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The Great Koala National Park will help koalas, because it will protect their habitat

This is a fully referenced version of NPA’s response to Melinda Pavey’s “More national parks will not help koalas” published in the Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun on 3/8/17: http://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/4831712/letter-npa-response-to-pavey-koala-management/?cs=483

The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) rejects assertions by the Hon. Melinda Pavey MP that more national parks will not help koalas, and calls on the NSW Government to honour Ms Pavey’s call for ‘a mature, factual, science-based discussion about forestry our forest estate and koalas’.

Throughout the world protection of habitat in national parks is the first step to protecting species. That’s because human activities often pose a threat to the resources and connectivity that animals need to survive. Koalas are no different.

Unfortunately, what makes a forest good for loggers also makes it good for koalas: forests on fertile soils on the coastal lowlands in high rainfall areas grow trees quickly and timber can be harvested on shorter rotations. But koalas also prefer these forests, because they produce more nutritious leaves which are the koalas’ sole food source. Following the Regional Forest Agreements, the forests added into the national parks estate were those that were least fertile or on steeper country[1]. In other words, those least preferred by koalas. So a conflict still exists between loggers and koalas for preferred habitat.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority[2], and researchers[3], have shown that koalas like big trees and mature forests, and that intensive logging that removes a high percentage of trees is not compatible with koala persistence[4]. Big old trees are hugely important to wildlife (not just koalas), and just last week the destruction of ‘ol grey’ demonstrated how logging results in the loss of such trees[5]. Recent revelations from the North East Forest Alliance have shown the extent to which intense logging is impacting koala habitat and, disturbingly, that this logging is probably illegal according to the previous Environment Minister[6].

So logging is a key threat to koalas. Is it the only threat? No. Loss of habitat via urban expansion on the coast is also important, so it’s good that the government is reviewing SEPP 44. But logging is a threat that we can end tomorrow, because State forests are public land.

We congratulate Ms Pavey for drawing attention to the resourcing crisis in the National Parks and Wildlife Service that is undermining its ability to manage the protected area estate. Repeated ‘restructures’ by Ms Pavey’s government has resulted in the loss of hundreds of years of experience in the Service—a fact noted by rural communities[7],[8]. As a Minister in the Government, we call on Ms Pavey to lobby her colleagues for a bigger slice of the NSW budget pie to better manage protected areas for the benefit of regional NSW.

Since 2011, the number of jobs has declined sharply in Forestry Corporation from 803 in 2011[9] to 463 in 2016[10]. A 2015 state-wide estimate of the number of direct jobs in the native forest logging industry is about 600, which cost the taxpayer $78 million to subsidise between 2009 and 2014[11]. The few jobs that native forest logging now supports come at a very high cost indeed to broader society. Contrast this with regional tourism, worth $14.4 billion annually to NSW and directly employing 84,600 people[12]. The north coast is the most popular region: 11.9 million visitors spent $3.7 billion in 2016-17[13].

The question for Ms Pavey is why the determination to undermine a proposal that will bring jobs and visitors to her local area? We believe that, rather than continue to pretend that all is well in the rose garden, we need to act now to protect forestry workers and their families and urgently transition to alternative industries. The Great Koala National Park offers a perfect means by which to do that.

In conclusion, the science confirms what we all know: that koala populations are in serious decline throughout NSW. Conservation groups are not going to wait for the Government’s interminable dithering on koalas. We’re galvanising the community to act now to protect koalas because they’re a species that we’re not prepared to sacrifice without a fight. Call us starry eyed, but we know millions of people agree with us.

Kevin Evans is the CEO of the National Parks Association of NSW

[1]Pressey et. al. 2002. Effectiveness of protected areas in north-eastern New South Wales: recent trends in six measures. Biological Conservation 106, pgs. 57-69

[2]See pages 60-62 and 75-76 of NSW EPA 2016: Koala Habitat Mapping Pilot. NSW State Forests. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/forestagreements/koala-habitat-mapping-pilot-160038.pdf

[3]Moore & Foley 2005: Tree use by koalas in a chemically complex landscape. Nature 435, pgs. 488-490.

[4]Smith, A. Koala conservation and habitat requirements in a timber production forest in north-east New South Wales. The Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna pg. 591-611

[5]Re-enactment of cutting of massive seed tree 26/7/17: http://www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/4814927/forest-protest-draws-a-crowd-this-morning/

[6]Clearing koalas away: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-20/koala-habitat-in-northern-nsw-destroyed-by-logging/8724486

[7]http://www.theland.com.au/story/4440301/pest-fire-management-threat-in-parks-rejig/

[8]http://www.theland.com.au/story/4782203/parks-cutback-npws-restructure-called-into-question/

[9]See page 103 in: http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/448918/Forests-NSW-Annual-Report-2011-12.pdf

[10]See response to question 77 in: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/DBAssets/InquiryOther/Transcript/10303/GPSC%205%20-%20ASQ%20-%20Primary%20Industries%2c%20Land%20and%20Water.pdf

[11]Campbell and McKeon 2015. Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees. http://www.nature.org.au/media/213736/160320-money-doesnt-grow-on-trees-nsw-forestry-final.pdf

[12]NSW Department of Industry Media Release 6/3/17: https://www.industry.nsw.gov.au/media/media-releases/2017-media-releases/2017-media-releases/$300m-boost-for-regional-environment-and-tourist-attractions

[13]Destination NSW: http://www.destinationnsw.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/North-Coast-NSW-Snapshot-YE-Mar-17.pdf