The Great Koala National Park
By Sue Ferris and Dominic King, Bellingen Greens
The Greens-led Bellingen Council have been seeking community input and feedback on a variety of plans, all of which drive the work of Council. That input has given Council the confidence to be an active and vocal supporter of the establishment of the Great Koala National Park.
Bellingen Council has developed a Strategic Planning Statement – 2020-2040, in which People of the Gumbaynggirr language have described their vision for Bellingen as:
A place where there is genuine respect for the land and the original people of this country. A place where the ancestors’ way of holding country is recognised. A place where there is respect for custodial people who carry this tradition today and for Elders and the children of the future. A place where we all walk together, where we can all be here in harmony with the land and all life. The land around here has a great capacity to do that, to heal … in a way that’s not separating.
Bellingen Council has also developed a Biodiversity Strategy, in which the people of Bellingen have a vision:
We are a community that values, protects, conserves and enhances natural areas and biodiversity in unique coastal, river and plateau environments.
Mayor Dominic King is keen to make Bellingen shire the leading biodiversity-conservation shire in Australia by 2040. Under the leadership of Dominic, the shire is working on this impressive project, which will effectively address many of our current local issues.
Our four founding principles guide all our actions, policies and decision-making.
A leading project that is encompassed within the Biodiversity Strategy, and that will help achieve that vision, is the Great Koala National Park (GKNP).
What underpins this vision?
1) Koalas are now listed as Vulnerable to Extinction. As approximately 50 per cent of koalas in NSW are found in north-eastern NSW, it makes sense to safeguard this part of their range.
2) Knowledge that biodiversity in all its forms determines the quality of life (fresh water, food, health and fitness) for us, all wildlife and our shared habitat.
3) Some of the known threats are:
▲ Logging: studies show that logging increases the severity at which bushfires burn. High-severity fires occur noticeably more often in forest-stands which are 7-36 years old; older-growth forests are more resistant. The GKNP will become more resistant to wildfires as it matures.
▲ Clearing (especially clear-felling) reduces the environment’s capacity for carbon-sequestering, increasing the risk of bushfire and the consequent loss of precious biodiversity (reduced water quality, loss of older hollow-bearing trees, weed infestation, and soil degradation.)
▲ Fragmentation of forest-habitat from logging is seriously threatening the lives of our iconic koala, along with many other vulnerable species.
How will the Great Koala National Park help tackle these problems?
The Bellingen Shire Council led the funding of an economic study by local councils and Destination North Coast. Working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Newcastle, the implementation of this proposal will achieve the following outcomes over its first 15 years:
▲ the creation of 9,800 full-time local jobs (involving 330m in additional wages)
▲ opportunities for First Nations peoples to have meaningful employment on Country
▲ the attraction of $145m capital-expenditure investment locally
▲ provision of $128m in operational expenditure
▲ generation of 1 million more visitors, increasing local business revenue by $412m, and
▲ generation of a further $1.26b in regional economic output, of which $531m will flow into the regional economy.
Alongside these economic benefits, the GKNP will:
▲ conserve enough forest habitat, with some corridor inclusion, for wildlife and flora diversity to survive and flourish
▲ provide healthy, outdoor engagement with nature for locals and tourists
▲ deliver opportunities for closer connection with wildlife, and
▲ be the perfect opportunity for children of all ages to experience the natural world – offering better prospects for future survival.
Ironically, because the Bellingen region survived the 2019-20 wildfire season relatively intact, it is an increased target for the Forestry Corporation’s legal, but unsustainable logging of native forests. Logging of native forests is already happening in the Bellingen region, and is exposing it to greater risk of fire damage and the consequent loss of already vulnerable biodiversity.
The case for the GKNP is powerful, and our Mayor and Council are working in close collaboration with NSW National Parks Association, Bellingen Environment Centre and Greens NSW, with a strong commitment and conviction that they can see the GKNP developed. We, the residents in Bellingen, are passionate about this project, and proud of our team of councillors committed to fulfilling this vision.