Action to save Newry State Forest from logging

Diverse Koala habitat and feed trees in Newry State Forest (Image: John Bennett)
Diverse Koala habitat and feed trees in Newry State Forest (Image: John Bennett)

A town meeting about intensive logging scheduled for Newry State Forest is on tonight in Bellingen.

The meeting will be held at Sourced Salvaged Studio on Hyde St (Carl Foster's garage) from 6.30pm.

There will also be music from 6pm and at the close, from Joe Newton and Rhiannon Bright. Chai, coffee and food will be available.

Thirteen compartments of Newry State Forest and Little Newry State Forest are scheduled for intensive logging. According to conservation group Forest Ecology Alliance (FEA), Forestry Corporation of NSW have not yet released specific information such as ecology studies, soil reports or logging commencement dates.

FEA have conducted ecological surveys in the scheduled compartments for the past six months.

"Newry State Forest is extraordinarily diverse and has high conservation value," said FEA member Deanna Markovina.

"Three of the large compartments recently acquired by FC were once managed by a local sawmill operator who only removed saw logs occasionally. Trees that are unusual for this latitude, for example two species of Angophora - crostata and floribunda, are thriving alongside many other giant trees such as Coachwood or Ironbark. Some Blackbutt trees measure up to eight metres in diameter. We need to protect this flourishing forest so the tall and emerging trees can continue to actively store carbon."

There are concerns that logging of the steep slopes will cause soil erosion, potentially affecting regional waterways, businesses and properties.

Citizen scientists Mary Surman and koala expert John Pile with eight metre diameter Blackbutt (Image: Deanna Markovina)

Citizen scientists Mary Surman and koala expert John Pile with eight metre diameter Blackbutt (Image: Deanna Markovina)

"We have observed that the tree canopy and diversity of species improves beyond the previous historical level of logging further down the slope," said Conservation and Land Management bush regenerator Sally Cavanagh.

"The difficulty of reaching the older growth of forest in the past has resulted in the protection of this forest - allowing for richness of tree canopy and understory which supports more birds, reptiles and mammals. This forest is important habitat for the survival of remaining fire affected species."

Native orchid expert and FEA member Mark Daniels said current harvesting techniques cause great damage.

"Modern harvesting machinery is designed for fast clearfell intensive logging. Flora and fauna protection laws have diminished to the point that they are virtually irrelevant. They now allow logging in highly sensitive areas such as threatened species habitat, steep slopes and within five metres of exclusion zones. Fragmentation is responsible for escalating biodiversity loss and a causal factor for mega fires. We need 100 metre buffer zones to allow ecosystems to support old growth trees and riparian zones, or preferably leave this public native forest to grow older."

FEA have noted Bell miner overpopulation in at least one section of previously logged Newry State Forest, causing Bell miner Associated Dieback (BMAD) of affected trees and a devastating impact on birdlife. It is clear that Bell miner infestation will quickly escalate if further logging, canopy destruction and foliage clearance progresses down the steep slopes opening up areas to then be invaded by weeds such as lantana and vines, the first steps on the path to tree loss from BMAD. Currently across northern NSW more than 100,000 hectares have been affected by BMAD. We don't want more.

Newry State Forest is near Martells Rd, Brierfield

Newry State Forest is near Martells Rd, Brierfield

Two wider Forestry issues may also come into focus if Newry Forest is to be logged. First, it is possible that Newry Forest may be felled not for saw logs but to be burned to produce biofuel energy.

Second, it appears that Forestry Corporation of NSW has recently re-commenced aerial spraying of toxic herbicides after a moratorium on the practice in our region since 2015. This could have a devastating effect on local farms, waterways and properties and has caused the Bellingen Environment Centre to request an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) investigation.

As reported on 2BBB on Friday, while on an early morning trail run through Newry Forest, Miriam Verbeek was shocked to realise she was being doused with herbicide. It took her some time to realise she was caught in spray drift when she left the cover of trees, found herself in a clear-felled area and saw a helicopter with spray arms.

"I was furious there'd been no warning about spraying," Miriam said. "The only sign I saw was a small one tucked on the side of the trail and in the area that was being sprayed. I didn't notice any warning signs on the trail entrance to Newry Forest, which is the logical place to give warning to people."

Nambucca Valley Conservation Association member Lyn Orrego said the logging rules currently in place do not ensure koala protection.

"In effect, no specific koala surveys are required and even if found opportunistically they are not protected in logging zones. Under these rules, NSW Forestry Corporation only have to choose some small trees (down to 20cm diameter) to retain for koalas. This is a totally inadequate measure.

"Most of the Newry compartments coming up for logging are mapped by the State Government as high quality koala habitat, yet the same government is authorising its destruction and even subsiding it with taxpayer funds. And this when a recent poll (Ipsos) shows 71% of the community want the government to declare the proposed Great Koala National Park."

FEA are launching an online petition asking for an immediate cessation to all logging operations in Newry State Forest and time for wider community consultation and public perusal of Forestry Corporation of NSW reports. FEA would like to see this rare forest protected as a Nature Reserve for all to enjoy as a recreational zone.

FEA hosts regular public bush walks, picnics and other events in Newry State Forest and would like to encourage community members to enjoy COVID-conscious exercise in this peaceful, precious native forest.

Contact them on their Facebook page @forestecologyalliance or by email forestecologyalliance@gmail.com.