With Labor's victory in the NSW election, the establishment of the Great Koala National Park (GKNP), a promise brought to voters over three elections and first proposed more than a decade ago, is underway. However environmental groups are concerned that logging continues to operate within the proposed areas.
Forestry Corporation NSW plans for the next 12 months indicate over 30,000 hectares of state forests intended for logging fall within the proposed boundaries of the GKNP.
On June 28th 2023 a coalition of environmental groups, including the Nature Conservation Council and World Wildlife Fund, along with 13 other local community conservation groups within the proposed area of the GKNP, gathered outside NSW Parliament to express their concern over the proposed logging. Convenor for the Great Koala National Park Advocacy Group, Mark Graham, called upon the government to stop the continued logging in the park area, begin the transition for timber workers and start work on establishing the park.
The Greens' Sue Higginson was critical of the Minns Governments lack of action on koala protections:
"Right now we are still logging ... we are literally destroying and taking away core koala habitat...It is politically, legally and socially, economically and environmentally untenable to do what this government is doing right now.”
Penny Sharpe, the NSW Environment Minister, stated that the planned logging activities were for plantation forestry only, allocations which are not included in the national park and that the plans do not necessitate that the proposed logging will take place:
“Forestry Corporation NSW has proposed a native forestry operation in Pine Creek State Forest that could take place in the next 12 months. That does not mean that harvesting will take place. These operations remain a proposal.
Ms. Sharpe also noted that forestry operations were to continue while the government planned for the park:
“Planning for the park has commenced. In the meantime, the NSW government is not considering a blanket moratorium on forestry operations in the area. Plantation harvesting will go ahead.”
The protest follows the Victorian government announcement to end to all logging in its state forests by 2024.
What is the Great Koala National Park?
The Great Koala National Park is a proposal to add 175,000 hectares of publicly owned forest in the Coffs Harbour hinterland to existing protected areas. This would culminate in 315,000 total hectares preserved as Koala habitat, much of which is currently being felled in an unsustainable manner. The park proposal is headed by the National Parks Association of NSW and supported by various environmental groups and local sponsors.
Arguments for Koala National Park Proposal
Australia's koala population dropped by a third between 1990 and 2010. Furthermore, studies indicate that as Australia's existing national parks are biassed towards more elevated and infertile environments, these regions do not properly encapsulate koala habitat which includes more fertile, coastal areas.
In November of 2018, the NSW Government introduced new logging legislation, the "Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals," which has led to reduced protections for forest wildlife. The legislation also introduced the 'intensive harvesting zone', an area of over 140,000 hectares of coastal forests and prime koala habitat which is now expected to see large-scale felling.
Koala National Park Petition
The wording of the petition reads as follows: "To the Speaker and Members of the Legislative Assembly in Parliament Assembled. We the petitioners draw your attention to the significant decline in the koala population in NSW. According to the NSW chief scientist, Koala populations have fallen by 30% in NSW and 50% in northern NSW over a 20 year period. NSW Koalas are predicted to become extinct in NSW by 2050 if the decline is not halted. Habitat loss and fragmentation through logging, land clearing and bushfires, are the primary cause of the koala’s decline. The only way to stop the decline is to stop the loss of koala habitat by protecting it in perpetuity.
Research shows that large protected areas are the most effective conservation tool available. The Great Koala National Park as proposed by the NSW National Parks Association would protect three nationally significant koala metapopulations, estimated to total 20% of NSW’s koalas, in a single network of national parks. It would also protect a host of other threatened species and the most diverse eucalypt forests on earth.
Bushfires have now burnt over 1.6 million hectares of the north east NSW bioregion (39% of region’s native vegetation), destroying over a quarter of prime Koala habitat. Koalas surviving the fire front are now faced with dehydration, starvation and stress related diseases. It is estimated that thousands have been killed, with many populations now on the verge of collapse. The Great Koala National Park is now needed more urgently than ever. We believe that the long-term protection of our iconic koalas and the sustainable tourism potential The Great Koala National Park would offer, far outweigh any short-term gains from logging public native forests.
We the undersigned urge you to protect the koala for future generations by immediately creating The Great Koala National Park."