Deadline for koala concerns

Farmers make voices heard over new Koala plan

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Mick Moorhead with his wife Sue and mother Victoria will be directly affected by changes to state environment planning policy, with new maps declaring koalas are everywhere, when they're not.

Mick Moorhead with his wife Sue and mother Victoria will be directly affected by changes to state environment planning policy, with new maps declaring koalas are everywhere, when they're not.

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Koala habitat protection policy adds another layer of bureaucracy over primary production. Deadline for public comment is March 30.

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A new state environmental planning policy (SEPP) designed to protect core koala habitat will have the unintended effect of endangering the livelihood of farmers, particularly those who, alongside livestock production, rely on the bush for an income.

As a result, there is a strong push from NSW Farmers to take rural zoned lands plus private native forestry out of the equation.

Tenterfield farmer and NSW Farmers' delegate Bronwyn Petrie points out that the new SEPP has been gazetted before maps and guidelines were produced. Now these maps cannot be changed although the public can still comment on the draft guidelines until March 30.

Meanwhile, the maps are showing habitat over houses, sheds and irrigation channels.

"These are not the same maps that were created under the new Native Vegetation Act which can be ground truthed," she said.

"The Koala Habitat Protection SEPP has the potential to exclude Local Land Services native vegetation control through the creation of e-zones with far more restrictions and control by councils and the Department of Planning. It might be suitable for urban areas but not rural lands.

"I think this SEPP will be used as a backdoor way of undermining government native vegetation reforms."

Unless private native forestry is taken out of the new SEPP, producers like Mick Moorhead, Baryulgil Pastoral Company on the Upper Clarence, will find their way of livelihood under threat as his dual income stream involves the careful and selective harvest of mature logs from private forest.

This forest has been managed by five generations of the family for production and biodiversity.

"I do most of the felling and I take a close look at where it is going and try to place the tree where it will have the least impact as possible. I look up at the canopy and judge its weight, to figure out where it will lean.

"I've never seen a koala but if there was one there I would notice it," Mr Moorhead said.

Logs are snigged out of the bush with a skidder and hauled out by a loader to a local family-owned mill. There was a time when logs were broken down on the property.

Baryulgil Pastoral Company's existing property vegetation plan, devised in 2009, is immune from any policy change as it was created before 2017, however, it is due to expire in four years time.

"Cattle prices are not buoyant all the time. Timber is crucial to our survival," said Mr Moorhead, whose own mother Victoria helped wield a swingsaw to cut railway sleepers from trees on their property after the devastating cattle crash in 1974.

At the core of the new policy are affected tree species, up from 10 in the previous SEPP 44 to 123, covering most eucalypts and extending to broadleaf paperpark.

Spatial mapping using algorithms designed by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's environment energy and science division has painted mapped areas of the state either pink - designating koala habitat, or blue, showing habitat connectivity.

Marengo Station manager Mick Kelsall, near Hernani, said he had never seen a koala on the property, despite spending plenty of time in the bush.

"And if it was assessed now they wouldn't find a thing. Everything's been burnt," he said.

Mr Kelsall was frustrated the Koala SEPP arrived on the quiet, with no obvious prior announcement, and offered up new maps that were clearly flawed.

"If we have core koala habitat we won't touch it, but to say a jacaranda tree in the middle of Grafton is habitat - are you kidding me? This policy paints most of NSW as koala habitat and to prove that is wrong I have to do the work. I have to pay to prove it wrong and that is a joke," he said.

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"If there's core habitat they need to identify it and we need to sit down and work out a plan. But let's be sensible about it.

"If we lock up private forest like national parks it will be a disaster. Look what happened last summer? The time to bring this in is not now, after we're just recovering from drought. At the moment farmers need to rebuild fences."

At Walgett, NSW Farmers' representative Cam Rowntree, Eurie Eurie, said he was confused by the new policy's over reliance of digital technology, and disappointed the new maps were clearly in error, having highlighted a Chinese elm growing in his garden.

"What does it mean?" he asked. "I've seen the maps - pink and blue - covering every available acre that is not cleared.

"They say all of that is potential habitat but I am 53 and have never seen a koala on this place.

"My mother is 80 and has never seen one."

Mr Gulaptis, Member for Clarence, responded to The Land's inquiry, saying: "I agree that the new koala SEPP is fundamentally flawed and needs considerable amendment".

"The advice I have received from the Deputy Premier's office earlier this month is that we will be seeking to decouple the Private Native Forests codes from the SEPP.

"I understand this approach was endorsed by Cabinet in December of last year. Commercial logging occurs outside the SEPP and the intention is to adopt the same approach for Private Native Forests.

"Furthermore the advice I received from the Deputy Premier was that there were flaws with the mapping which underpins the SEPP and consequently we will be using the old SEPP in the interim.

"I feel very confident that a more practical workable policy will be finally adopted; one that does protect koalas and one that allows rural businesses to continue to operate without undue impediments."

  • The deadline for comment on the draft Koala Habitat Protection SEPP is March 30.
  • View the new definitions of koala habitat at webmap.environment.nsw.gov.au
  • Make a submission at www.planning.nsw.gov.au/Policy-and-Legislation/Environment-and-Heritage/Koala-Habitat-Protection-SEPP
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