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Does the Pilliga really need another National Park? The region already has two – Mt Kaputar and the Warrumbungles, plus the Pilliga Nature Reserve.

The State Government has not ruled out the possibility, but countless lives remain in limbo.

Member for Barwon, Ian Slack-Smith, has called upon the Government several times to end the three-year suspense for his constituents, as they need to know what the future holds. Will their towns still be viable?

Leader of the NSW Nationals, Andrew Stoner, said they would continue to pressure the Government to make the right decision.

Many believe this decision was motivated by the State Government to buy Green votes during last year’s election. Spokespeople for Ministers Craig Knowles [Natural Resources], Bob Debus [Environment] and Ian Cohen [Greens] deny claim this was politically motivated.

A spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Gwydir, John
Anderson, said Mr Anderson is “extremely concerned about forestry workers
who work in the Pilliga and the way they’ve been treated by the Carr
Government. It’s appalling – that Government has no concern about the
livelihoods of people in the area. Mr Anderson can’t see the economic,
social or environmental rationale behind this decision, which has made for
the sake of a few green votes.”

Change of ownership poses the biggest threat to the timber industry, which has existed in the Pilliga for more than a century. The Government wants to lock up large areas of forest, which will decimate timber, apiary and mining industries.

“The Brigalow Belt South Bioregion, which takes in the Pilliga State Forest is a wealth of activity, conservation and communities. Hundreds of families rely on the Pilliga, and the Brigalow Belt, for their livelihoods and the Pilliga relies on them for its own health and maintenance,” says Mr Slack-Smith.

Mr Slack-Smith is concerned many sawmills will close down, especially Gwabegar, Gulargambone, Baradine and Mendooran. This, in turn, will affect larger towns such as Narrabri, Gunnedah and Coonabarabran.

Eric Rolls, author of A Million Wild Acres, said it was “absolutely absurd” to turn the Pilliga State Forest into a National Park. “A working forest is very important for koalas and barking owls as they need room to move. In fact, it would be enormously damaging turning a mill forest into a national park, as the cypress would come up in masses – a worthless waste of pine to grow.”

The white cypress pine from the Pilliga is approximately 80% of NSW’s timber exports. The white cypress pine is in demand throughout the world as one of the world’s finest construction timbers, as it is a fine-grained wood, durable and resistant to decay, termites and borers.

Local groups, including the Pilliga Land Users Group [PLUG], says the BRUS option meets the triple bottom line by considering impacts on social, economic and environmental issues. Mr Stoner adds these must be considered, but man cannot be removed from the equation.

Bev Smiles from the Western Conservation Alliance [WCA] claims the region is heading towards major extinction. She says private property owners want to clear timber for agriculture, and both the timber industry and State Forests aren’t looking after the Pilliga.

Ms Smiles says both the Warrumbungles and Mt Kaputar National Parks are located on volcanic plugs. The Pilliga is flat sandy country with different animals and growth patterns.

Last year, Green activists chained themselves to logging machinery, costing one local contractor up to $2,500 per day. Mr Slack-Smith described these activists as a public menace whose actions displayed their ignorance of the Pilliga, the timber industry and local communities by denying their fellow man’s rights to make a living.

“The Greens don’t understand the nature of the Pilliga, and have the hide to say to country people they don’t know what they’re talking about using dodgy science to try and intimidate local people who have land or have been on the land for generations,” Mr Stoner said.

Mr Slack-Smith said creating another National Park would not increase tourism to the area.

The Pilliga receives approximately 10,000 visitors per year, whilst two National Parks receive an average of 45,000 per year.

A study completed by Ted Hayman and Jane Harding says the Pilliga requires more than 200,000 visitors per year to offset financial losses to the timber industry.

Nevertheless, these green groups fail to realise State Forests maintains the Pilliga through regular thinning so there is grass, freedom of bird and animal movement, and the koala population increased from 10,000 to 15,000 in within a few years.

They would rather see massive job losses, local communities’ lifeblood sucked dry through creating more social security ghettos. Some areas within the Pilliga already face high levels of unemployment.

The area has potential to be the largest natural gas reserve in the Australian mainland, as it runs north of Coonabarabran into Queensland. It means more jobs for the region.

Lee Rhiannon refused to comment on exaggerated claims the Pilliga is “under the threat of natural gas exploration” involving large woodland areas cleared for “a network of wide seismic trails that criss-cross the landscape.” Or holding dams burst releasing highly sodic water killing trees and plants.

Dennis Morton from Eastern Star Gas says exploration was conducted under State Forest protocols and subjected to NSW Department of Mineral Resources’ independent approval. This included pre-field activity detailing fauna, flora and cultural heritage surveys.

Seismic activities were mostly confined to existing roads and forest trails. It did not involve soil or root stock disturbances. Special equipment clears undergrowth or small trees in a strip approximately four metres wide, and all seed material remains in the same area. Gradual rehabilitation is expected to take a few years, depending on weather conditions.

A source from Environment Minister, Bob Debus, said the Government will make a decision soon when Parliament resumes in late February.

© 2004 Carolyn M Cash

This article was written in 2004 for a regional newspaper but it was ‘spiked’ so it was never published – until now.