Great Koala National Park Moves Closer To Fruition

THE NSW Government has announced a process to establish the Great Koala National Park (GKNP), as well as a halt to timber harvesting operations in the 106 koala hubs within the area being assessed for the park.

The Government says its action will balance its commitment to protecting environmentally sensitive areas with the development of a plan to sustain a viable timber industry and jobs.

While the work to establish the park is carried out, the Government will implement a halt to timber harvesting in koala hubs within the assessment area for the park.

These hubs cover approximately five percent of the Great Koala National Park assessment area, but contain 42 percent of recorded koala sightings in state forests in the assessment area since 2000.

Operations were paused on Friday 1 September 2023 by agreement with Forestry Corporation of NSW.

The Government will now discuss with Forestry Corporation of NSW the next steps of the halt to logging and consider timber supply options.

“The creation of the Great Koala National Park is essential to saving koalas from extinction in NSW,” NSW Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe said.

“The Government is taking serious steps towards its creation and will work closely with the community, Aboriginal organisations and industry as the areas for inclusion in the park are assessed.”

The process to establish the park will involve an independent economic and social assessment which will consider the impacts on local jobs and communities, the establishment of industry, community and Aboriginal advisory panels to provide input to the creation of the park and an expert environmental and cultural heritage assessment to safeguard the unique environmental and cultural heritage of the region.

The Government says this will “ensure the Great Koala National Park aligns with the highest standards of environmental protection and respect for cultural heritage”.

The Minister for Agriculture and Regional NSW, Tara Moriarty, said, “The Government commits to working closely with the industry to develop a blueprint for the future timber sector that accommodates both the park and the production of timber products.”

The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by GKNP proponents.

Dr Stuart Blanch, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia’s Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees, said the new national park would help to stabilise and reverse the decline of east coast koalas.

“This is a giant win for our koalas, forests and the communities who have been fighting for their protection,” Dr Blanch said.

“NSW koala numbers collapsed by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2020 due to deforestation, drought and devastating bushfires.

“Today’s announcement is a chance to turn this tragedy around and safeguard some of the most fertile and important koala habitat on Australia’s east coast.”

Dr Blanch also called for the NSW Government to go further.

“It’s fantastic that koala hubs will be protected, but this still leaves more than 160,000 hectares vulnerable to logging until the park is created.

“The Forestry Corporation of NSW should make a commitment to stop logging koala feed trees in the proposed national park, and engage in sector wide transition planning towards sustainable timber plantations.”

Greens MP and spokesperson for the Environment Sue Higginson also initially welcomed the Government’s announcement, however felt it would fall short of having impact.

“It’s about the implementation of their environmental protection election commitment but, let’s be serious, this is a tiny step and should have been implemented six months ago.

“Voluntary undertakings by the Forestry Corporation to avoid koala hubs within one area of the public forest estate, while good, will not make the difference that koalas need.”

“Koala hubs should be protected across the entire public native forest estate at a minimum, not as a bold announcement about a proposed National Park.”

Several hours after the announcement, Ms Higginson released a second media statement on the issue, describing the Government’s move as “a gift to the timber industry at the cost of continuing the koala extinction logging and an enormous delay in the delivery of the promised Great Koala National Park”.

“The informal protection for koala hubs and announcement of advisory groups pales in comparison to the revelation that 58 percent of critical koala habitat in the proposed Great Koala National Park will still be subject to logging plans and that the park won’t be created until 2025 at the earliest,” she said.

“National Parks are significant assets of ecological value because of the integrity that these areas have and for their contribution to biodiversity and overall environmental health.

“It is very concerning that just five percent of this proposed new National Park will be protected by this announcement today and that 58 percent of endangered koala habitat will still be available for logging operations.”

Also less than pleased with the announcement was the timber industry, with a statement from the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union (CMFEU) suggesting the Government’s decision would “impact the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of local families and hurt communities from Coffs Harbour to Grafton”.

Alison Rudman, NSW Secretary of the timber workers’ union, said, “There is no plan in today’s announcement for the workers who harvest, transport, mill and make household furniture from timber in Northern NSW.

“At a time when families are already under pressure, putting people’s jobs and pay at risk by taking bits of timber offline ahead of evaluating the impact is a bad choice and will cost local families immensely.”

Ms Rudman called on the NSW Government to “urgently sit down with the union to identify impacted workers”.

“All this will do is inflate prices of timber in NSW, push manufacturing of hardwood timber products offshore to countries that operate without NSW’s environmental and safety protections, while putting locals out of work,” Ms Rudman said.

By Andrew VIVIAN

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