April 15, 2024

Longtime forest advocates have expressed disgust at the ongoing logging of koala habitat in northern New South Wales despite promises the state government would protect the species, with one seasoned campaigner calling the destruction a “profound tragedy”.

In September last year, the Minns government ordered a halt to logging operations in certain high value koala habitat – known as “koala hubs” – in the proposed Great Koala national park.

That move protected 5% of the proposed park but community campaigners say logging has continued in other important habitat within its boundaries, as well as in koala habitat outside the proposed park.

Mark Graham, a community advocate, said: “These are extinction logging operations. This is a profound tragedy.”

The concerns come ahead of a state koala summit to be held in Sydney next Friday. The environment minister, Penny Sharpe, called the summit to allow councils and experts to give advice about what needs to happen to prevent the species’ extinction.

Graham said if the government was serious about preventing the extinction of the koala, the simplest action it could take would be to immediately stop logging and protect all koala hubs and nationally important koala areas in state forests – both within and outside the boundaries of the proposed great koala national park.

He said there had been active logging throughout the park, including at Sheas Nob, north-west of the Dorrigo Plateau, Kangaroo river and Wild Cattle creek.

The president of the North East Forest Alliance, Dailan Pugh, estimated there was more than 220,000 ha of important koala habitat in state forests in north-east NSW that remained to be protected. That figure includes koala hubs that were not protected by the Minns government last year, because they are outside the proposed new national park.

Pugh and others on the north coast have campaigned to protect koala habitat in two state forests in particular – Braemar and Myrtle – north of the great koala national park. Both forests and their koala populations were hit hard by the 2019-20 bushfires.

Last year the alliance unsuccessfully sought an injunction on logging operations in those forests. Pugh said about 30% of the approved logging area in Braemar and 14% in Myrtle had now been cleared.

“I recorded koalas in there before the logging,” he said of Braemar forest.

He said it was devastating for communities that logging in habitat had been able to continue across the mid-north and north coasts.

“I think it’s pretty disgusting really,” he said.

‘We want Penny Sharpe to do something bold and courageous’, says one environmental campaigner. Photograph: Mark Graham

“They’re areas that have been identified as high value koala habitat in NSW and they’re continuing to log them despite recognising how important they were.”

Pugh said advocates had raised their concerns with Sharpe for months but “she doesn’t care, she refuses to do anything”.

“I find it very frustrating. I thought when this government was elected that they promised to do something about koalas,” he said.

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People attending next week’s summit will discuss agenda items including climate crisis adaptation, habitat restoration, habitat protection, and how to combat diseases that affect koalas.

The vice-president of the North Coast Environment Council, Susie Russell, said she feared the summit would be an exercise in “make believe” unless the government confronted the issue of protecting koala habitat on public land.

Russell has campaigned for improved forest protection for decades, most recently around Yarratt, Bulga and Kiwarrak state forests, south of the Great Koala national park.

“Why are we spending huge amounts of money putting seedlings in the ground and putting fences around them and at the same time we’re wiping out mature trees that koalas are actually living in?” Russell said.

“We want Penny Sharpe to do something bold and courageous.”

Sharpe said the government would not accept a future without koalas in the wild in NSW.

She said since the Minns government was elected last year, it had doubled funding for koalas and protected hubs in the Great Koala national park while work to create the park was under way.

“These actions are important but we know this will not be the end of the action that needs to be undertaken,” Sharpe said.

“The koala summit will allow participants to provide input to the NSW Koala Strategy. Nothing is off the table.”

The NSW agriculture minister Tara Moriarty said timber harvesting would continue in areas of the proposed great koala national park that were not designated koala hubs “but only where operational plans have been approved under the tightest environmental protection rules in the country.

“The NSW Government is working closely with industry to develop a blueprint for the future timber sector that accommodates the Great Kola National Park, the production of critical timber products for construction and housing, and the highest environmental standards,” she said.

A spokesperson for the NSW Forestry Corporation said there had been no increase in the agency’s timber harvesting operations on the north coast. They said there were strict rules to protect preferred koala feed trees during logging operations.

“All timber harvesting undertaken by the Forestry Corporation is in line with both our annual plan of operations and an independently verified level for sustainable harvesting and regrowth,” they said.

“Operations in native forests are always selective, with large areas set aside for habitat, and every harvest area is regrown to ensure the same forests continue to provide habitat and produce renewable timber for future generations.”

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