Forest conservation groups have demanded that the New South Wales government immediately halt logging operations in state forest areas known to be koala habitat. They fear that proposals by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to allow clear felling of large areas of forests on the NSW north coast could be the catalyst that tips the area's koalas onto the path to extinction.
The Nature Conservation Council (NCC), the National Parks Association (NPA), and the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) say that after a parliamentary inquiry revealed serious deficiencies in the EPA’s regulation of forestry operations in NSW, they have no confidence logging in these critical habitat areas will be properly controlled.
NPA spokesperson Ashley Love said: “It is clear that the EPA is not equipped to effectively regulate native forest logging, which has been shown time and again to damage koala habitat.
“Harvest plans show forestry operations are planned across 83 compartments in the Great Koala National Park (GKNP) proposal area in this financial year alone. In light of the findings of the parliament’s report, we urge the government to impose an immediate moratorium on logging these compartments and other state forests known to have important koala populations.”
Koalas are in serious trouble. Koala numbers in NSW have plummeted by a third in the past 20 years. The GKNP is a grand plan to secure the future of koalas before it is too late. It involves combining 175,000 hectares of state forest with 140,000 hectares of existing protected area in the Coffs Harbour region to form a 315,000 hectare refuge for koalas.
The EPA's proposals include alarming recommendations that would allow:
• Clear felling of 30% of coastal forests that are in the GKNP proposal area;
• Destructive cable logging in mountainous forest, which cover about 30% of the GKNP proposal area;
• More intensive harvesting in the remaining third of the park proposal — the forests between the coast and the mountain forests.
NPA Science Officer Dr Oisin Sweeney said: "It is deeply disturbing that the EPA, a body that is supposed to protect nature, is proposing these destructive changes.
"The EPA has become the spear carrier of the Forestry Corporation, and this unholy alliance appears hell bent on removing every last stick of timber from our native forests, which they then sell at a loss.
"The public would be appalled if they knew that under the proposed rules, tiny areas set aside over the past 15 years as koala high-use reserves would be removed and opened up to clear felling or intensified harvesting.
"The new approach will also relieve the Forestry Corporation of the responsibility of searching for koalas before logging."
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said: “Banning logging in koala habitat is the logical first step on the path to ending native forest logging on the north coast by 2018 when the Regional Forest Agreements are due to expire.
“Logging companies, the NSW Forestry Corporation and the EPA have repeatedly failed to protect koalas and other threatened species, as they are required by law, so it is now up to the government to act decisively.”
Love said the EPA, in partnership with the Forestry Corporation, was developing new measures to protect koalas. However, these measures would not apply if they affect existing timber supplies, could be vetoed by the Forestry Corporation and are paid for by the citizens of NSW via the Environment Trust.
"This is yet another subsidy to the already heavily indebted native forest timber industry," he said.
"The EPA has clearly lost sight of its responsibility to the NSW community and we no longer have any confidence in the organisation's ability to act in the best interests of our environment.”
NCC CEO Kate Smolski said: “If nothing changes, the list of animal and plant species facing extinction in NSW is on track to reach 1000 by 2020. Even a species as iconic and beloved as the koala is at great risk of extinction in parts of the state, including on the north coast, if urgent action is not taken to reduce threats to its survival.
“I call on the state’s leading political parties to acknowledge the urgency of the threats facing koalas and place an immediate ban on logging in koala habitat. These forests are too precious to lose, and we will fight to make sure future generations have a chance to enjoy intact native forests and iconic species like the koala just as we do today.”
Details of the proposed IFOA changes are here.