Friday 23 January 2015


In December 2014 the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA)  called for the establishment of a large koala national park in the Coffs Harbour area.  The reasons for this call were elaborated in our December 11 post Koalas Need Large Reserves to Ensure their Survival .

The new NSW Opposition Leader, Luke Foley, has committed to creating such a national park if his party wins government in the state election on March 28. The proposed 315,000 hectare national park would protect the Bellingen-Nambucca-Macleay and Coffs Harbour-Guy Fawkes koala meta-populations - an estimated 4500 koalas - 20% of NSW's remaining koalas.

This proposal would see 176,000 hectares of State Forest added to the existing 140,000 hectares of National Parks in the area.

Location Map (The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Jan '15)
Mr Foley is concerned that 90% of the state's koala population has been lost since European settlement in 1788 and believes that protection of koala habitat is necessary to ensure the species' survival.

"My view is that we've just got to act.  If we're going to be fair dinkum about saving the koala in the wild, we have to protect the koala's habitat," he said.

As some of the state forest which would form part of this new reserve is currently being logged, Mr Foley stated that Labor would negotiate with the forestry industry and indicated that buying back timber allocations and compensation for logging companies would be on the table.

Environment groups  have long been concerned about the decline in koala numbers and the lack of effective action to secure their survival as a species.  Before the 2011 state election the current government promised to improve koala protection but has failed to honour this promise.

In welcoming Mr Foley's announcement, Susie Russell, spokesperson for the North Coast Environment Council (NCEC), said, "Koala populations are crashing across their known range. The previously largest known population in NSW in the Pilliga forest has all but disappeared.  The koala populations of the north coast are among the largest remaining.  Koalas are recognised by both Federal and State laws as being vulnerable to extinction."

"A major reason for this is the on-going destruction of their habitat. There is competition for trees bigger than you can wrap your arms around (30-80 cm diameter). The koalas need them and the loggers want them too."

Sunday 18 January 2015


Whenever the subject of unconventional gas mining is discussed, underground water contamination is invariably the foremost concern. This contamination can result from leaked toxic drilling and fracking fluids, or through cross contamination of water at different levels facilitated by the fractured rock strata, or through fugitive methane leaks that can also pollute underground water.

There are also concerns raised by landowners who are reliant on bore water, reporting that the process of pumping out the groundwater, to allow the free flow of gas, is lowering the water table to a point where they are running out of water.

What isn't so commonly understood, is the amount of water that is actually trucked in for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a process the industry likes to claim is not especially water intensive. However, recent reports from the USA have highlighted the fact that hundreds of gas wells have required vast amounts of water. The Sabine Oil and Gas company owns the thirstiest well, situated in Harrison County, Texas, followed closely by Encana Oil and Gas' Federal 36 Well in Colorado, with both using well over 100 million litres each.

According to the researchers, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are located in dry states like Texas, and that water is ultimately pumped back out as toxic “produced water” requiring treatment before it can be reused. Unfortunately, some Californian operators didn't want to incur the significant expense of treatment, and simply pumped the toxic mix back underground into the state's drinking water source.

That is in America, and Australian companies are quick to claim it couldn't happen in Australia. However, in Queensland, ground water depletion and contamination is a real issue, with some landowners finding their bores now producing more methane than water.

Amazingly, the Energy Resource Information Centre, an industry mouthpiece, is claiming (The Daily Examiner November 20, 2014) that by treating the produced water and making it available for reuse, that Queensland farmers are benefiting from “new water availability”.

Make no mistake, in this the world's driest continent, water protection is of paramount importance, and fracking will put that precious resource at unacceptable risk.
- John Edwards 
 This post was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on    December 8, 2014.

Thursday 1 January 2015


Northern NSW has some wonderful national parks.  Those reasonably close to Grafton include Yuragir and Broadwater on the coast, Washpool, Gibraltar Range and New England in the ranges.

The New England National Park has been my favourite for many years.

I first visited this special area around 35 years ago with my husband and two young children.  We stayed over a weekend at the Chalet, a cabin at Banksia Point, just below Point Lookout.

Since then I've been back many times with my children, with friends and on several occasions with my grandchildren. 

Looking east from the escarpment
This is a wonderful natural area, perched on the edge of the New England plateau, overlooking the Bellinger Valley.  The views from Banksia Point and Point Lookout above are spectacular.  From the escarpment you look east across ridge after ridge of densely vegetated land.  In the ravines and valleys, where the dense rainforests are, the vegetation is dark green.  Along the ridges, the domain of eucalypts and species that live in drier areas, the green is paler.

On occasions you look from the escarpment down onto cloud which fills the valleys and gives the impression of a white sea with islands of vegetation rising from it.

Point Lookout, the highest point in the park, is more than 1500 metres above sea level.  From there on a clear day you can glimpse the sea on the horizon – somewhere off Urunga. 

The escarpment, late afternoon.

I've enjoyed many of the walking tracks in this park – from those meandering through the tree ferns to those steep trails descending through the majestic, mossy Antarctic Beech, remnants of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland.  Some tracks follow the swiftly flowing creeks plunging for a while over huge granite boulders.  Then these creeks seem to rest as they turn into deep shadowed pools which look inviting but which are breath-catchingly cold even in the midst of summer.

I remember walking on a cold winter's morning along the Eagle's Nest track, just below the escarpment and being amazed at the icicles hanging from the rocks where water had dripped from above overnight.

I remember more recently going for a summer walk with my son and my grand-daughter.  When we were about halfway to our destination, it rained heavily. Rivulets of water cruised through my hair and down my neck and I was completely sodden but I relished the experience of walking in the rain. 

Among other highlights of visits to the New England have been encounters with two of the local fauna species.                                                                                                                  

The first is the Superb Lyrebird, renowned as an outstanding mimic and as an extremely shy bird.  You frequently hear the distant calls of lyrebirds in the valleys below and sometimes you encounter a foraging bird along one of the tracks – particularly if you move quietly.  But if you're staying at Banksia Point you are likely to have the opportunity to observe a lyrebird at close quarters.  Those who forage around this spot are used to people and don't flee unless you try to get too close.

I remember one magical visit many years ago when I saw a male lyrebird, tail unfurled and magnificent, practising what must have been his mating ritual.  He danced and carolled and mimicked while I watched entranced.  I'm sure he knew a human was watching him.

The second local fauna species is the spotted-tailed quoll which used to be called the native cat.  For years there was a resident group of these carnivorous marsupials near Banksia Point.  Although they are primarily nocturnal, I have sighted them frequently there during the daytime.

The most memorable quoll encounter occurred when I was staying with friends at the Residence, another cabin.  One hungry quoll, obviously scenting our breakfast, made its way into the ceiling and down an air vent and popped through the end of it onto the stove top.  We were all stunned but the quoll got a bigger shock to see five or six humans at very close quarters. It hastily turned and scurried back up the vent.

While our magnificent national parks are important for the protection of biodiversity they are also places where humans who appreciate nature can re-connect with a world that is in some ways simpler and certainly more natural than our everyday world.

         - Leonie Blain