Sunday, 1 November 2020

Forests and Koalas: why the NSW Nationals are so willing to betray communities in the Northern Rivers region

Before the disastrous 2019-2020 bushfire season the NSW North Coast region comprised 9.7 million hectares of land, with 65 per cent of it forested. Over half (3.4 million hectares) of the region’s forests were in private ownership, spread across thousands of individual holdings, according to NSW Dept. of Primary Industries (DPI).

The north coast had a diverse array of forest types and most of the tree cover was estimated to be between >20 to <30 metres and >30 to <40 metres in height across an est. 20,706 square kilometres.

This is how the Berejiklian Government saw those forests within the Northern Rivers region before the mega bushfires came through:

Extent of forest cover in north-east New South Wales

Extent of harvestable timber on private land and operating timber mills

Again, according to the DPI in March 2019; Properties with native forests that generated ‘very high’ stumpage values (based on their yield association) were mainly located between Coffs Harbour and Casino. Properties with native forests with ‘high’ stumpage values were far more widespread extending in a broad band (50-100 kilometres wide) along the full length of the north coast.

Properties in early 2019 which had a ‘Very High’ suitability for timber production were located between 50km and 100km from the coast between Grafton and the Queensland Border, with ‘High’ suitability properties occupying a broader band that extended from Coffs Harbour to the Queensland border. At its widest point, west of Casino, this band is said to extend 130 kilometres inland.

Joint EPA-Dept. of Industry Forest Science Unit predictive mapping of remaining NSW koala habitat based on sighting records, vegetation, soils and climate

"Modelling koala habitat",  NSW EPA. July 2019

It is easy to see that most of the remaining Northern Rivers koala habitat falls within those areas with operating timber mills and land on which the NSW Forestry Corporation has cast its rapacious eye.

According to the NSW Forestry Corporation around 60 per cent of the net harvest area available for timber production in the Northern Rivers region was impacted by fires during the 2019-2020 bushfire season, but this corporation appears to view a coastal strip around 100kms wide and 216kms long - containing thousands of parcels of private  land - as able post-fires to supply it with commercial timber for years to come.

The forestry industry is actively lobbying government for access to more native timber citing increased employment as one benefit. 

Despite the fact that Australia-wide the forestry industry appears to only employ around 10,700 people in a potential 2020 workforce of est. 13.5 million (ABS September 2020) and, according to industry reports; The Forestry and Logging industry has performed poorly over the past five years. Industry output is projected to decline at an annualised 1.3% over the period, with downstream demand also weakening…..

Furthermore, lower demand from log sawmilling, and declines in residential building construction have contributed to several years of revenue declines. Industry revenue is expected to decline at an annualised 1.4% over the five years through 2020-21, to $4.7 billion.

What this all means is that stressed koala communities already competing with urban expansion, increased traffic, historical and recent habitat loss, are now being threatened by the business strategy of one of the largest forestry corporations in Australia, the financial self-interest of around 32 operating timber mills within the Northern Rivers region, as well as the political self-interest of 12 National Party members who sit in the NSW Legislative Assembly and 6 National Party members sitting in the Legislative Council.

This shared self-interest in encapsulated in the bill passed by the Assembly earlier this month and still to be voted on by the Council, the Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020which extinguishes state koala habitat protection policy on most NSW land and seeks to (i) allow the commercial logging of native trees to continue unimpeded on private land by circumventing a government review of the private forestry system and (ii) to allow future clearing of native timber on farmland without the need for authorisation under other state legislationincluding the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. 

If any North Coast Voices readers have concerns about the fate of forests and koalas on the NSW North Coast I suggest that they phone or email members of the NSW Legislative Council before Tuesday, 10 November 2020, using the link below which takes you straight to the parliamentary web page which lists the contact details for all 42 members:







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