Danielle Ryan and James Sherwood, Conservation Campaigners
“They are rushing. They can see the end is coming,” says koala expert John Pile. He is referring to Forestry Corporation’s overzealous response to the recently renewed North Coast Wood Supply Agreement, which allows logging to continue for another five years.
The mood amongst local campaigners living in the proposed Great Koala National Park region is grim, as they watch Forestry Corporation slowly chip away at public forests known as core koala habitat.
Overall, there are 20 State Forests in the proposed area for The Great Koala National Park which have been designated for logging, as ‘proposed’, ‘planned’ or ‘active’. As of July 2022, Forestry Corporation are actively harvesting three State Forests in the area, Clouds Creek (Compartments 30, 31, 32, 33), Ellis (3, 4, 5, 6) and Thumb Creek (5,6) and have approval for four more Bagawa (1), Boambee (4,5,6,7), Collombati (9,10) and Conglomerate (23).
The fight to save Pine Creek
Mr Pile has been involved in the campaign to end native forest logging on public land since 1994. He lives in Valery next to Pine Creek State Forest, near Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast.
In 2003, Premier Bob Carr announced, if re-elected, he would turn Pine Creek State Forest into a national park because of its large koala population. Once in office, he transferred half of the State Forest into the adjacent Bongil Bongil National Park, first established in 1997.
Logging still occurs in Pine Creek State Forest to this day, although additional land has been transferred into the park twice in 2003 and 2006.
“Environmental laws have been weakened to the extent that there is practically no protection for our rare and unique flora and fauna,” says Mr Pile.
It isn’t just the activities of Forestry Corporation on public land. He has also watched the destruction of hundreds of acres of private forests around Valery logged – prime koala habitat, adjoining the Bongil Bongil National Park – under Private Native Forestry Agreements.
An important forest bridge in urgent need of protection
Mr Pile passionately supports the Forest Bridge Proposal, an area of Pine Creek and Tuckers Nob State Forests, totalling 2,500 hectares, that is strategically located between the escarpment of Bindarri National Park, at the top of the range, to the coast, where Bongil Bongil National Park meets the sea. Both these National Parks are listed as Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) for Koalas.
If protected this link would create an east-west conserved corridor for koalas and other threatened species that would provide genetic interconnection and refuge in extreme climatic events.
In 1996, Pine Creek State Forest was also recognised as being home to a koala population of significant state importance. It is also special today as a forest, because it was left unscathed by the Black Summer Fires of 2019-20, a reality making declaration of the Great Koala National Park even more critical.
Green deserts — Forestry leaves behind Blackbutt monoculture
“Forestry has had a long history of deliberately creating a Blackbutt monoculture plantation in our local public forests by simply clearing the less commercially valuable native trees around Blackbutts. They get away with it,” said Mr Pile. “Forestry Corporation is creating a fire hazard.”
One third of the native forest in Pine Creek State Forest has been converted into plantation since 1969. Compartments are now planted with tissue cultured Blackbutt.
“The original forest is a true wet sclerophyll forest, with moist ground cover of mosses and ferns, Bangalow Palms and great eucalypt diversity as an overstorey,” says Mr Pile. “These monocultures are green deserts and Blackbutts, being a pyroclastic species, are potential fire traps.”
It’s not just a fire hazard they are creating, they are creating a Blackbutt desert when it comes to koala populations. Blackbutts have been documented as one of the poorest browse species for koalas.
In 1997, Mr Pile assisted in collecting data for a research study which found the koala diet consists of 10 to 15 local native tree species. They require a diverse range of food trees, many of which have been historically targeted by loggers for timber, especially the number one koala food tree on the North Coast, Tallowwood. One of the standout findings in the Pine Creek study was that koalas are eating ‘Allocasuarina’ (Forest Oak), which was not previously known as a koala food tree. Mr Pile says the forest once contained large Allocasuarina trees.
Failing to manage Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS)
“As Bongil Bongil National Park and Bindarri National Park are AIS listed, NPWS are meant to come up with a Conservation Action Plan (CAP) to deal with any threatening processes,” says Mr Pile.
An AIS is an area of ‘exceptional value — natural or cultural — that warrants special protection, including dedicated management measures.’ Only 200 such sites exist in NSW, giving these areas a higher status than an ordinary national park.
The NSW Government has a statutory requirement to ‘control, abate, or mitigate the key risks to the environmental or cultural values of the land’ under National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2019.
Mr Pile argues forestry activities occurring in Pine Creek and Tuckers Nob State Forests are a ‘threatening process’ to these neighbouring parks which are critical koala habitat.
“You cannot knock over so much core koala habitat in adjoining state forests and not have a significant negative impact on the koalas in the adjacent national park. However, the government has done nothing to resolve the issue,” says Mr Pile.
“The solution is for the government to transfer selected parts of these State Forests into national park and approach the handful of private land holders in between the forests to make a covenant to protect prime koala habitat. We know one landholder who would make such a covenant.”