Does the Carr Government really know what’s best for the Pilliga State Forest?

NSW Nationals Leader, Andrew Stoner, says, “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.”

Member for Barwon, Ian Slack-Smith, has repeatedly called upon the Government to end the three-year suspense for many constituents.

Many livelihoods hang in the balance until the Government makes a decision regarding the Pilliga.

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.”

Many believe this was an attempt to buy Green votes during last year’s election. Spokespeople for the Ministers for the Environment, Bob Debus, and Natural Resources, Craig Knowles, deny this was politically motivated.

Conservationists claim tourism would replace the timber industry. However, a study completed by two Pilliga Land Users Group [PLUG] members, Ted Hayman and Jane Harding, says the region needs 200,000 visitors per year to compensate for timber industry losses.

Current figures clearly fall short of this target. Mt Kaputar National Park receives approximately 40,000 and the Warrumbungles 50,000 visitors per year. The Pilliga itself receives roughly 10,000 per year.

Bev Smiles from the Western Conservation Alliance claims “Western NSW is going down the path to major extinction”. She alleges private property owners clear timber for agriculture, and both the timber industry and State Forests aren’t looking after the Pilliga.

Mr Slack-Smith disagrees, “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.”

“The timber industries in the Pilliga have an environmentally conscious approach to preserving the state of this forest and can show records of how the health of the surrounding lands have improved in the last 30-40 years.”

Last year, green activists cost one local contractor up to $2,500 per day. Mr Slack-Smith says their actions showed their ignorance of the Pilliga, the timber industry and local communities.

The timber industry has existed for more than 150 years. Change of ownership poses the biggest threat, as the Government wants to lock up large areas of forest.

The white cypress pine from the Pilliga consists of 80% of NSW’s timber exports, as it is in demand as one of the world’s finest construction timbers.

Mr Slack-Smith is concerned about the closure of sawmills in the area, especially Gwabegar, Gulargambone, Baradine and Mendooran. This will affect towns such as Narrabri, Gunnedah and Coonabarabran.

Tom Underwood, a Sawmiller with more than 50 years experience, says if the Government goes ahead, he wouldn’t have a business and it would have a devastating effect on the community – Gwabegar would disappear and Baradine would be “badly wounded and unable to recover. A National Park will be the death of the area.”

“All our timber is out of the Pilliga State Forest,” Mr Underwood said.

The Gwabegar sawmill alone exports 25% timber production to Japan and America.

The conservationists would rather see massive job losses in areas already facing high levels of unemployment.

“I am disgusted these people will not champion the rights of their fellow man – that is the right to make a living. They have no regard for the law, the community or workers’ rights,” Mr Slack-Smith said.

Eric Rolls, author of the best-selling A Million Wild Acres, says it is “absolutely absurd” to turn the Pilliga 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.”

Mr Rolls lived and worked near Baradine for many years. He adds, “State Foresters are trained to fight bushfires, National Park rangers aren’t.”

Conservation groups fail to understand the Pilliga is maintained through regular thinning so there is ground cover, freedom of movement for both birds and animals. In fact, the koala population increased from 10,000 to 15,000 within a few years.

The Western Conservation Alliance slam the BRUS [Brigalow Region United Stakeholders] option which meets the triple-bottom-line – social, economic and environmental impacts on these communities.

Recent gas exploration in the Pilliga region means more job opportunities for communities.

Lee Rhiannon claimed the Pilliga is under threat with exaggerated claims that large woodland areas cleared for “a network of wide seismic trails that criss-cross the landscape” and holding dams bursting releasing highly sodic water killing plants and trees.

Dennis Morton from Eastern Star Gas disputes Ms Rhiannon’s claims. Mr Morton says exploration was conducted under government guidelines, including pre-field activity outlining fauna, flora and cultural heritage surveys.

Seismic activities were mostly confined to existing roads and forest trails, using specialist equipment. Rehabilitation is expected to be gradual, dependent on weather conditions, within a few years.

Mr Morton says conventional wells negligible amounts of water that do not require any specialist means of disposal. The water is neither highly saline nor toxic but contains a moderate amount of bi-carbonate. It is evaporated in centrally located ponds. They pose no threat to flora or fauna under proper management.

The Greens outraged local Aboriginal groups within the Pilliga by illegally using their flag during one protest. Spokespeople for both the Pilliga and Baradine Aboriginal Land Councils issued statements denying any involvement or sanctioning the conservationists’ blockades.

© 2004 Carolyn M Cash

This article was submitted to a metropolitan newspaper but never published … until now.

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