The majority of four state forests in the Bega Valley will be converted to flora reserves, which have similar protections to national parks.
The Murrah, Tanja and Mumbulla state forests will become reserves, as will the southern half of the Bermagui State Forest, totalling about 11,800ha of landscape.
The Forestry Corporation will retain ownership of these reserves, but they will be managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, with the conversion taking place in an attempt to protect the habitat of the last colony of koalas on the Far South Coast.
Only around 60 of the animals are estimated to remain in the forests.
On Tuesday, March 1, Member for Bega Andrew Constance and NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman visited the Bermagui State Forest to announce the change, stating flora reserves provide a protection that was similar to national parks and cannot be revoked except by an Act of Parliament.
Mr Constance said the forests were converted to flora reserves – which cannot be logged – instead of national parks, so in the future the option of harvesting them again could be considered.
Mr Speakman said the timber that would have come from these regions for the Eden mill will instead be sourced from Batemans Bay Forestry Corporation zones, with $2.5million in subsidies provided by the Environmental Trust to assist this move.
“We’ve managed to have a win-win, protecting 25 threatened species and the habitat of the last population of koalas on the Far South Coast in a way that guarantees wood supply and local timber jobs in Eden,” he said.
“The local Aboriginal community will also be invited for their input in managing the flora reserves.”
Mr Constance said the Environmental Trust’s grant would protect jobs in the timber industry, which directly employs 278 people in the Bega Valley, and remove any uncertainty the industry had about wood supply in the southern region.
“We are better off using locally sourced wood than imported product,” he said.
National Parks and Wildlife Service deputy chief executive Michael Wright, who also visited the Bermagui State Forest, was pleased with the conversion.
“It means we can manage in an integrated way across the landscape,” he said.
“This is important for fire management, pest and weed management, as well as working to improve the habitat for the koala.”
Senior threatened species officer with the Office of Environment and Heritage Chris Allen said the koala population in the Far South Coast was small and widely scattered.
“[The conversion] is a good outcome for these forests,” he said.