“Smash and Grab”: Backwards Carbon Credits Logic Incentivises Native Forest Logging

by Stephen Long


Ongoing logging within the boundaries of the proposed Great Koala National Park threatens the survival of endangered species and contradicts conservation efforts, writes Stephen Long.

For 46 years, Meredith Stanton has lived on a small bush block at Clouds Creek, near Dorrigo in NSW.

It’s surrounded by forest, much of it within the planned Great Koala National Park: a vast nature sanctuary the NSW Government is promising to create.

Meredith Stanton

In 2019, as terrible bushfires ravaged the region, flames licked the boundary of Ms Stanton’s property.

“All the forest 360 degrees around me burnt,” she recalls, “some of it severely, some of it slowly.”

Millions of creatures perished in the fires, including significant numbers of koalas and other endangered species such as the greater glider.

In response, for some time, logging in the Clouds Creek State Forest was put on hold.

Now, Ms Stanton reckons the state’s Forestry Corporation is making up for lost time.

“They’d already logged northwest of me, north, and then they began last year, 1100 hectares to the east of me, and now they want to log to the south of me, and it’s like, you’ve gotta be joking,” she says.

“They’re wiping out the last refuges of these endangered species.

“We’ve discovered there’s enough gliders in there to repopulate these forests. They’re breeding, they’re recovering from fire. Why would you go and log it? It’s just madness.”

Clouds Creek is not the only area under threat.

Covering land from near sea level on the mid-north coast to the occasionally snow-capped peaks of the Dorrigo plateau, the Great Koala National Park is meant to protect forests that are home to nearly one in five of the state’s wild koalas.

Yet, within this area, the Forestry Corporation is felling native forest at an alarming pace.

The Australia Institute toured the region recently. We saw loggers at work at Sheas Nob in the north of the proposed park. We saw the aftermath of logging, too: trees supposedly preserved for habitat that were damaged by the logging operations; trunks of trees once home to koalas, covered in their scratch marks, cut down and discarded.

There’s no telling when it will end – even though the Great Koala National Park is core NSW Government policy.

Labor’s been promising the park for almost 10 years.

As far back as 2015, the Labor Opposition pledged to add about 176 thousand hectares of state forest to existing national park to create the vast reserve. “Covering 315,000 ha of forests inland from Coffs Harbour, the Great Koala National Park will include all the public land within two meta-populations of koalas,” its policy proclaimed.

Labor swept to power in March 2023 with a commitment to create it – but its language has become mealy mouthed.

It now talks of protecting “up to an additional 176,000 hectares of forest” with a proviso that “as maps are being refined there could be fluctuations on that figure”.

Critically, the new government refused to put a moratorium on logging within this area.

Mark Graham

“Hundreds of hectares of native forest within the boundaries of the Great Koala National Park are being industrially-logged every week,” observes Mark Graham, a local ecologist who has fought a running battle with the timber industry.

“This logging is compromising the integrity of this reserve. It’s eating out big chunks of forest where we need the forest to remain intact to allow the koalas to move, to survive, to breed.”

“I think it’s just a smash and grab,” Ms Stanton says.

“They’re coming in to get whatever timber is still standing in some of the oldest forests [because] once the Great Koala National Park has been made, they won’t have access to it.”

Last September, under pressure from environmentalists, the state government did ban logging in designated koala hubs within the proposed Great Koala National Park.

But it has allowed other recognised koala hubs, such as a site at Pines Creek inland from Coffs Harbour, to be cut down.

When it comes to gazetting the new national park, the government is showing no urgency.

Officially, it’s awaiting “an independent economic and social assessment to consider the impacts on local jobs and communities,” and consulting with timber industry, community and indigenous representatives.

But there’s another reason for delay, which the Australia Institute has previously exposed: the state government wants to monetise the new national park by selling carbon credits.

Premier Chris Minns has publicly stated he does not want to gazette the Great Koala National Park until he has the carbon credits “up and running.”

His government is developing a carbon credits method based on “improved native forest management.” It wants to include forest preserved in the Great Koala National Park. Federal regulators would need to approve this.

Perversely, the carbon credits push creates an incentive for the government to let logging continue.

A core requirement of such carbon credits is additionality: to pass muster, they must be based on measures that lead to less forest loss than would have occurred in the normal course of events.

It is questionable, to say the least, whether implementing a decade-long policy commitment meets that test. The NSW Government knows this.

But if it lets the logging machines keep tearing down trees within the park’s boundaries, it will be easier for the government to argue when it does finally halt the felling that the planned carbon credits represent genuine “avoided deforestation.”

A bizarre situation indeed.

Stephen Long

“The carbon credits are going past us on log trucks,” says Meredith Stanton. “There goes your carbon – it’s all just going up through the mills into sawdust.”

Since January, she has joined a ragged army of environmentalists blockading an access road to part of Clouds Creek State Forest. They’ve kept the logging machines at bay, and you can feel the camaraderie on the picket line. But it takes a toll.

“I really resent having to spend every day of my life standing in front of a forest and saying, enough is enough, you can’t come and log this,” Ms Stanton tells me, tears welling up in her eyes.

“That’s the only power I’ve got as a forest neighbour who’s lived here all of my life, who cares about my community and knows the trauma that we’ve suffered from the fires, killing everything that we love around us, and now we feel like the timber industry is coming in and just smashing the little precious gems that are left sitting in some little spot that didn’t burn so hot.

“My only option is to stand in front of the machines and say, ‘I’m not letting you past.’ It’s just so unjust [to] be told we’re criminals because we want to protect what is around us.”

Watch Now: Why is NSW Still Logging the Great Koala National Park?

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