The future of the north coast’s koala populations is shaping up to be a NSW government election issue.
New Labor leader Luke Foley visted Lismore today to make a ‘major environmental announcement’ at the Koala Care Centre at Rifle Range Road.
North coast shadow minister Walt Secord and Labor candidates Isaac Smith, Lismore, Paul Spooner, Ballina, Ron Goodman, Tweed and Trent Gilbert, Clarence will join Mr Forley.
Today’s announcement builds on a plan to create ‘the Great Koala National Park’ on the state’s Mid North Coast.
Mr Foley also announced that the Sandy Creek National Park (2,100 ha) near Casino would protect the koalas of Royal Camp State Forest.
The Great Koala National Park proposal would take in 315,000 hectares of hinterland forest between Macksville and Woolgoolga, north of Coffs Harbour, combining 176,000 hectares of state forest with 140,000 hectares of existing protected areas.
Wilderness Society national forest campaign manager Warrick Jordan described the plan as visionary.
‘Labor’s plan for the Great Koala National Park plan is a big step forward for nature conservation in New South Wales,’ Mr Jordan said.
‘The people of NSW love the natural beauty of our great state, and expect positive, visionary actions like this one from our major political parties.
‘Labor has a clear plan for protecting our Koalas. The challenge for Premier Mike Baird is to match this vision and show the Coalition has a genuine commitment to protecting nature, and the Koala, in New South Wales.’
Labor’s plan for the mid north coast comes as pressure builds on the NSW government to reconsider the route proposed for the Pacific Highway upgrade between Woolgoolga and Ballina.
Opponents are particularly concerned with the section between Broadwater and the Ballina bypass, just north of Wardell.
Greens Ballina councilor Jeff Johnson, who is also the coordinator of Save Ballina’s Koalas campaign, said while the overall project has been approved by the NSW and Federal governments, ‘it may not be possible to meet the Federal minister’s conditions of consent relating to the koala in the section from Broadwater to Wardell.
Cr Johnson is organising a public meeting for 6.30pm on 28 January at the Ballina RSL to update the community on current developments in the broadened ‘No Highway Deviation ‘campaign.
He said the impacts on koalas, long-nosed potoroos, eastern ground parrots and a number of Aboriginal culturally significant features would be addressed and the case for an alternative route re-affirmed.
‘As well as Dr Steve Phillips, speakers will include Mark Graham, an ecologist with 16 years’ experience working with the Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council, and who is studying the Long-nosed potoroo, Garry Owers, a specialist in wetlands, acid sulfate soils and flood mitigation and Josey Sharrad, Native Wildlife Campaigner with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The North East Forest Alliance also welcomed the announcement, saying the Forestry Corporation have refused time and again to implement requirements to thoroughly search for koala scats and protect their core breeding habitat from logging, while the supposed regulators the Environment Protection Authority have turned a blind eye.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh said ‘our appeals to both the state and federal governments to intervene to protect koalas have been ignored.
‘While there are rules to limit impacts of logging on Koalas by protecting feed trees and core habitat these are inadequate and are simply not being implemented,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘Koalas preferentially feed on mature trees of certain species over 30cm in diameter, and these are the very trees the Forestry Corporation are targeting in logging.
‘At Royal Camp State Forest we caught the Forestry Corporation logging core koala habitat, and even when we stopped them in one area they simply moved to another part of the forest and began logging another area of core koala habitat.
‘If we want to give our koalas a future then we have to protect their habitat from clearing and logging, which necessitates protecting it from the Forestry Corporation.
‘NEFA warmly welcomes the ALP’s commitments for the establishment of the Great Koala Park near Coffs Harbour.
‘This proposal encompasses 315,000 hectares of hinterland forest between Macksville and Woolgoolga, combining 176,000 hectares of state forest with 140,000 hectares of existing protected areas.
‘We also welcome the commitment from Mr Foley to protect the proposed 2,100ha Sandy Creek National Park near Casino. This encompasses proven core Koala habitat in the Royal Camp and Carwong State Forests,’ Mr Pugh said.
The North Coast Environment Council congratulates Luke Foley on his plan.
‘If we want to save the koala from extinction, we have to save the forests that are their home,’ NCEC spokesperson Susie Russell said.
‘The Great Koala National Park would be a strong foundation for a new approach to managing our public forests. The priorities have to be maintaining healthy populations of our unique animals and plants and caring for our water supply catchments.’
Meanwhile, the Greens have today welcomed the Koala National Park plan near Coffs Harbour but called for a more holistic approach across the state.
Greens NSW MP and Environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said ‘we need to see a statewide approach as koala populations are under threat across the state from the Tweed to Bega’.
‘A nationally significant koala population in the Ballina region is currently under threat from a road being built straight through it,’ she said.
‘This shows we need a much more holistic approach to protecting our iconic species.
‘Labor has remained silent on the key reasons why koalas are under threat, such as logging, overdevelopment and a disastrous biodiversity offsets program.’