Conservation in the balance
In response to criticisms from Green MP Dawn Walker over the NSW Government's position on the Great Koala National Park on the Mid North Coast this week, Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey has penned an opinion piece on the proposal.
Managing Koala Country:
The NSW Greens and the National Parks Association are lobbying our shire councils and campaigning in the media for more land tenure change - saying it's the answer for koalas and employment.
But, let's consider the reality.
Fact one: There are now 2.4 million hectares in the conservation estate in our region - land which has been set aside specifically as habitat for our fauna and flora.
Fact two: the timber industry has access to just 400,000 hectares of State Forest in northern coastal NSW, and only 1-2 per cent of this is used in any one year - and, large areas of koala habitat are kept in corridors throughout these forests. NSW laws require pre-harvest checks for koalas and timber harvesting is diverted away from where they are present.
Fact three: recent field survey work by NSW Government agencies has found there is actually a high koala occupancy in the forest estate. The harvested areas of forest regenerate, and through professional, scientific management, will continue to provide timber - and habitat - into the future.
Fact four: there are 27 timber mills between the Hunter and Tweed Rivers, directly employing more than 750 people producing an array of essential timber products - from pallets and mining props, to beautiful, highly-valued exterior and interior timbers for flooring, cabinetry, decking and furnishings. And, I note, Councillor Jenvey was not aware of these numbers at the Nambucca Shire Council discussion on the Koala Park idea last Thursday.
So, how is yet more parkland going to help koalas and employment?
Many people on-the-ground know that the National Park Estate has not been the cure-all for koalas, and that the threats to our koala population are from urbanisation, wild dogs, disease, eucalypt-decline and wild fire.
Koalas need good, managed habitat, not more tenure and lines on maps.
And, while eco-tourism is offered as the alternative to the 750 jobs of hard working people and their families, the industry too doesn't really rely on lines on maps. There is no reason why we can't have both employment and eco-tourism under our current tenure arrangements. We don't need to change a thing.
Just endlessly declaring new National Parks does not automatically deliver good conservation outcomes. Our coastal hardwood forests deserve more than being unmanaged museum-like exhibits on one side of a line ... and multi-use, sustainable timber producing eco-systems on the other.
Rather, I think we need to prove that the conservation estate is being actively managed, and is actually making a positive and lasting contribution to biodiversity - before we even think about giving it more land to try to manage. We really should be asking the question: are our National Parks actually meeting KPIs the community expects?
We must never forget the crafty Bob Carr claimed to 'save the forests'; but all he really did was change the tenure of State Forests to National Parks.
I really do think it's time for a factual, science-based discussion about forestry, our forest estate and koalas - one that truly balances and delivers environmental, social and economic values, not just more land tenure changes, regulations and quixotic politics - which has the core but covert goal of ending our forestry sector.
I believe the entire community shares the desire to help our koala population - we just need to understand the realistic way to achieve it.