The more than two decades of campaigning for the South Coast forests of NSW has produced one of the best outcomes for forest protection in the country. With the addition of so many "icon" high conservation value forest areas to the national park estate, the South Coast now boasts the most comprehensively protected forest region in Australia.
In the lead-up to the NSW Southern Forest Agreement (signed in April this year), NPA and fifteen other conservation groups (most of which were local community groups defending their local forests) faced a logging industry and Federal Government who were pushing hard for significant increases in logging and woodchipping levels in the South Coast forests. In the face of this intense pressure from corporate woodchipping giant Daishowa, local sawmills and Federal Forestry Minister Wilson Tuckey, the community campaign allowed Premier Bob Carr to finally provide a decision that saw the region’s 370,000 hectares of State forests more than halve in size, with around 200,000 ha being added to national park.
The national park estate increased by over 60%, and now covers 70% of public land in the South Coast region. As most forests on the South Coast are on public land, this area will have the best protected forests of any region in Australia. The South Coast now has around 550,000 ha of national parks (compared to 340,000 ha before the decision). State forests have been reduced to around 170,000 ha, just 20% (or thereabouts) of South Coast public land.
This national park expansion has filled in the last remaining gaps in what is now a continuous chain of national parks stretching for 320 kilometres along the eastern escarpment from Macquarie Pass (near Kangaroo Valley) to Coopracambra National Park in Victoria’s East Gippsland. With these new national parks, the South Coast gives fairly comprehensive protection to a fifth of Australia’s vertebrate animal species – including 270 birds, 72 mammals, 40 reptiles and 22 frogs.
This includes sixty threatened species, such as the southern brown bandicoot, green and golden bell frog, glossy black cockatoo, yellow-bellied glider and sooty owl. The long-term protection of these species has been facilitated by the creation of three corridors from the escarpment to the coast, through the Greater Conjola, Croobyar/Five Lakes, and the Peak Alone-Wandella/Dignams Creek community reserve proposals, all of which will be new national parks.
What we won
The environment movement proposed fifteen community reserve proposals, along with a major catchment protection area for the remainder of the Clyde River catchment and two wildlife corridors. Thirteen of these proposals had at least a substantial part of their area included; three of these were fully protected and another three were almost entirely protected. Both wildlife corridors were partly protected, but the proposed major catchment protection area for the Clyde catchment was only partially successful. Some highlights are detailed below.
One of the most significant gains was the full protection of the Greater Murramarang community reserve proposal, adding around 10,000 ha to Murramarang NP, which runs along the coast between Batemans Bay and Bawley Point. This formerly thin coastal park has been extended along its full length inland to the Princes Highway, by the inclusion of Kioloa and eastern Benandarah State forests.
All of Conjola State Forest and links west to Morton NP will now be in reserves (an addition of almost 7,000 ha), which will see the conclusion of a long-standing community campaign for the forests around Bendalong, Manyana and Sussex Inlet. All of Woodburn and most of Termeil State forests will see the remaining coast in between Murramarang and Conjola included in Meroo NP (an addition of 3,400 ha), and connected to Morton NP through the protection of all of Croobyar State Forest. With these areas being reserved, now most public land (and all State forests) east of the Princes Highway, from Batemans Bay to Sussex Inlet, will be in national park.
Another significant gain was the protection of most of the Monga-Buckenbowra community reserve proposal, lying on the eastern escarpment next to Clyde Mountain, with the addition of 25,000 ha to national park. Now all the forested land along the southern side of the Kings Highway, between Braidwood and just west of Nelligen, will be protected, all the way south to the Araluen Valley. This new national park – to be called Mongarlowe National Park – fills in the major gap in the eastern escarpment national park system.
Large areas of wilderness in the Greater Deua community reserve proposal will be protected – in Dampier State Forest (inland from Moruya), the long-standing wilderness icon of Georges Creek will be added to Deua NP, along with part of the upper Deua River catchment and large areas of Buckyjumba and Donalds creeks. In total, new areas to be added to Deua NP comprise 20,000 ha.
All of the Dignams Creek community reserve proposal in Bodalla State Forest will be covered (25,000 ha), joining Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) and Wallaga Lake NP to Wadbilliga NP through parts of Wandella State Forest, which will also be protected.
The escarpment section of Badja State Forest (east of Cooma) will be added to national park, filling in the last gap in the escarpment national park chain. To this will also be added 20,000 ha of southern Tallaganda State Forest in the new Gourock NP.
Other gains include:
• large areas of northern Tallaganda State Forest;
• part of the Bimberamala River (Upper Clyde River) catchment east of Mount Budawang;
• areas linking Jervis Bay to Morton NP; and
• areas of State forest around the northern end of Morton NP near Moss Vale.
What we lost
Most of southern Badja State Forest and the rest of the upper Deua River catchment are identified wilderness which did not get protected (see also previous article). Badja and upper Deua are long-standing icon forest areas, with vast stands of giant old growth forest and threatened species habitat.
Peak Alone-Wandella, a hard-fought-for community icon, will have only parts protected, with old growth forests and important water supply areas left open for clearfell logging for woodchips (this area is now the closest forest in the South Coast to the Eden woodchip mill).
Part of Monga State Forest has been left open for logging, even though it contains giant old growth trees and ancient pinkwood (Eucryphia moorei) rainforest.
All the other forests of the South Coast – which under the government’s own assessment criteria are all of high conservation value – will be subject to the same level of logging as before the Southern Forest Agreement (but now based on a much smaller area), and woodchipping will continue unabated. These forests are also still under threat from "biomass burning" – woodchipping and burning forests for power generation under the guise of "green energy".
Thanks should be given to all the campaigners who worked tirelessly for this outcome, including many local conservation groups, who have fought so hard for these forests – some for 20 years or more. The campaign received tremendous support from the public – including within the South Coast local area – which ultimately was responsible for all the positive features in the decision.
I would like to pay special tribute to Noel Plumb, the then Executive Officer of NPA, for the tremendous leadership he displayed in the campaign to protect the forests of the South Coast. The many strengths he brought to this campaign, including crucial lobbying and negotiation skills and providing support for the many regional and local groups, was one of the critical factors which ensured the protection of over 200,000 ha of the State’s best forests.
Forests Campaigner with The Wilderness Society.