Return of Country in the Border Ranges

Ashley Love , NPA Coffs Harbour Branch and Dailan Pugh OAM, North East Forest Alliance

The Federal Court of Australia made a consent determination in 2007 recognising the Githabul People’s Native Title rights and interests over 1,120 km2, in 9 National Parks and 13 State Forests, in the headwaters of the Richmond and Clarence Rivers in north-east NSW.

The determination covered the rainforests of the eastern Border Ranges that had been protected after a major battle by conservation groups starting in the 1970s. Many additional national parks were created in the Border Ranges area as a result of the Regional Forest Agreement for north-east NSW in 1999.

That process left 29,700 ha of state forest available for timber production. These forests have been recognised by a recent NPA study as important koala habitat, and have, subject to agreement with Githabul Native Title holders, been included in NPA’s Great Koala NP network. The forests also provide important connectivity between existing reserves.

The NPA is one of a number of conservation groups that have recently negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Githabul Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Githabul Elders to jointly work for:

  • Transferring care and control of these forests from the Forestry Corporation of NSW to the Githabul Tribe.
  • Preparation of a comprehensive Plan of Management to safeguard conservation and cultural values and prioritise rehabilitation works.
  • Funding of a comprehensive 15 year rehabilitation plan to arrest and repair forest dieback on Crown lands as part of a Githabul Caring for Country program.
  • Creating more NPWS positions and training for Githabul Working on Country in the Kyogle area.
  • Transferring the care and control of Crown lands around the Tooloom Falls Aboriginal Place to the Githabul Tribe.
  • Assisting in the establishment of a Githabul Cultural and Tourism Centre at Roseberry Creek.
  • Supporting World Heritage Listing for qualifying National Parks in the region.

Unfortunately, the forests have been significantly degraded by logging, spreading lantana through the forests and initiating Bell Miner Associated Dieback (BMAD). The most recent assessment by DPI-Forestry identified 7,151 ha (24%) of Githabul State Forests and 6,385 ha (8%) of Githabul National Parks as affected by BMAD.
Forestry Corporation has recently responded to this dieback by abandoning 11,000 ha of these State forests for timber production (Natural Resources Commission 2016).

Half of the abandoned forests have been identified for conversion to the Mount Lindesay Koala Reserve, which will entail transferring management to the NPWS without funding for rehabilitation.

Given that BMAD is rapidly worsening, and likely being aggravated by climate change, activities that cause its spread need to be stopped and rehabilitation urgently undertaken. The current Githabul Caring for Country program has a proven success record, and should be expanded and funded for at least 15 years.

The MOU partners consider that the implementation of these proposals will be of benefit in that they will:
give the Githabul real and meaningful control of a significant part of their native-title lands;

  • provide meaningful training and employment opportunities for Githabul people on country;
  • arrest ongoing ecosystem decline and initiate urgently needed restoration of these internationally significant forests; and
  • provide a boost to regional tourism that will benefit the regional economy and job opportunities.

The conservation groups have recently written to the NSW Premier and Opposition leader and other state and federal politicians requesting support for the MOU proposals.

Map showing OEH Koala hubs and Koala records in relation to Bell Miner Associated Dieback as under-mapped by DPI-Forestry (2018) from 2015-17 (orange areas), and areas of State Forests identified by Natural Resources Commission (2016) as being abandoned for timber production (pink areas). Note the high correlation of Koala records with dieback areas, emphasising the urgent need for protection and rehabilitation of these important areas.


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