Australia’s proposed koala haven faces logging threat

By Cordelia Hsu and Jill Gralow

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Nestled in old eucalyptus forests in Australia’s New South Wales region, an estimated 15% of the state’s dwindling koala population is set to win some protection from as early as 2025, but environmentalists say that might be too late.

    To shore up the habitat of these iconic Australian animals, the state government plans to merge 315,000 hectares (1,216 sq miles) of national park and public forest land into the Great Koala National Park (GKNP), covering an area twice the size of London.

Environmentalists and local forest advocates warn that the best koala feed trees could be gone by the time the park about 500 km (310 miles) north of Sydney is enlarged, due to increased native forest logging in the area.

    “There’s been a massive expansion and intensification of logging in some of the most bio-diverse areas of the Great Koala National Park,” said local forest advocate Mark Graham while sitting on a stump surrounded by recently harvested trees.

    “The harm that’s done here will take a long time to repair, and in some respects, it might never repair.”

    The koala was classified as endangered in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory in 2022, with environmental groups estimating koalas could be extinct in the wild in New South Wales by 2050 if action wasn’t taken.

    According to Reuters calculations of data provided by the state’s Forestry Corporation, logging within the next six months inside the GKNP could roughly treble from levels seen in 2021-2022.

    Advocates and environmental groups want the state to ban logging in the entire proposed GKNP areas until plans are finalised. 

    “It doesn’t make sense,” said Stuart Blanch, an Australian conservation scientist from the World Wide Fund for Nature – Australia. “They should create the Great Koala National Park and while they do that, stop these koala feed trees being logged.”

    The state’s environment minister, Penny Sharpe, said the government was trying to get the GKNP in place as soon as possible, but cited a commitment to also work with the local community and industries.

    “We weren’t just going to press a stop, all together, straight away, without any plans for what happens with those communities and without a proper assessment of the forests,” Sharpe said.

    The state government said in September it halted logging in 106 koala hubs throughout state forests in the proposed park.

    These hubs, however, cover less than 5% of the forests being assessed for inclusion in the koala park.

    James Jooste, the CEO of Australian Forest Productions Association NSW, said the proposed park area is a key region for the logging industry.

“We can have both, a sustainable native forest industry and a Great Koala National Park,” he said.

(Reporting by Cordelia Hsu and Jill Gralow; Editing by Sonali Paul)