While most of us have been indoors, logging and mining projects have continued business as usual. Less restricted by protesters due to isolation laws, one of the few remaining forests left unburnt in New South Wales, Australia by the ferocious summer bushfires is now being logged.
After recovering from last summer’s extreme drought, the sacred Indigenous Gumbaynggirr territory — otherwise known as Nambucca State Forest — is now set for 20 hectares of logging to make room for 180 housing lots. Locals have been protesting against the development, who are concerned about what the additional logging will mean for endangered species, who have taken refuge in the forest after Australia’s bushfires.
“These forests and the animals that live in them are sacred to the Gumbaynggirr people.”
The development was paused to allow for discussions, but quickly recommenced with NSW planning minister Rob Stokes saying the developer showed “no indication… that they are willing to further delay the start of work on this project.” The local Manyana community group are now urging federal environmental minister Sussan Ley, to assess the development under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act based on the presence of endangered species. Species that inhabit the forest, like the koala, sooty owl, grey-headed flying fox, little bent-wing bat and the yellow-bellied glider were all considered threatened species even before last summer’s bushfires.
These forests and the animals that live in them are sacred to the Gumbaynggirr people and their connection to the land runs deep. “It would be a disaster and a disgrace to see some of our totemic animals like the koala disappear for motives of greed,” says Gumbaynggirr spokesperson, Micklo Jarrett. There’s wide concern that Nambucca State Forest might be one of the last remaining habitats for the endangered koala, which aside from being crucial for biodiversity, holds cultural and historical significance for the Gumbaynggirr people. “The ancestral beings gave us our lore, our culture, and taught us how to live in harmony with the land,” shares Jarrett “Everything was precious – we needed these places to survive. If they keep going like this we won’t have forest left. This forest needs to be a sanctuary for our people and other animals.”
“Our koalas and endangered species will literally have nowhere else to go.”
Gumbaynggirr custodian Sandy Greenwood has been part of the Gumbaynggirr embassy camp, recently established to draw attention to logging of native forests for low-grade timber uses like wood chip and paper. “The NSW Forestry Corporation has been given the permission to log 140,000 hectares of coastal forests from Taree to Grafton, which they refer to as “intensive harvesting zones. If we don’t act now, our deeply significant cultural heritage will be desecrated, our beautiful old growth trees will be logged, rare flora will become extinct and our koalas and endangered species will literally have nowhere else to go.”
The old growth trees Sandy mentions are prolific in Nambucca and are crucial for combating climate change. Since these ancient forests have been storing carbon for centuries, they expel a significant amount of carbon when cut down. In the US Pacific Northwest and Russia alone, old growth forests are responsible for storing 8 to 20 percent of the world’s carbon. Australia’s temperate Eucalyptus forests in particular store immense amounts of carbon, sequestering up to 2,844 metric tons of CO2 per hectare. The primary way to combat climate change before sequestering carbon, is to keep it in the ground. For this reason, preserving the remaining 10 percent of old growth forests left in the world is crucial to keeping carbon levels low.
Old growth forests are also vital for sustaining biodiversity. After examining 138 scientific studies across 28 tropical countries, Luke Gibson of the National University of Singapore and Tien Ming Lee of the University of California at San Diego found consistently that biodiversity levels were substantially lower in disturbed forests. “There’s no substitute for primary forests,” said Gibson in a statement. “All major forms of disturbance invariably reduce biodiversity in tropical forests.”
Logging native forests also increases the risk of bushfires, which we began to see during last summer’s record breaking fires. Logging leaves up to 450 tonnes of debris per hectare, which increases a fire’s fuel load and also changes the composition of the forest, creating dense areas of young, similar aged trees and fewer wet species like tree ferns. “Logging takes away big trees and allows wind and sunlight into the system,” shares co-author Professor James Watson, a conservation scientist at the University of Queensland. “As a consequence these areas become far drier, and because you have removed the tall trees, lots of young saplings have come up and they’re very flammable.”
“We want to protect this forest as a cultural heritage park, a national one, for us all to enjoy.”
The Gumbaynggirr people are calling on the NSW Government to establish a new cultural heritage area that will safeguard cultural sites and endangered species, protect water catchments and boost local jobs in land management and tourism. “I would like to see the Nambucca State Forest made into a national cultural heritage park sustaining our ancient culture and natural habitats for future generations and creating culturally empowering and environmentally sustainable jobs,” shares Sandy. “We want to protect this forest as a cultural heritage park, a national one, for us all to enjoy. The time to act is now – we will save our forests.”
How you can help:
1. Write to Nationals MP Melinda Pavey and NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean. You’ll find out more on how to do this here.
3. Raise awareness. Share this article on Facebook or Instagram urging people to write to their MPs too.