The allocation of Crown land for conservation dates back to 1866 in NSW, with the first National Park created in 1879. Since then it has been a slow and tedious process to construct an effective reserve system in north-east NSW. NEFA was instrumental in achieving a doubling of reserves (See: A Short History of Reserves in North East NSW).
Reserves have been established for recreation, scenic qualities, heritage values, and flora and fauna conservation. It has been community agitation that has been primarily responsible for public land being set aside for conservation, with destructive uses such as logging, mining and grazing generally excluded.
Vested interests have led the fight against reservation of crown land for conservation. Historically they were successful in largely limiting reserves to the least productive areas with limited commercial potential.
In 1992 the National Forest Policy committed all Australian Governments to establishing Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative reserve systems for forests based on explicit national reserve targets (See: CAR Reserves). This was meant to be a way forward to ensure that reserves encompassed representative samples of all ecosystems and species while being of adequate size to maintain viable populations of flora and fauna into the future.
The process leading to the 2000 Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) for North East NSW did result in a significant increase in the reserve system in north-east NSW based on sound data and targets. Though unfortunately politicians once again bowed to pressure from vested interests and intervened to stop the promised CAR reserve system from being established (See: CAR Reserves).
Despite north east NSW’s forests being one of Australia’s and the world’s biodiversity hotspots, the reform process still left us with one of the worst forest reserve systems in Australia, and many of the national reserve targets unmet. There remains an urgent need to expand north east NSW’s reserve system to achieve the basic requirements of a CAR reserve system, particularly in light of the accelerating impacts of climate change.
Due to the conservation of more productive lands in recent decades, the vested interests are now campaigning to have reserves opened up for logging and grazing. The pretence is that they need to be logged for “ecologically thinning” and grazed for fire protection.
Public land is a highly valued resource, providing the only natural areas for recreation for many local residents. Natural environments are also important components of the recreation and tourism industry and contribute significantly to attracting tourists to north east NSW in order to experience their landscapes and wildlife. Nature-based outdoor recreation is increasingly in demand as urbanization continues around the world.
National Parks make a significant contribution to regional economies and to nearby towns through direct tourist expenditure. The direct expenditure also leads to indirect impacts resulting from purchases from other sectors and induced impacts when workers spend income on goods and services. If tourism is appropriately managed the economic returns generated can be maintained over a long period of time for the benefit of a broad range of local businesses and residents.
As at 2010 the visitation to National Parks and reserves in north east NSW was estimated from a variety of sources as 9.4-10.8 million visits per year. This is an increase of over 250% in visitation since the Forest Reform process started in 1997. Expenditure associated with this visitation has been conservatively assessed as generating a business turnover of some $416-476 million and some 2,642-3,026 direct and indirect jobs in the regional economy. (see: Identifying the Recreational Value of Reserves)
The benefits to visitors can be measured in terms of consumer surplus,. which is how much a visitor is willing to pay above the price currently determined by market forces The consumer surplus of north east NSW’s National Parks is estimated as some $348-399 million.
It is evident that the creation of reserves in the Forest Reform process has been of significant economic benefit to the residents of north-east NSW.
North-east NSW has internationally significant conservation values that single it out as one of the world's strongholds of biodiversity. Its high diversity of threatened species, large number of endemic species, significant populations of species which have declined elsewhere in Australia and importance for migratory fauna, identify it as one of Australia's major refuge areas with the best ability to maintain Australia's declining biodiversity. (see Natural Values of North East NSW)
The global significance of the region’s forests has been recognised by the inclusion of many of its forests on the World Heritage List as the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and the assessment that extensive additional areas of rainforests and the region’s diverse eucalypt forests also qualify. (see World Heritage)
Around half North East NSW’s forests have been cleared, and over two thirds of those remaining significantly disturbed, with those on floodplains and more productive sites very severely affected. They support a multitude of species threatened with extinction, with clearing, logging, grazing and climate change being the principal threats to their survival. These threats need to be redressed (see Logging Prescriptions).