Members of the Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC) have combined with concerned community members and environment groups, to take “direct action” in their effort to stop the impending deforestation of compartment 26/27.
The activists have been increasingly frustrated by a perceived lack of community consultation. They are also agitating for a comprehensive region-wide koala study.
BEC believes the accumulative effects of road development, ranging from the North Coast to Mid North Coast, along with timber deforestation and other causes of koala deaths, such as wild dogs and diseases, have taken a large chunk out of the koala population.
At the end of this month, BEC representatives will go to State Parliament to directly hand a petition, with more than 4000 signatures and 300 letters, imploring Ministers to safeguard Pine Creek.
Caroline Joseph, BEC spokesperson, said State Government is “failing to allow compartment 26/27 of Pine Creek State Forest – thinned only once in 1971- to remain intact for our struggling koala colony”.
“A calculation of 154 compartments to be logged by FC (Forestry Corporation) NSW revealed that the normal take from a compartment was 53 per cent, but in compartment 26/27, 83 per cent of trees are to be taken.”
Ms Joseph highlighted the accumulative effect of koala habitat loss.
“Further north, the Richmond Bypass has been announced with similar vast areas of habitat to be lost for koalas and threatened species,” she told the Courier-Sun.
Ms Joseph believed the Federal Government’s National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy (NKCMS) acknowledged the lack of current koala population data.
It states the “reliable broad-scale koala population estimates remains very difficult” and that while specific areas of forest may give reasonable population estimates, it comes at a “significant (economic) cost.”
Additionally, the NKCMS takes a blunt assessment for population assessment over larger areas.
“It may be more realistic to estimate the extent of habitat loss, fragmentation and modification and declines in distribution, as indicators of koala population declines, rather than population size per se.”
Pine Creek State Forest compartment 26/27 neighbours the National Park at Bongil Bongil on Gleniffer Rd and hosts an undisputed, prime, koala colony.
This section of State Forest hosts predominately blackbutt on the upper ground and flooded gums on the lower slopes.
Forestry NSW has assessed the site as “generally excellent” and records harvest events within the subject compartments as occurring in the 1950s, 1980s and 1994.
A ‘Harvest Plan’ notes the need to “maintain the long term distribution and abundance of koalas”, while licence conditions stipulate procedures for minimising the effect on the koala habitat.
In addition, as preconditions to the harvest licence, State Forestry undertook a ‘Koala Star Survey’ to assess suitable browse trees and quarantine two high use areas (these will be protected by 20m buffer zones).
However, BEC is not convinced that State Forestry has done enough.
Ms Joseph is baffled by the need to continue deforestation when “last week Forestry NSW released a statement that said their hardwood business was failing and 40 more Forestry jobs will go with many of these lost from our region”.
The Courier-Sun contacted the Forestry Corporation of NSW for comment, and while not answering questions specific to koalas they did reconfirm their intention to start the clearing soon.
“Particular compartments within Pine Creek State Forest have good road and forest access in all weather, so we generally schedule work in the area when wet weather makes work difficult elsewhere,” the statement said.
“Due to an unseasonably dry January, we have not needed to schedule work at Pine Creek. The start date will depend on the weather over the coming weeks.”
In the meantime, BEC and koala activists plan a series of protests and other preventative measures to make their point.