Across the entire Bellingen Shire it seems everyone has an opinion about the Forestry Department’s impending logging of the Kalang Headwaters. Rumours are flying around and common misnomers are boldly being expressed on social media posts.
So it is time for the facts. What is happening and why? Who is benefiting? How will our Shire be impacted as a whole if this logging proceeds?
We interviewed local ecologist and environmental scientist Mark Graham to get the cold, hard truth. Mark has a degree in Applied Science from SCU Lismore. Since this time he has been researching and learning from the north coast environment. From endangered frog research in the Tweed Valley, to conservation assessments and wetlands work for National Parks in Coffs to being the Manager of Natural Resources of the Coffs Harbour City Council, Mark has dedicated his career to the land. These days Mark works for the Nature Conservation Council as an ecologist. Mark has also been an elected Councillor of Coffs Harbour Council, so has a diverse perspective on the operations and the governance in the forestry arena.
“I have walked the escarpment from Bundagen to Dorrigo multiple times- right across the mountain range. I’m connected to this part of the world in a spiritual sense. This is my homeland,” says Mark.
Is the area designated for proposed logging at the Kalang Headwaters state forest plantation?
Absolutely not. All the forests at the Headwater of the Kalang are native forests. Some are old growth forests that haven’t been disturbed previously by logging. Most of the forests are mature forests, which mean they have’t been logged for decades. The forest there is valuable to wildlife and if these regions are left alone and allowed to develop, their value only increases. These values include carbon storage, the provision of abundant clean water and habitat for our threatened and declining native species.
Forestry has declared they won’t be logging rain forest, old growth or steep slopes. This isn’t true. If logging happens in the Kalang River headwaters there will be massive impacts on rainforest, old growth and steep slopes because the proposed logging operations will remove and degrade mature, high conservation value forests. This will remove important wildlife corridors, turn healthy weed-free forests into a weedy mess, while exposing sensitive rainforests and streams to sedimentation and fire.
What is witnessed and documented these days across the North Coast is industrial clear fell by the Forestry Corporation and their contractors. Effectively the mature forest will be vaporised and the health of the Kalang River will be compromised.
So what happens environmentally at the site of logging if these mature forests are logged?
Logging will truncate the process of forest development. For example, tree hollows (ie cavities in the eucalypts) are the most valuable element of native forests to our native wildlife. Tree hollows take many decades to form and the largest hollows take centuries to form. Owls, possums, gliders, quolls, lizards, frogs and invertebrates all depend on the tree hollows in larger, old growth forests. Once the hollows are removed, these creatures simply can’t live there. There is effective extinction of hollow-dependent species.
Only recently a spotted quoll living in the forest at the Kalang Headwaters has been identified and videoed. And this is just one of the multitude of rare and irreplaceable animals and plants living in this region. We can’t allow the habitat of such precious, endangered species to be compromised.
The large stretches of forest provide wildlife corridors. The wildlife move throughout these corridors and rely on this for feeding, breeding and their homes. If the 16 consecutive compartments of the forest are logged as proposed, the wildlife all the way to the Dorrigo Plateau and along the Great Escarpment will be adversely impacted.
The soils in this region are unstable and prone to erosion. Machinery and clear felling will result in erosion and increased silt into the feeder creeks to the Kalang River, with direct impact on the health of the river system.
How do the forests affect our climate?
Healthy forests serve to generate rain and moderate conditions. During transpiration, aerial parts of the plants lose water as a water vapor during photosynthesis. This water is then added to the normal moisture of the air making the air saturated faster, resulting in rain. Put simply, our forests create rainfall and function like a big natural air conditioner. We have been through two unprecedented hot summers. Whether we like it or not, things are getting hotter. If we want a tolerable climate, the forests are our best insurance policy against heatwaves. And it is the entire Bellingen Shire- even into the Dorrigo escarpment that will see the climate effects if this proposed logging proceeds.
