in accordance with the strict rules for native forestry under the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval and these involve setting aside areas to protect koala habitat while the areas harvested regenerate naturally”.
But Cr King said the focus should be on protecting remaining habitat, not just rehabilitating injured animals after the fire tears through.
“This is one of the last strongholds of the koala and we could lose that in a week of fires,” he said. “It’s totally irresponsible.”
First published at The Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 1 December 2019. See;