By Lex Nelson
The Wilderness Society has welcomed the decision of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to step in and block woodchip logging in a forest dominated by giant brown barrel trees in the Coolangubra wilderness in the state's south-east.
The forest, which contains some of the south-east's largest trees and most endangered wildlife, came under renewed threat when the federal government decided on January 28 to allow continued woodchipping for export in that area.
Environmental activists began to move into the area immediately to defend the giant trees, some of which are 65 metres tall, from the chainsaws. "The brown barrel trees are huge", Geoff Ash, an activist who has just returned from the south-east forests, told Green Left. "It takes nine people with outstretched arms to get around the trunk ... They're at least 300 years old."
The Wilderness Society's NSW campaign coordinator, Rodney Knight, explained why the threatened forest was so important: "It's a rarity to even find trees of this size these days, yet here they are targeted despite all the evidence of the importance of their hollows to forest wildlife".
The brown barrel forest is the home of five endangered species — the long-footed potoroo, the brush-tailed phascogale, the square-tailed kite, the powerful owl and the crested shrike tit — as well as three others that may inhabit the region — the koala, the spotted-tail quoll and the sooty owl.
The forest has been identified as part of the Coolangubra wilderness under the NSW Wilderness Act and listed on the register of the National Estate. The Australian Museum considers it an unlogged forest of paramount importance to the region.
The state government on January 30 supported the federal government's move by rejecting an application by the Wilderness Society and the South-East Forest Alliance for logging to be stopped under the provisions the Heritage Act. But that same day, much to the chagrin of the state and federal governments, the NPWS, using the provisions of the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, imposed a 40-day stop-work order on 160 hectares of the disputed forest.
The NPWS said it blocked logging after a comprehensive assessment by service experts that found the proposed logging would threaten 84 protected native species, 14 of which are considered endangered. The NPWS also found that at least 23 species would suffer a significant impact from logging. The NPWS said it will consult with the Forestry Commission about alternatives that will not impact on native fauna.
Rod Knight described the NPWS decision as a "clear victory for common sense" and congratulated the service for exercising "the independence which the law allows them in cases where wildlife is ent threat".
Knight added that the decision "shows yet again that the timber industry's claims about the effects of logging are absolute nonsense. Logging is neither benign nor beneficial to the health of our forests and their wildlife ... yet the federal government's decision to continue woodchipping in the region was said to be based on a full consideration of the effects of logging on the environment.
"That position is clearly a furphy, and will continue to be seen as such until real efforts are made to bring about an end to woodchipping, to create adequate national parks, and to move our timber production to the plantations which are already in the ground."
Environmental activists are to remain in the forest to prevent any resumption of logging, Geoff Ash told Green Left.