Bellingen Shire Council's meeting on Wednesday evening played to a full house, at least for the first hour.
There was standing room only as a motion titled 'Conservation of biodiversity and protection of the Kalang Headwaters' put by Cr Toni Wright-Turner was discussed from 6pm to 7pm.
The five-part motion (see below) notes the impact of the Bees Nest fire on habitat and biodiversity, acknowledges the crucial role the Kalang Headwaters area plays in water security, mentions the community campaign protesting Forestry Corporation's plans to log the area, and supports the creation of a new Headwaters Nature Reserve.
A succession of heartfelt speeches was followed by a vote that passed 4-3 to loud applause.
First up was Indigenous Elder Uncle Martin Ballangarry who explained his family's connection to the escarpment and Mt Killiecrankie and said he spoke on behalf of his people.
"The trees are crying," he said. "The logging that's going on, I think it's wrong. I hope we can see proper consultation with Forestry Corp."
He was followed by Kevin Evans, a board member of connectivity conservation group Great Eastern Ranges Ltd and President of the Coffs Coast Branch of the National Parks Association of NSW.
Mr Evans said protecting biodiversity was an important aspect of the motion but the crucial ecosystems services that the Kalang Headwaters provide are discussed less frequently.
He noted the proposed reserve would safeguard the catchment where the water supply for Nambucca, Bellingen and Kalang begins and also buffer communities from the impacts of wildfires.
Researchers are identifying significant risks of "hotter, fiercer fires" in the 20 years after a forest has been logged, due to the drying effect of canopy loss and the nature of the regrowth, he said.
He added that even when rain doesn't fall, trees contribute water to streams as moisture condenses on their leaves and drips downwards - in some parts of Australia this constitutes 15-20 per cent of stream flow.
In response to a question from Cr Jennie Fenton, Mr Evans said the proposed reserve "dovetails perfectly" with the concept of the Great Koala National Park and the boom in nature-based tourism on the Mid North Coast.
"What was good in the past doesn't necessarily need to be our future," he said. "Our local economy is shifting from extraction and primary industries to a service-based economy
"We can't on one hand market a clean green image while industrial native forest clearing is scarring our landscape and reputation."
Introducing the motion, Cr Wright-Turner said she has engaged with a broad cross-section of community members about the proposed logging in the Kalang Headwaters.
A local mill worker told her he knew he wouldn't have a job soon - and he didn't mean because of the campaign by environmentalists, he meant because of destructive industrial forestry practices.
"With all the modern technology we can cut and process a tree much faster than trees can grow," he said.
Councillors Garry Carter and Desmae Harrison spoke against the motion, saying they could not countenance the loss of jobs and livelihood that it would create.
Cr Fenton responded that "the local IGA hires more people than Forestry Corporation does in this shire".
"When we are the epicentre for koalas and biodiversity we will have the opportunity for many more jobs than is available in forestry," she said.
Cr Steve Jenkins joined Crs Carter and Harrison in opposing the motion while Crs King, Fenton, Wright-Turner and Klipin voted in favour.
Cr Klipin said that taking a long-term view of sustainability and stewardship was courageous, even if the council could only speak "with a small voice".
Cr King also referenced the largely symbolic nature of the vote to protect the Kalang Headwaters, saying, "We're not making a decision that it be saved but we're sending a message to the Minister that it should be saved."
The mayor will be showing the Headwaters Nature Reserve Proposal to NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean during a meeting at Parliament House on Thursday.
1. Acknowledges the significant impact of the recent Bees Nest and other bushfires on our community, especially on the Dorrigo plateau and notes there was also significant loss of critical habitat and biodiversity with over 150,000 hectares of forest burned in and around our Shire in these unprecedented fires. Loss and fragmentation of habitat is recognised as a key threat for endangered species and as such highlights the importance of protecting our remaining forests.
2. Acknowledges the headwaters of the Kalang and Bellinger Rivers are critical to the ongoing health of our rivers, which provide water security and underpin agriculture, fisheries, oyster farming and tourism, which are significant and growing areas of employment and industry in our Shire and region.
3. Notes there is a strong community-driven campaign across our shire to oppose Forestry Corporation logging the compartments in the Kalang headwaters.
4. Supports in principal, in the context of parts one to three of this Motion, the Headwaters Nature Reserve Proposal (attached Appendix one) which has been developed by the Friends of the Kalang Headwaters to offer a positive alternative to the proposed logging by Forestry Corporation of Compartments 125, 126, 127 and 128 of Scotchman and Roses Creek State Forests, and to protect all other logging compartments in the headwaters of the Kalang River and the remaining areas of the headwaters of the Bellinger River not yet protected in National Park or Nature Reserve.
5. Advocates in support of the Headwaters Nature Reserve proposal with the NSW Premier, The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, the NSW Environment Minister, The Hon Matt Kean and with our local State MP and Minister for Water, The Hon. Melinda Pavey.