Cole Neder, Intern, National Parks Association of NSW
While New South Wales battles with vested political interest in native forest logging in Australia, the State of Utah’s protected public lands are the centrepiece of a similar disagreement in the United States.
The benefits of Utah’s public lands
Utah’s public lands are environmentally and economically vital to the state, with over 60% of the state labeled as public land. These public lands include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wilderness areas that are home to a range of landscapes, including desert highlands, remote canyonlands and snow-capped alpine peaks. Wildlife species from the popular mule deer and bighorn sheep, to the rare lynx and desert tortoise, thrive in this untouched habitat as well.
The recreation industry in Utah also provides the state with over $12 billion in consumer spending each year, along with over 122,000 direct and sustainable jobs. Outdoor recreation accounts for 5% of gross state product, resulting in the state outpacing others in economic growth and rate of employment.
The fight to keep Utah’s lands in public hands
Politicians and state leaders are currently fighting to transfer this federally-owned and managed land into state hands. If these public lands become property of the state, they will be at risk of being sold to private extractive industries that threaten environmental sustainability and biodiversity.
The battle has come under increased scrutiny ever since Utah officials announced that they were planning to sue the Federal Government to reverse the recent protection of Bear Ears, a site containing Native American archeological treasures and red rocks that peak the interest of climbers from all over the world. This would effectively take away public lands for recreation and make them property of the state.
As a result, outdoor retailer giants like Patagonia and North Face have decided to stop hosting their Outdoor Retailer show in Utah in 2018. This event is the largest for outdoor manufacturers in the country, bringing in over 40,000 visitors and $45 million in revenue to Utah every year. Due to the state’s refusal to listen to their top industries, Utah is not only losing their public land protections, but a huge part of their economy as well.
How New South Wales can avoid the mistakes made in Utah
Similarly, New South Wales is at a crucial crossroads with the 20-year Regional Forest Agreements that are set to expire. Designed to provide for multiple uses of public native forests, timber extraction has instead dominated the agreement, even though the industry provides little economic advantage and causes significant stress on the animals that call this place home. Whether it is economic stability or maintaining environmental protection, the RFAs have failed New South Wales.
New South Wales has a golden opportunity to maximise the benefit to society from forests. For example, retaining and restoring healthy forests promotes biodiversity and reduces the threat posed on animals that tourists from all over the world travel to see. Australia has an incredibly dramatic landscape that needs to be sustained and responsibly managed so recreational tourism can become an economic advantage for those who live here, and environmental biodiversity can be sustained.
With the protection of forests close to New South Wales urban areas, those living there will have increased access to local forests and a protected environmental area. By removing logging allowances from public native forests, theses areas – and the species inhabiting them – will be safe to grow and prosper in the eyes of the New South Wales public. A sustainable economy and greener environment is possible if New South Wales avoids the mistakes that Utah is currently making.
Today, halfway across the world, the people of Utah are fighting to keep their lands protected from the detriments of extractive industries. Here in New South Wales, we should not let the opportunity of reclaiming native forests for the public slip away. The environment, the people of New South Wales, and (of course) the koalas would be in better shape because of it.