By Steve Painter
The anticipated struggle for the NSW old-growth forest of Chaelundi began with a dawn raid by police on July 23. Forest campaigners have been camped in the forest for several months, erecting barricades to prevent Forestry Commission road-building activities preparatory to logging of around 560 hectares of the forest.
Police, including rescue squad members using cherry pickers and a front-end loader, spent four days dismantling barricades, retiring to Grafton in the evening only to return next day to find new barricades blocking their way.
The North-East Forest Alliance (NEFA) says the 100 forest campaigners are not acting illegally because they are blocking a road built illegally by the Forestry Commission. The commission had not obtained proper approval for the road. The forest has not so far been closed to the public.
More than 60 protesters have been arrested. Australian Democrat MP Richard Jones participated in the blockade on July 24.
By late afternoon on July 26, all of the barricades had been dismantled, and the only remaining obstacle was a human barricade of about 40 people. Police apparently decided against a mass arrest, perhaps because it was near the time they usually retire to Grafton for the evening.
Next morning, they returned to find new obstacles, including a wheel-less van with two protesters locked underneath. After spending the morning working on these obstacles, the police retired about mid-day Friday, apparently for the weekend. They are expected to return with reinforcements, and perhaps an order closing the forest.
NEFA has asked for additional support, and it is believed forest campaigners from around the state are heading for Chaelundi. Several buses are being organised from nearby Nimbin. NEFA is still hopeful that it can obtain an interim protection order through legal action that is under way.
The blockaders point out that Chaelundi is one of the state's few remaining stands of old-growth forest, and is home to an unusually large number of tree-dwelling animals, including 13 endangered species. NEFA is demanding that the forest be added to the adjacent Guy Fawkes River National Park.
Logging activity in the area will involve about 5000 trees and provide only three months' work for forestry companies, but will
damage the forest irreparably. It is believed the police operation, involving a great deal of equipment and a convoy of four-wheel drives, has a budget of $200,000, possibly more than the 5000 disputed logs are worth.
NEFA is requesting that protest faxes be sent to Premier Nick Greiner on (02) 252 2291.
Directions to the Chaelundi blockade are available from the Big Scrub Environment Centre, Lismore, phone (066) 213 278.