The push for a Great Koala National Park on the Mid North Coast was the talk of the Green’s Forest Forum on the weekend, but more importantly it was also discussed among representatives from Bellingen, Nambucca and Coffs City Councils last week.
On Thursday National Parks Association CEO Kevin Evans and Senior Scientific Officer, Oisin Sweeney, presented their case in the Bellingen Council chambers, garnering grass roots support for what would be the flagship of a suite of proposed koala reserves between Port Stephens and the Queensland border.
“We believe this park would be key to koala conservation and an international tourism draw card,” Mr Sweeney said.
“We are here because ultimately it is Local Government that is affected and we want to outline our proposal and start having the discussions about impacts on the community.”
He said the transition of affected forestry workers was a key point in their planning.
“There will be related jobs created in plantation forests and also the park itself.”
Mr Evans said strong Local Government support was important.
“We understand there would be a transition phase in the timber industry, which would be disruptive but we believe ultimately it would be win/win for everyone,” Mr Evans said.
“Those who oppose the idea can be reassured no-one is being locked out and tourism benefits to communities would be diverse.”
The pair said council representatives were enthusiastic but wanted to understand the scale of the park and the job transitions.
“They can now examine the proposal in detail and come back to us with more questions,” Mr Evans said.
Bellingen’s mayor, Dominic King, said he thought the park was a fantastic idea.
“The potential to protect biodiversity is huge as well as what this could offer in jobs, particularly for indigenous workers,” Cr King said.
“The logging practices in State Forests really worry me, because, as well as the impact on koala populations, I can see how the practice is drying out the forests, which is increasing the fire risks. This park is a way to start repairing those forests.”
He said the reported number of reported breaches by Forestry Corp and the minute fines applied were also concerning.
“I would like this initiative to lead to a real conversation about where shire timber is going and what it is being used for”
Nambucca Shire mayor Rhonda Hoban said she wanted more information about the impacts the park would have on neighbouring private land holders and also on the local timber industry.
“I want to know if the park have any impact on what people can do on neighbouring private land and also the economic impact of the loss of forestry in the Nambucca Valley,” Cr Hoban said.
The Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, has countered the push for the park, saying that according to an EPA report, koala populations are stable and not in crisis as some suggest.
The park will also reach into the Clarence and Kempsey local government areas at its extremes.