New South Wales Labor announced on September 12 it would stop logging in “high value” forest in the mid-north coast, while it consults experts about its promised Great Koala National Park (GKNP).
Critics say all logging must end in the designated area to have any chance of protecting the endangered koala.
Environment minister Penny Sharpe said logging has been suspended in 106 “koala hubs” — identified as important habitat for the protected species in 2017 but which had never been protected.
The hubs cover about 5% of the 175,000 hectares of forest being assessed for potential protection. These hubs are said to contain 42% of the recorded koala sightings in state forests since 2000.
Reaction from conservationists has been mixed.
Brad Smith, acting CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC) described it as “a historic step forward” for Labor and a “win” for the people of NSW.
“This decision is also recognition that logging has had a devastating impact on koalas and biodiversity. We applaud [the government] for ensuring that the most important areas of koala habitat in NSW will be protected.”
Smith said while concerns remain about the remaining 95% of the proposed park area, the NCC “looks forward” to ensuring “it’s also protected from logging as soon as possible”.
Smith added that the NCC is pleased Labor has confirmed that 8400 hectares constitutes 5% of the park. It means it is “delivering” on its election promise, he said, because it means that the koala park will be made up of 175,000 hectares of forest.
Dailan Pugh, North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson, said Labor needs to protect all koala hubs across NSW and “reinstate the requirement for pre-logging surveys to identify and protect all important koala habitat”.
NEFA has been campaigning since 2018 to protect koala hubs from logging and clearing.
Pugh said the previous Coalition government had suppressed a 2017 Office of Environment and Heritage report which identified areas of significant koala populations and allowed Forestry NSW to log and clear around 1000 hectares of koala hubs.
He said NEFA had written to Sharpe on April 3 urging her to protect 1300 hectares of koala hubs within the proposed Great Koala National Park. In May, NEFA identified 2716 hectares of koala hubs in logging areas across the north coast.
But Forestry NSW was given the go-ahead to log koala hubs in Moonpar, Orara East, Boambee and Newry State Forests, Pugh said, adding that logging needs to end in Yarratt State Forest.
“Koala hubs were based on aggregations of koala records, identified over repeated surveys, as at 2017. As most forests haven’t been surveyed, and results since 2017 are not included, they represent a small fraction of important Koala habitat, including within the GKNP.”
Greens environment spokesperson Sue Higginson said Labor didn’t need to be congratulated about starting to move on an election commitment. “This is a tiny step and should have been implemented six months ago [before the logging started].”
She said Labor’s decision only came after months of pressure, including by forest campaigners on the mid-north coast, to stop Forestry NSW from logging forests “that haven’t been touched in more than three decades”.
A team of scientists who recently visited the mid-north forests have spoken out against the destruction of the Gondwana rainforest.
“It is spectacular,” said Professor Helge Bruelheide from the University of Helle in Germany.
Bruelheide said the area should be declared World Heritage because of the unique combination of Gondwana rainforest variants. “These forests are unique globally, so unique that you won’t find this particular combination elsewhere.”
He said he was stunned Forestry NSW was allowed to clear fell in such a habitat. “I feel like I was time travelling back to the ‘60s when this was all over the place,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Koalas still threatened
“Koalas will be extinct before 2050 if their habitat is not preserved,” Higginson said.
“Voluntary undertakings by the Forestry Corporation to avoid koala hubs within one area of the public forest estate, while good, will not make the difference that koalas need.”
She said Labor’s announcement “will do nothing to protect Oakes State Forest or the Kalang Headwaters”, deemed by the former Coalition government to be the highest priority conservation areas that lie within the proposed boundaries of the Great Koala National Park.
For as long as Labor allows logging within the proposed Great Koala National Park, it is breaking an election promise, Higginson said.