Activists defend forests and koalas

A coalition of community environmental groups has been trying to stop logging in the Mumbulla State Forest in the NSW far south east, with a blockade of about 90 people. The forest contains the last known koala colony between Canberra and Victoria.

The logging is being carried out by Forests NSW, a public trading enterprise under direct control of the NSW state government. Ninety-five percent of felled trees are to be processed at the Eden woodchipping mill, owned by South East Forest Exports (SEFE).

Logging began at the site on March 29, but was stopped after one day when evidence of nearby koala activity was found. Community pressure forced a request from the NSW environment department to stop harvesting work in the disputed forest area until further koala survey work had been performed.

"Woodchipping could finish these koalas off", Harriett Swift of Chipstop told Green Left Weekly. "They are already vulnerable due to poor forest management in the past." Activists allege that Forests NSW kept the loggers occupied during the halt by clearing a three metre strip along the roadside under the guise of "road maintenance", but with the trees taken to Eden for woodchipping.

Police have been mobilised to ensure the logging goes ahead, removing protest barricades and allowing the passage of trucks and machinery. They forced protesters to leave on April 12 by setting up a "prohibited zone", allowing logging to resume in full the next day.

"Heavy machines have now moved in, the kind for cutting the big old-growth trees", said Swift.

The NSW government has been criticised for performing only tokenistic wildlife surveys, and for the fact that it controls both the environmental oversight body and the vested commercial interest. Prue Acton, of the South East Region Conservation Alliance, said: "We are calling on the department of environment, not Forests NSW, to go into the areas about to be logged and survey for koalas, properly."

Swift told GLW: "We are pretty determined. There will be ongoing action until the government reverses its decision and stops the logging." Activists have also criticised plans by SEFE to build a 5.5 megawatt wood-fired power plant at the Eden woodchipping mill, which proposes to produce "green energy" from native forest "waste" from the mill. Greens NSW MLC John Kaye has described this supposed "biomass" power plant as "the worst kind of green-washing".

"A power station that uses 51,000 tonnes of so-called mill waste each year would contribute to the unsustainable harvesting of the South East forests and push up the region's greenhouse gas emissions", he said. The Mumbulla actions follow anti-logging protests to protect the Yurammie State Forest near Wyndham in the NSW south-east. More than 400 people rallied in Wyndham on March 7, concerned that the logging could destroy the area's water catchment.

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