Local, Science/Environment

The Great Koala National Park proposal: 26 years in the making – Part 1

The Great Koala National Park (GKNP) is an idea that has been floating about since mid-2014 when it was picked up by then NSW Opposition Environment Spokesperson Luke Foley.  Mr Foley is now, of course, Leader of the Opposition and is running to be Premier in the March 2019 state election.

By the Editor with help from Ashley Love.

The proposed GKNP on paper covers an area from just north of Kempsey in the south to be roughly in line with Woolgoolga in the north.  It roughly runs west from the Pacific Highway to as far as a line aligned with the beginning of the Dorrigo Plateau in the east (map below).  As such it runs through all three LGA areas of the Coffs Coast.

It has arisen as an idea that grew out of numerous local campaigns aimed at protecting the region’s koala habitat over the past 26 years.

How the GKNP idea came about

The first serious local campaign to save koalas was a community protest against logging high quality koala habitat in compartments (Cpts) 26 and 27 in Pine Creek State Forest in 1992. Logging was  stopped and there was much ‘gnashing of teeth’ and  S100,000’s spent by the then Forestry Commission   on various studies and ‘koala plans’ until the Carr Labor government extended Bongil-Bongil National Park  in July 2003 by  adding 3,156  ha of the former Pine Creek State Forest.

Interestingly Cpts 26 and 27 were left out of the park and remain threatened by logging today.  The reason they were left out of the extended Bongil-Bongil National Park was that environmentalists were forced by the Government in 2002, to make a choice between protecting them and some old growth west of Woolgoolga where the North East Forestry Alliance (NEFA) had protested against logging in 2000.

In 2010 North Coast environmentalists started to become seriously concerned about the state of koalas on the North Coast. There were increasing reports of widespread declines from landholders, ecologists and wildlife carers. In 2011 The Senate held an inquiry into koalas and it was reported that koalas in eastern Australia had declined by 50% over the last twenty years. In 2012 the then Rudd/Gillard ALP Government listed koalas as vulnerable in NSW and QLD.

NEFA argues that it was about that time that the NSW Forestry Corporation (FC) started to increase logging intensity of coastal forests from 50% tree removal to up to 90% tree removal a practice environmentalists argue is virtual ‘clear felling’. The increase in logging intensity was viewed as illegal by many in the local environmental movement, and they argue that this was a view held by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but it was believed that they would not act against the FC.

The NSW Government legalised the intensive logging prescription in its recent forestry ‘reforms’ announced in early May.

In 2012 four local environment groups, the Bellingen Environment Centre, Nambucca Valley Conservation Association, The Clarence Environment Centre and the North Coast Environment Council, combined with the NSW National Parks Association to raise $3000 to engage experienced ecologist David Scotts to undertake mapping and reporting on Koala populations on the Mid North Coast between the Macleay  and the Richmond Rivers

        “We want it to be a place people can go and interact with nature. To walk, bike, stay overnight or longer. It is not proposed to lock up so    many hectares and just throw away the key.  We want it to be a great national and globally significant attraction within our region”  Local environmental spokesperson.

Scott’s original work identified and described three Koala meta-populations in the region including seven regional populations and 25 sub- populations. He reported on the population size, status, density, threats, confidence limits and land tenure for each population class. The three meta-populations described; the Clarence-Richmond, the Coffs Harbour- Guy Fawkes and The Bellingen- Nambucca- Macleay, were each identified as being of national conservation significance.

Environmentalists reviewed Scott’s work and developed a conservation proposal covering native forests on public land within the Coffs Harbour- Guy Fawkes and The Bellingen- Nambucca- Macleay meta-populations.

The proposal was included as one of 13 conservation reserve proposals in the publication “Our-environment-our-future-policies-for-the-2015-election-and-beynd” produced by the leading environmental advocacy groups in NSW, originally published in September 2014 in the lead up to the March 2015 state election. The proposal was to “establish a reserve system for koalas including the Coffs Harbour –Guy Fawkes and the Bellingen- Nambucca- Macleay koala meta-populations “.

The GKNP attracts political support

The NSW Opposition spokesman for the environment at the time, Luke Foley, reviewed the policies document and, as mentioned above, was attracted to the koala reserve proposal.

A report titled “A blueprint for a comprehensive reserve system for koalas on the North Coast of NSW” was presented to Mr Foley in December 2014 and he subsequently visited Coffs Harbour in January 2015 when he formally announced State Labor’s support for the GKNP. Labor’s policy included $150m for the establishment of the GKNP and other conservation initiatives.  This policy has since been supported by the NSW Greens Party.

Groups such as the National Parks Association have continued to promote the GKNP.  The original assessment work by David Scotts (2013) has now been extended north to the Queensland border and south to the Hunter River. The Office of Environment and Heritage have incorporated the koala work by Coffs Coast environment groups into a Save Our Species project on Koalas to produce areas of koala significance at regional and local scales.

Several councils on the Coffs Coast have been approached to support the GKNP concept. Nambucca Council asked for an analysis of what the cost/benefit of it would be and Bellingen Shire recently supported the GKNP proposal in principal.

A local Bellingen Environment Centre  spokesperson has told the Coffs Coast Outlook that they want the GKNP to “be a place people can go and interact with nature. To walk or bike and stay overnight or longer. It is not proposed to lock up so many hectares and just throw away the key.  We want it to be a great national and globally significant attraction within our region”.

 

Part Two of this story later this week looks at the GKNP as a socio-economic proposal and what it could mean for the Coffs Coast in terms of growth and development.

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