Forest blockade in northern NSW

Issue 

By Aidan Rickets

LISMORE — Forest protesters have again set up camp in northern NSW, this time at Mummel Gulf. The protesters are organised by the North-East Forest Alliance, responsible for last year's Chaelundi blockade and another protest earlier this year at Mount Killiekrankie.

NEFA began disputing unsustainable logging in the Walcha and Styx River forest management areas last May, and won an agreement to delay logging to allow a joint study by NEFA and the state Forestry Commission.

This agreement was historic, representing a first step towards cooperation by environmentalists and the forest industry to carry out the recommendations of the Resources Assessment Commission to end old-growth logging in areas of highest ecological value. However, the agreement collapsed in June, and NEFA set up a blockade late that month, amid threats of violence from logging advocates.

The Mummel highlands contain around 3800 hectares of unlogged forest, of which about 75% is too steep to log. It is tall, open eucalypt forest, with rainforest in the gullies. While the area has not been fully surveyed, it is believed to contain habitat for koalas, tiger quolls, parma wallabies and various other endangered species. The area can become very cold, with frequent sub-zero temperatures and occasional snow.

After six weeks, the protesters are well entrenched in a tepee village, which even has hot water facilities. They are maintaining two blockades about 15 km apart. The blockades are designed to permit small vehicle access for local residents and farmers, while preventing heavy vehicles and machinery entering the area.

NEFA says the forest is being logged at more than twice the rate estimated as sustainable by the Forestry Commission. The local timber industry is dominated by one large company, which refuses to accept reduced quotas. Smaller millers and salvage operators in the area are unhappy with current rates of logging, and estimate hardwood sawlogs will be exhausted within a decade if there is no change.

The Forestry Commission appears to be trying to wait out the protesters, so NEFA has used the blockade camp to organise protests at two other old-growth logging operations in recent weeks. In late July, NEFA also took the action to the Forestry Commission office in Armidale, with a tripod in the street outside and one protester chaining himself to a desk inside. Five people were arrested.

The Mummel blockade is likely to continue for several months. Additional supporters are welcome in the blockade camp. Maps and further details are available from the Big Scrub Environment Centre, Armidale Environment Centre, (067) 711 155; or NSW Environment Centre, (02) 247 4206.

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