The blockade of access at Sunny Corner Road to Gladstone State Forest continues, with no logs able to leave the forest but trees still being felled.
The protest began on Monday February 12, when Forestry Corporation began logging operations after promising only minimal protection for the koala population known to inhabit the area.
Signs of high use by koalas have been recorded going back 20 years, and in August an inspection by the Kalang River Forest Alliance found 15 trees with koala scats (faeces) in compartments 232 and 233 of Gladstone State Forest, with four of the trees showing frequent and recent visits by a mother and joey.
Since then activist groups, including the Bellingen Environment Centre, have been calling on the state government to cancel plans for logging.
“We provided Forestry Corporation with evidence of the koalas,” BEC spokesperson Ashley Love said. “Their response was to create a ‘koala high use buffer’ of two hectares.”
Ashley pointed out that a female koala has a home range of about 10 hectares.
“There are favourite trees that she goes to time and again. Even if logging leaves an area of two hectares, they'll be surrounded by devastation, and then the whole area will be burnt.”
The blockade began inside the forest but protesters were forced to beat a tactical retreat 500m onto Crown land when Forestry Corporation closed the section of the forest they were occupying, which potentially exposed them to hefty fines.
“They came down here regularly on Monday and told us we were all going to be fined $7000,” Ashley said. “Students and young people and mothers, all threatened with $7000 fines. It’s intimidating, because we know they have those savage legal powers.”
Despite the retreat, the protest camp has still been able to obstruct the haulage road, which is the only route the logging trucks can use to take the timber out.
However, loggers themselves have access via other trails and have been cutting down trees.
“Since the forest closures, we’re unable to go in and proactively stop the harvest,” environmental activist Michael Forrester said. “But because of stipulations about how much they’re allowed to stockpile, when they hit that maximum limit they need to shut down their operations.”
The number of people taking part in the blockade has fluctuated, with four hardcore supporters there when the Courier-Sun visited on Thursday morning and up to 40 at other times.
Refuting negative comments on Facebook about protesters all being on the dole, Ashley said a wide range of people had joined the blockade.
“We’ve had people who are in full-time employment, part-time employment, retirees, nursing mothers, school teachers, students, Indigenous people,” he said.
Michael pointed out that people who have time as well as commitment are holding the space for those who work 9-5.
“The assistance of those who have time to be here in a longstanding way helps the cause for those who can only be here outside working hours. If it was only up to them, the logging trucks would be able to come in and out all day,” he said.
Ashley noted that in the old days of protesting, it was possible to obstruct the dozers.
“We can’t do that now because they close the forest and it’s a $7000 fine,” he said. “We’ve got to sit back here on the edge of the forest where the penalties are not so draconian. It’s more difficult for us, and it’s more difficult to attract people to make the commitment to protest.”
Supporters have included Indigenous locals Michael Donovan and Nellie McKenzie, who came and lit a sacred cultural fire and erected a sign indicating it was to continue for three days.
Bellingen Shire Council mayor Dominic King and Greens MP Dawn Walker have also visited to offer support, with Ms Walker afterwards making a speech in State Parliament calling for logging to end in Gladstone State forest.
The public are invited to the site on Sunday at 1pm for a picnic to celebrate the blockade so far and discuss future strategies to protect koala habitat at Gladstone State Forest.
Sunny Corner is on the Kalang Road, ten minutes out of Bellingen. Head out of town on Church St past the hospital to where it becomes Bowraville Rd, turn right onto Kalang Rd and after 1km turn left onto Sunny Corner Road and drive a further 4km to the end of the road.