It is an unhappy coincidence that koalas and loggers like the same trees.
The hardwoods that grow the leaves that koalas love to munch are the same trees that are favoured for floorboards and furniture, and sadly, power poles and wood chips.
And right now, the balance seems to be tipping in favour of the latter.
Changes that the NSW government is proposing to the old growth maps – areas that are marked as having such important ecological values and irreplaceable old trees that they are off limits to the chainsaws and bulldozers – run the risk of wiping out thousands of hectares of these magnificent and special forests.
I visited the forests of the Kalang headwaters a few weeks ago and saw firsthand the trees that the NSW Government has marked out for logging.
These trees are plainly home to an extraordinary diversity of living things – koalas included – a fact that seems to have been missed when the Forestry Corporation conducted its mandatory pre-logging checks.
You don’t have to be a lifelong environmentalist to know in your guts that demolishing ancient forests is not right. We take enormous pride as Australians in our unique landscape. On this continent we have species that exist nowhere else on earth. Koalas, to be sure, which face extinction by 2050.
But don’t take my word for it. Stand in the Kalang headland and ask yourself if you’d be willing to sacrifice this forest, and the koalas that call it home, for the next supply of power poles for our suburbs. Ask yourself if the reams of photocopy paper – for memos no one will read – is a worthy yield from the life of a tree that cannot regrow in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, or their grandchildren’s.
Ask yourself if we are getting the balance right between our short-term economic needs and our long-term stewardship of this country.
None of this is to say that we should not have a strong timber industry. Ninety-one per cent of the timber that comes from NSW is sourced from plantations. There should be more of it. The timber industry should be able to provide good, well paid, safe jobs for regional communities. It doesn’t do that right now, but it could.
Our ancient forests store water, capture carbon, give us air, and support the biodiversity essential to human survival. Their protection isn’t a soft-hearted acquiescence to middle-class greenies from the cities. It is a recognition that, after more than 200 years of trying to tame this wide, brown land, it might be time to acknowledge that we are part of it and need to work with it.
If you care about koalas, you have to care about the trees they live in.
Chris Gambian is CEO of the NSW Nature Conservation Council. See www.nature.org.au