BY NICK FREDMAN
LISMORE — Activists from the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) and the Rainforest Information Centre held a vigil outside the offices of State Forests at Casino on July 20. They were protesting against the unsustainable practices of the logging industry and the heavy-handed attacks against forest protests by police and State Forests.
On July 16, a blockade at Mount Marsh near Grafton was forcibly broken up by police and State Forests officers. The 15 protesters had been attempting since July 8 to prevent access to sections of forestry compartment 434, which they argue are of high conservation value.
"This area contains forest types of which less than 2.5% of their original range has been reserved, and it also contains known habitat for rufous bettong, tiger quoll, masked owl, yellow bellied gliders and koalas", Shaun O'Shannessy of NEFA said.
The activists defied several attempts to evict them before July 16 by "locking-on" to logging machinery and monopoles on the road.
A 1998 regional forest assessment found that most public native forests in northern NSW, including Mount Marsh, should be protected in new national parks in order to maintain biodiversity. Despite this, State Forests and corporations such as Boral continue to log contentious areas. Instead of creating the "comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system" that the various regional forest assessments called for, federal and state governments have agreed to 20-year "resource security" agreements with logging corporations.
NEFA argues that the government is encouraging an unsustainable and provocative approach — logging areas which eventually may be protected by national park listing as quickly as possible. "We have offered to co-operate in identifying other areas in which workers and contractors can continue, but State Forests appear bent on forcing a confrontation [at the Mount Marsh blockade]", O'Shannessy pointed out.
Forest activists have set an "orange alert" for the Mount Lindsay area in the Border Ranges and have begun setting up a protest camp there. In an area which NEFA describes as encompassing "an irreplaceable old brushbox forest with markedly high biodiversity values" State Forests has commenced road work as a likely prelude to logging.