The North East Forest Alliance is proposing that 7,000 ha of public land south-west of Casino, on the Richmond River lowlands, become the Sandy Creek Koala Park. The primary aim would be to restore koalas, but this would also help to protect another 39 threatened species, nectar yields, tree hollows, carbon storage and stream flows.
The proposal incorporates Royal Camp, Braemar, Carwong and Ellangowan State Forests, as well as remnant native vegetation on land purchased for plantations.
NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh and koala champion said the genesis of this proposal was the finding of exceptional densities of koalas at a number of localities and widespread koala usage over the past eight years.
‘The koalas were increasing as the forests recovered from past logging, with good future prospects as the larger trees preferred by koalas grew,’ said Mr Pugh.
Tragically this koala population suffered a major blow when the Busby’s Flat fire swept through these forests on the night of 8 October 2019.
Mr Pugh said there was an ‘apparent loss of 78-89% of koalas, which suggests 270-310 koalas died as a result of the fires.’
The surviving population could be as low as 40-80 koalas.
‘Given the prognosis that koalas are likely to become extinct in the wild by 2050 if we continue “business as usual”, and the devastating impact of the 2019 fires on the Banyabba Koala population, protecting known significant habitat to allow koala populations to recover is more important than ever,’ said Mr Pugh.
‘This reserve proposal honours the community’s wishes and aspirations for protection of koalas and public forests, and meets the 2018 NSW Koala Strategy promise to set aside large swathes of land where koalas can thrive and new habitats can be created.’
Mr Pugh said the proposal would also protect inadequately reserved Richmond River lowland forests and start to restore their lost values.
‘Past logging has more than halved their nectar production and reduced by 98% the large tree hollows that provide vital nests and dens for an array of native species,’ he said.
‘The biomass of this forest has been reduced by 58%, in the process releasing some 3.3 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
‘Stopping logging will enable the forest to recover lost CO2 at a rate of 44,200 tonnes per annum, essential to slow climate heating and currently worth $687,000 per annum in Australian Carbon Credit Units.
‘Protecting this forest offsets the CO2 emissions of a medium sized town such as Kyogle or Maclean.
‘Similarly protection will recover the 14,000 megalitres per annum of streamflows into the Richmond River lost by past logging, which now has a minimum value of $7 million per annum.’
Mr Pugh argues that the proposed park would provide a major economic boost to Casino and the region, noting that for every 10,000 visitors attracted, that would generate $1.3 million per year in regional spending, and 10.6 jobs.
‘On its own the proposed Sandy Creek Koala Park will not save koalas or reverse climate heating, though it will make a significant contribution. It is clearly in the best interests of koalas, the north coast community, and the people of NSW’, Mr Pugh said.
The complete 212 page proposal for the Sandy Creek Koala Park can be viewed here.