The Gumbaynggirr Conservation Group (GCG) has forced the New South Wales Forestry Corporation to stop logging prime koala habitat in four bushfire ravaged state forests, west of Coffs Harbour on the north coast of NSW.
Despite last summer’s bushfires burning 18.6 million hectares and killing or displacing almost three billion animals, logging was continuing.
A recent NSW Parliamentary investigation concluded that the biggest threat to koala survival is habitat loss. Yet, logging and clearing of the habitat has been allowed to continue in state forests.
The GCG, an alliance of Gumbaynggirr custodians, the local community and environmental groups, formed in May. Using direct action, it has halted logging in Nambucca State Forest, Wild Cattle Creek State Forest, Lower Bucca State Forest and Bagawa State Forest.
Gumbaynggirr custodian and GCG spokesperson Sandy Greenwood said that as sovereign custodians of Gumbaynggirr Country, land and waters, the logging of “irreplaceable and incredibly ancient publicly-owned forests” must “be stopped immediately” and “conserved for all” to enjoy.
“Across Gumbaynggirr country, the Forestry Corporation continues to disregard the cultural importance of native forests with a general lack of community consultation and consent.
“The hypocrisy of Forestry Corporation using a Gumbaynggirr word ‘Bagawa’ [a family clan name] to name a forest, and then log it to the ground, speaks volumes of their complete disregard for cultural heritage.”
On July 18, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) imposed a 40-day stop work order and fine on the Forestry Corporation after an investigation into operations at Wild Cattle Creek State Forest exposed the illegal felling of two giant, old growth trees.
North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh said there were a further 12 breaches of the logging rules, including more felled giant trees and reckless damage to four giant hollow-bearing trees and six koala feed trees.
“These massive awe-inspiring trees are the height of 10 storey buildings and 300-500 years old,” Pugh said. “They provide the large hollows that many of our iconic animals depend upon for dens and nests. These forests have also been identified as being outstanding Koala habitat.”
Five days later, the EPA issued another stop-work notice and fine to the Forestry Corporation at South Brooman State Forest near Batemans Bay. EPA investigations revealed 26 hollow bearing trees had either been felled or severely damaged.
After weeks of community pressure at the entrance to Nambucca State Forest, including a GCG camp, the Forestry Corporation ceased its operation less than halfway through its plan to harvest 102 hectares.
On July 30, logging was stopped in Lower Bucca State Forest, after months of forest actions by the GCG, including a local man locking himself on to a harvester.
“I have taken a day off work to be heard,” he said. “I have no choice … We just lost over 14 million hectares to fire.”
The Bagawa State Forest is still recovering from the devastating Liberation Trail fire of last December, in which more than 150,000 hectares was burnt. Despite the EPA having issued a new rule to prohibit intensive harvesting in burnt areas, it gave Bagawa an exemption because of “a critical shortage of timber supply”. This exemption overrules the new law that was introduced to protect struggling species impacted by the fires.
On August 3, logging was forced to stop when a forest defender climbed high into a tree while attached to a harvester and a loader. The forest defender said: “This is a recovering forest. It’s recovering from fires and ongoing historical logging from Forestry Corp. It’s already home to koalas, yellow-bellied gliders and glossy black cockatoos. Just imagine what it could become if Forestry Corporation left this recovering forest alone.”
Greenwood is calling for a “chain of local state forests” to be turned into “the Great Koala National Park”. She said such a park would be a welcome boost to the local economy.
The GCG has established a new camp at the Gladstone State Forest to defend more Gumbaynggirr country facing imminent logging.