Vandalism in Wonga Forest

Behind the cemetery in north Bellingen is an easily accessed little haven of tall trees and fire trails known as Wonga Forest.

Frequented by locals walking their dogs and kids riding bikes, it's also an important part of the koala corridor that links Bongil Bongil National Park to Bindarri and Dorrigo National Parks.

Several years ago the late Pia Dollmann, a Bellingen environmentalist, encouraged Forestry NSW to set aside this 20-hectare compartment of Tuckers Nob SF for wildlife and public recreation, and since then Forestry and Landcare have been jointly engaged in regenerating the area by removing woody weeds and planting hundreds of koala feed trees.

But people who walk through Wonga Forest regularly and community volunteers who have spent many Sundays rehabilitating it are feeling dismayed and angry about the vandalism that's been occurring in the forest of late.

Chris Ormond, who helps coordinate Friends of Wonga Forest, said he's been noticing damage for the last few months.

"There's quite a few trees being cut down. Lots of eucalypts and also forest oaks, which are food trees for the Glossy Black Cockatoo.

"And they've actually been taking the stakes and plastic cages off the trees that our Landcare group has planted and burning them.

"They seem to be just making random little fires, which could be very dangerous now we're coming into the fire season."

Alison Heeley, who lives near the cemetery and often walks through the forest, posted a set of over 140 geotagged photos on the Bellingen Facebook page last week showing small trees cut down or randomly slashed.

"At least some of the damage appears to be related to the increasing number of bike tracks that are being constructed throughout this forest," she said, noting that sections of cut down trees were being used for jumps nearby.

"It's such a beautiful area and I feel so grateful for all the work that Landcare has put into it."

Her son Aydan, 22, helped her document the extent of the new tracks, the rubbish left behind, the trees either graffitied, felled or left with sections of bark hacked off.

"So many of the trees are hacked into, for no apparent reason apart from just destruction. To me it reeks of disrespect," Alison said.

She tried flagging the problem with various agencies, including Bellingen Shire Council, National Parks & Wildlife, and the NSW Biodiversity and Conservation Department, but kept being told it didn't fall under their jurisdiction.

When she informed the police, she was told that the organisation responsible for the area would need to make the complaint.

The Courier-Sun contacted Forestry Corporation of NSW, who said they had not previously been notified of damage in this location. "Now that we are aware of it, we will look into the matter in liaison with the local Landcare group," a spokesperson said.

Chris Ormond said when the dedicated bike trail and jumps were initially set up off the Wonga Trail behind the t-intersection with the eastern entrance, about six to eight months ago, he was fine with that.

"But now, it seems like people are really going pretty wild on it. It's changed, it's ratcheted up massively and they're going all the way through the forest to all these other places as well."

He doesn't think the new tracks are being made by older teens riding trail bikes, he thinks it's about younger kids on push bikes.

"Trail bike riders have all of the forestry trails throughout the whole shire to ride on. They can't go very fast on those little bendy tracks [in Wonga Forest]. It's not somewhere that they would want to ride, to be honest."

Asked what he thought Forestry might be able to do to stop the damage that's been occurring, Chris suggested the installation of surveillance cameras.

"That's what I've been thinking about asking them to do," he said. "It seems to deter."

Before Pia died last year, she'd been negotiating with Forestry to have a shelter shed and picnic table put in Wonga Forest.

"But there's no point putting it up if it's just going to get burned down," Chris said.

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