It’s been a tough time for the region’s dwindling koala population in recent years but conservationists are hoping the ALP’s promise to create a Great Koala National Park, coupled with Boral’s decision to exit the hardwood timber industry on the north coast could throw a lifeline to the endangered marsupials.
But they are again warning of the dangers of so-called ‘cable logging’ following recent heavy rain in a trial area near Coffs Harbour.
The sale of Boral’s hardwood business, which is now being sought according to a report in the Australian Financial Review on Wednesday (January 21), was welcomed by NEFA spokesperson John Corkill yesterday.
Boral chief Mike Kane is reported to have said last year that the timber business, which provides decking and flooring, was under review.
‘Boral has persisted with a flawed business model for far too long,’ said Mr Corkill.
‘The blackbutt timber they require for most of their flooring and decking is just not available in sustainable quantities and they have been told that for over 20 years.
‘The market into which they are trying to sell their flooring and decking is oversupplied with alternative products, most of which are significantly cheaper than Boral’s solid hardwood line.
‘The third factor is that the industry has relied too long on government handouts, even receiving $8m last year from the NSW Government for not cutting timber, and these subsidies cannot be guaranteed to continue indefinitely,’ he said.
A further chop was made in Boral’s business model last year when they lost their Japanese woodchip market because they could not get the Forest Stewardship Council’s environmental certification for their north coast hardwood logging practice.
Boral’s decision to sell the hardwood business followed recognition in June by the NSW Government that its contractual obligations in terms of north coast timber could not be met.
The government then announced an annual $8.5 million compensation package but it appears that was not enough for the company.
But even as Boral plans to close its business, NEFA is warning against a state government plan to ‘introduce a radical new cable logging technology to access timber on the regions steepest and most erodible slopes’.
Tim Thorncraft, a long time resident of the Kalang Valley where the planned trial is to take place, said that while recent rains were ‘not unusual for this part of the country’ they were a good reason why cable logging should not be deployed.
‘The mountains of this part of the Great Dividing Range have some of the most highly erodible soils of NSW. Already in these last few days there have been landslips and increased sediment and run-off entering the rivers,’ said Mr Thorncraft, who is also a member of NEFA.
‘Opening up the upper catchment to logging in forests that have been protected for many decades because they were considered too steep to log, is not just irresponsible, it’s mad,” he added.
‘Forests hold the land together. There is much less likelihood of landslides, erosion and river pollution, when there is a healthy unlogged forest upstream,’ Mr Thorncraft said.
Koala Park good for region
Meanwhile Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Andrew Fraser has been accused of running a scare campaign against the ALP’s plan to create a Great Koala National Park between Coffs and Grafton.
Ashley Love, spokesperson for the National Parks Association, said Mr Fraser’s recent comments that 3,000 jobs would be lost as a result were ‘reminiscent of some of the claims made in previous rounds of reform of the timber industry.’
‘In the 1980’s rainforest protection debate the claim was made that if Grafton lost access to Coachwood rainforest timber it would become a ghost town. Forty years later, Grafton is going well, as also are the Grafton Ghosts rugby league team, Mr Love said.
‘Mr Fraser and a number of his colleges have claimed there will be a loss of 3,000 jobs in the timber industry if the great Koala National Park is established. The latest annual report from the NSW Forest Corporation shows there are less than 2,000 timber workers in the hardwood and cypress timber industry throughout the whole of NSW,’ he added.
As to running out of timber, the National Parks Association says the Great Koala Park proposal affects only one fifth of the area of state forests on the north east of NSW and does not affect timber supplies on private property.
‘The only mills which need to close are those operating on flawed business models, dependent on the short-term depletion of timber supplies, government subsidies and pushing superseded products onto unwilling markets,’ Mr Love said.