Blockaders determined to save Badja Forest



BADJA FOREST — The South East Forest Rescue Squad of about 30 activists is blockading two roads, one of them recently bulldozed, to stop logging in the old-growth Badja Forest wilderness on the escarpment overlooking the NSW south coast, 40 kilometres east of Cooma.

The blockades, which have been in place since April 3, consist of tripods built from fallen or bulldozed timber with platforms for protesters, platforms in trees suspended by wire, wire rope strung across roads with safety tape and, on the recently bulldozed road, a "fortress" structure of rocks cemented together into a chest-high wall, topped with a four-metre palisade of stout timber.

In order to demolish the tree platforms and safely begin logging, police would have to climb high into trees to remove those on them. The tree platforms are wired to the tripods, making it harder for police to remove those on the tripods without endangering crews on the platforms.

If the tripods, tree platforms and "fortress" are dismantled, protesters say they are ready to use a tactic they call the "black wallaby": they would simply disappear into the bush. Logging is illegal in an area which has not been cleared of people other than the loggers.

Renee Chafe, the media spokesperson for The South East Forest Rescue Squad, said the group is sponsored by The Wilderness Society and Eco Warriors. The latter's flag, a yellow tripod in a red oval on a green background, was evident on the blockades.

In the morning, discussion takes place on tasks for the day — which are purely voluntary, it is stressed. Nevertheless, on the day that Green Left Weekly visited, people threw themselves into the work needed, shoring up the fortress, constructing tripods and platforms high in trees, building many barricades of logs and large rocks, cleaning and preparing food.

Those at the blockades came from Sydney, Canberra and from the forest conservation struggle in Gippsland in Victoria. They are concerned by a visit by senior NSW police on May 25, and expect a show of force at any time.

The Badja Forest wilderness consists of very tall old growth trees, an ideal habitat for tree-dwelling wildlife which lives in hollows in branches, including glider possums, the Powerful Owl, and ground-feeding marsupials. Some of these species are endangered.

The forest came under threat from logging in 1992 and again in 1994. Blockades at the time saved it as identified wilderness and old growth forest flora reserves within a State Forest.

The area is now under threat again due to the NSW Labor government caving in to demands by woodchippers and wood-fired power station operators.

In the recent Regional Forest Agreement process, a community coalition of green groups, including The Wilderness Society, South East Forests Alliance and the National Parks Association, put forward a proposal for conserving Badja Forest and other areas of high conservation value as national parks.

The NSW government originally signalled that Badja Forest would be part of old growth conservation area targets. However, it reneged, upping the annual quota for sawmilling timber to 42,000 cubic metres, with the woodchipping annual quota of 70,000 cubic metres also expected to increase. Additional quotas are also expected to meet the needs of planned wood-fired power stations, including one at Batemans Bay, at the northern end of the South Coast region.

The state government then enacted legislation to protect these quotas, despite the fact that the federal government had not yet agreed to the South Coast Regional Forest Agreement.

Blockaders are determined to stop the logging of Badja and similar areas on the South Coast, but they need people, food and water.

Bring a tent and a good sleeping bag (or lots of blankets), preferably an insulating ground mat, and warm clothing (beanie and gloves recommended), as well as a rainjacket if you have one.

The camp can be reached by turning left (coming from Canberra or Sydney) just as you are entering Cooma, at the sign to "Numeralla", going through the township of Numeralla. One hundred metres after the tar road finishes and becomes a dirt road, turn right into "Badja Forest Road" (which also bears a "Cascades" sign).

Follow the road through the forest until you come across a group of parked cars on the right, most probably having a "Save Badja" sign on a sheet hanging on the trees. Walk down to the fort structure and introduce yourself.

Maps can be faxed from The Wilderness Society offices in Canberra (Andrew Wong, phone 02 6249 6491) or Sydney (02 9282 9553). Lifts are organised by these offices as well as the Badja Forest Rescue Line (0407 496 019) and by the ANU Environment Collective (6125 9869). If you have a car and are going there, it is a good idea to let these people know so that people needing lifts can be accommodated.

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