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.
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).
It is the bigger and older trees that provide resources in the abundance required by numerous animals. It may take a tree one or two decades before they begin to flower and set seed, which they produce in increasing abundance as they mature. Numerous species of invertebrates, many birds, and a variety of mammals feed on these flowers and seeds. As they mature their trunks and leaves also exude a variety of sweet substances used by many species. Invertebrates harbour within their rough and shedding bark where they are eagerly sought out for food. Yellow-bellied and Squirrel Gliders chew channels through their bark to tap trees for sap. As the trunks and branches thicken the trees provide more stable nesting and roosting sites, while enabling Koalas to hug them on hot days to keep cool.
Once a eucalypt tree is over 120-180 years old they may start to develop hollows in their branches and trunks. In NSW at least 46 mammals, 81 birds, 31 reptiles and 16 frogs, are reliant on tree hollows for shelter and nests. As the trees get bigger so do their hollows, and it may not be until they are over 220 years old that they develop hollows big enough for the largest species. Most eucalypts may only live for 300-500 years, though some are reputed to live for over 1,000 years (see The Importance of Old Trees).
photo: Dailan Pugh OAM
Crown of a Sydney Blue Gum (Koreelah SF) hundreds of years old showing the numerous broken branches and large hollows necessary for large-hollow dependent fauna
Natural forests may support 13–27 hollow-bearing trees per hectare, with numbers varying between species, and increasing on more productive, moister and flatter sites. On agricultural lands the numbers of hollow-bearing trees have been drastically reduced. Similarly they have been significantly reduced throughout the remnant forests by logging, prescribed burning and by culling in Timber Stand Improvement operations.
In State forests in north-east NSW logging prescriptions now require the retention of an average of 5 hollow-bearing trees per hectare within logging areas, though numbers have already been reduced below this level in many forests. Where retained, hollow-bearing trees continue to decline with each logging due to token implementation of prescriptions, poor tree selection, inadequate protection, damage during logging and in post-logging burns, and lax enforcement. (see Protecting Habitat Trees)
Natural forests are generally multi-aged, so that as existing hollow-bearing trees die and collapse there are new trees with developing hollows to replace them (see The Importance of Old Trees). To account for this, logging prescriptions require the retention of an additional 5 sound and healthy mature trees per hectare as recruitment trees to be able to develop into the hollow-bearing trees of the future. Trees meeting this definition are also high-quality sawlogs so the Forestry Corporation go to extremes to avoid their obligations to protect them. This up and coming cohort of future hollow bearing trees is rapidly declining due to natural mortality and logging, along with token implementation of prescriptions, poor tree selection, inadequate protection, damage during logging and in post-logging burns, and lax enforcement . (see Protecting Habitat Trees)
If we are to minimise the hiatus in the availability of hollows for a plethora of native species we must act now to protect, as far as possible, all large old trees, along with sufficient recruitment habit trees to replace existing hollow-bearing trees as they die and to restore hollow-bearing trees throughout native forests.
The North East Forest Alliance was formed in 1989 as an alliance of groups and individuals from throughout north-east NSW, with the principal aims of protecting rainforest, oldgrowth, wilderness and threatened species. NEFA has pursued these goals through forest blockades, rallies, court cases, submissions, lobbying, and protracted negotiations.
After our second blockade of North Washpool and a court case we stopped logging of mapped rainforest on public lands in 1990. We managed to get rainforest more fully mapped and protected during forest negotiations from 1995-98. (see A Short History of Reserves in North East NSW)
After a blockade and court case over Chaelundi in 1990, and promises of more to come, we forced the NSW Government to establish moratorium over some 180,000 ha of oldgrowth forest until EISs were prepared. We managed to get oldgrowth mapped during forest negotiations from 1995-98, with mapped “high conservation value” oldgrowth protected. In 2003 we had protection extended to cover all mapped oldgrowth stands over 10ha on public land. Wilderness on public land was also protected as part of that process. (see A Short History of Reserves in North East NSW)
After our second and biggest blockade at Chaelundi in 1991, and another court case, we were successful in getting NSW’s first threatened species legislation, the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. It took many more blockades, submissions and negotiations to get requirements for fauna and flora surveys and a comprehensive set of prescriptions for public land in 1996-9. Unfortunately they remain inadequate and poorly applied. (see The Battle to Protect Threatened Species)
It took NEFA’s 1992 blockade of a logging operation at Killekrankie in the New England Wilderness to halt horrendous logging and roadworks that were causing massive erosion, and a threatened court case, to force the Government to agree to adopt Pollution Control Licences for State Forests’ operations. Though a comprehensive suite of prescriptions to reduce erosion and protect streams wasn’t finally applied on public lands until 1996-9. Inadequate as they are, the Forestry Corporation was successful in having over 90% of their operations exempted in 2004. (see The Battle to Protect Soils and Streams)
For north east NSW, NEFA were also instrumental in getting the area of national parks and other conservation reserves increased from 968,335ha in 1989 to 2,033,227ha in 2011, an increase of 1,064,892 ha or 110%, with most of this being protected over the period 1995 to 2004. In addition to this, 311,615 ha of State Forest was incorporated into Forest Management Zones (FMZ 1, 2, and 3A) and Special Management Zones which are counted as contributing to the reserve system and protected from logging, bringing the total protected from logging to 1,376,507ha. The proportion of north-east NSW’s land area in reserves has increased from 10% in 1989 to 21% in 2011, with an additional 3% protected from logging in management zones. . (see A Short History of Reserves in North East NSW)
There is still a lot to do, north east NSW still does not have an adequate reserve system, attempts to implement ecologically sustainable forestry have failed, forests are being over-logged, weeds and dieback are being spread through our forests, and their carbon stocks depleted.
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