Ashley Love, a forest campaigner with the Bellingen Environment Centre, said the need to carve out protection of the habitat had only increased following the past season’s bushfires, which scorched five of the 10 focus areas and part of two others.
“Surviving koalas within the burnt areas are in urgent need of protection to allow them to recover, while those in unburnt areas are essential to repopulate the burnt areas,” Mr Love said.
“There’s a plethora of other biodiversity values there of course”, such as the Hastings River Mouse – which had 85 per cent of its known range burnt out – the greater glider and forest owls, he said.
Conservationists want the government to impose a moratorium on logging in those 10 regions given they had been identified was important sanctuaries.
Minister Kean said koalas were “an iconic Australian animal” and “around the world, they symbolised the loss and damage to our natural environment from last summer’s fires”.
“The NSW government takes this seriously, that is why we have made the biggest financial commitment of any state for koala protection of $44.7 million,” he said. “[E]specially after the fires, it is also important that we make sure that we have the right protections for koalas and their habitat.”
Mr Kean did not comment on whether he supported a logging halt.
“We have always believed a Great Koala National Park is one of the very best ways of saving the species,” Chris Gambian, Nature Conservation Council’s chief executive, said. “Now it appears the government’s experts agree with us.”
“Best of all, their analysis shows it can be done with minimal disruption to forestry and timber supply, so it’s a win-win,” Mr Gambian said. “The bushfires killed thousands of koalas and turned millions of hectares of forest to ash, so the government needs to act urgently to make this proposal a reality.”
Mr Love said the government’s own assessment had excluded many sites by requiring that the impact on wood supply would be minimised. It also narrowed the study by prioritising areas of existing national parks that could either to link together or have their boundaries extended to include koala habitat.
“We want a detailed socio-economic study of the Great Koala National Park and the jobs that flow from it,” Mr Love said. “They’ve completely missed the eco-tourism potential of the region.”
The Bellingen Environment Centre is currently working with other groups to develop an international standard coast-to-escarpment trail that would lure visitors for multi-day walks.
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.