To halt the effects of climate change, we need to draw carbon down out of the atmosphere. Growing forests do this by locking it up as biomass (organic matter). Sorry folks- there isn’t a machine to do this. Carbon capture and storage is still a pipe dream after many decades of development. Forests are our best bet of capturing carbon and storing it. Mature and old-growth forests on the North Coast of NSW are amongst the most carbon-rich on the planet. We have a massive carbon bank at the top of the Kalang Valley and the Forestry Corporation wants to rob us of it.
More widely, how can this proposed logging impact our Shire.
The natural assets of this region underpin the economy of the Bellingen Shire through tourism, agriculture, fisheries, water security, water quality and employment. If these natural assets are eroded or negatively impacted, this will impact everyone in the region. But residents could feel the impact to our roads immediately and most acutely.
Logging trucks do significant damage. We have already seen this with State Forest operations. And damage creates hazards for drivers. The Bellingen Shire ratepayers will wear the cost of this through repair bills and increased dangers for drivers.
How exactly could agriculture be impacted?
We have a growing local food industry. There are agricultural enterprises along the river system that depend on the water security and fertility provided by the forests at the headwaters of the Kalang. If the ‘sponge’ is lost, those industries won’t have the same resource availability, with a possible reduction in economic viability. If you don’t have enough water- you can’t produce.
How would logging at the Headwaters of the Kalang affect fisheries?
The forests at the Headwaters keep the catchment healthy with abundant water. But they also contribute a healthy organic input into the waterways, which drive fisheries productivity downstream. The healthy organic matter provides food for the water bugs, then crustaceans and then fish, all the way to the coast. So our oyster farmers and commercial and recreational fishing also depend on a healthy input at the headwaters.
Our oyster farmers have already experienced the ravages of poor water quality issues in the past. They are not going to want disruption to the volume and health of the water as a result of logging kilometers away.
And this isn’t just an issue for the rivers. 70% of our commercial fishing is driven by the estuaries, including the mangroves and salt marshes, which act as a nursery. All are dependent on a healthy system. These regions are prime breeding grounds, allowing fish to grow and become part of our fishing industry, worth tens of millions of dollars.
So who benefits from this logging?
Our State Govt entered into 20-year contracts via the Forestry Department to provide particular quotas of our native hardwoood forests to timber corporations, in particular Boral. However, these quotas are not sustainable – that is, there is much more timber being cut from our public forests than can be sustainably regrown. So the biggest problem is that contracts have been signed with private corporations for the provision of timber from publicly-owned native forests that doesn’t actually exist. So it is just quotas. And hence, the movement into regions like the Kalang headwaters, which simply should be left alone.
It is also critically important to consider that Forestry Corporation native forest logging division operates at a massive financial loss to taxpayers. The Forestry Corporation relies on the huge profits made from the logging of softwood (pine) plantations to offset these losses. And all the while we all pay.
So is there an alternative, economically viable option that could attract interest from decision makers at State Government level?
There is already a lot of interest surrounding the Great Koala National Park.
The Great Koala National Park (GKNP) would see 175,000ha of publicly owned state forests added to existing protected areas to form a 315,000ha reserve in the Coffs Harbour hinterland. It would be the flagship of a suite of proposed koala reserves between Port Stephens and the Qld border.
The GKNP is defined by the estimated boundaries of two koala metapopulations of national significance. A metapopulation is a group of smaller populations that exchange individuals on a periodic basis, and we know that metapopulation dynamics are important in maintaining local koala populations.
The Great Koala National Park would add another string to the bow of a region whose natural environment is the envy of the world. Tourism is essential to our survival in the Shire- let’s bring those looking for an unique, nature-based experience.
The GKNP is a social, environmental and economic initiative, that could provide a myriad of benefits to our community, environment and community. This could provide employment opportunities, while being a major nature-based tourism hub, thereby providing an economic stimulus to the region.