Karen Spencer and her daughters Hayley, 18 (left), and Natalie, 12, look over the new Boomi Creek tree plantation.
Karen Spencer and her daughters Hayley, 18 (left), and Natalie, 12, look over the new Boomi Creek tree plantation. The Northern Star

Forestry a growing concern for Woodenbong

WOODENBONG is under siege from forestry.

At the weekend the village, 100km north-west of Lismore, celebrated its centenary, but many locals say they are unsure about what the next 100 years might bring.

Just over 10 years ago the first of the managed investment scheme (MIS) forestry enterprises rolled into town.

Since then the industry has been expanding operations at a rate that has the locals worried about their town's future.

Woodenbong was once a blue ribbon weaner area with beef always the main game, but now forestry is taking over.

Dave Stace, an organic beef grower from Boomi Creek near Woodenbong, said while forests were great, MIS forestry was destroying Woodenbong's natural environment.

Mr Stace, who takes pride in the fact his property is chemical free, said he would not be able to have his property certified as organic because of chemical contamination from forestry.

"People in the city don't understand what these companies are doing to the land," he said.

"People think it's trees so it must be good for the environment."

Terry Moody, CEO of Upper Clarence Landcare, said: "Trees are big business in northern NSW."

He estimates private MIS forestry holdings in the region to be 160,000 hectares, making it 10times bigger than the combined holdings of the macadamia, fruit and vegetable industries (16,500 hectares) and five times bigger than each of the dairy (33,000 hectares) and the sugar industries (36,000).

Mr Moody said MIS forestry had become so prolific there were places you could drive for 15km without leaving a plantation.

"They are taking over, pushing out farmers, and not meeting their responsibilities to manage the environment," he said.

Kyogle real estate agent Scott Pert said MIS forestry was prepared to pay more for the land they wanted to acquire. Rural land in the district usually sold for between $700 to $1700 a hectare, but Mr Pert's figures showed IMF forestry had paid between $1700 and $3500 a hectare over the past 12 months.

"Good on 'em for getting the best price they can for their property," Mr Pert said. "There's a lot of positives for the people selling."

But not so many for those who decide to stay, according to president of the Woodenbong Progress Association, Christine Reid.

Mrs Reid said the impact of MIS forestry on Woodenbong had been devastating, with essential services like schools, buses and health care now in jeopardy.

"Every week you hear of someone selling up to trees and moving out of town," she said.

"You need a certain number of people to maintain services."

Mrs Reid said MIS forestry made offers on land too good to refuse and families who had farmed in Woodenbong for generations were selling up.

"We need people, not trees," Mrs Reid said.

One person who won't be selling is Pam Stone. She has already had three offers well above market value from MIS forestry for her property Castille.

Castille is an 1800ha beef farm on lush land overlooking the Edinburgh Castle mountain at Boomi Creek. It was selected by her husband's grandfather, William Graham, in 1905, and she wants to keep it in the family.

Two weeks ago Mrs Stone received a phone call from Ian Smith, the site manager for the Great Southern Plantation adjoining Castille.

He called to tell her they would be aerial spraying dimethoate, also known by the brand name Rogor, at the plantation the next day. Mrs Stone was horrified.

She began phoning people she thought might be able to help, Kyogle councillor Lindsey Passfield, Upper Clarence Landcare and the Department of Environment and Conservation.

She said she was shocked to discover Great Southern Plantations' only legal obligation was to inform neighbours of their intention to spray. About the spraying she could do nothing.

Across the road, Karen Spencer received the same call. However, the scheduled spraying did not happen due to rain. Then last Tuesday, without warning, Karen heard the helicopter.

The spraying had begun.

Mrs Spencer, her husband Terry, and their three daughters Elise, 20, Hayley, 18, and Natalie, 12, have lived on their property Mara Mara for 12 months.

The Great Southern Plantation adjoining it had gone in just before they moved in. The family home is 200 metres from the plantation. They didn't realise there would be spraying.

During the spraying operation Mrs Spencer asked Mr Smith about the chemicals they were using and whether they were dangerous.

He told her the chemical was called dimethoate and it would be less than 'ideal' if the chemical got in their water supply or on their skin.

That night Mrs Spencer and her husband Googled dimethoate. They found a website of one of the chemical's manufacturers and there they found a warning that 'repeated minor exposure may have a cumulative poisoning effect,' in humans.

"If what we found on the internet is what they sprayed, it kills everything," Mrs Spencer said.

Southern Cross University scientist Dr Doland Nichols said if timber plantations had to resort to chemicals to keep their trees alive something was not right.

Dr Nichols said the plantation timber industry in Northern NSW had experienced a high level of crop failure and he thought poor species selection and monocrops were to blame.

"There is a long list of ways to manage a forest without chemicals. It seems they don't know about them," he said.

Last May Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin called in Parliament for an end to aerial spraying in Northern NSW.

"I am going to call all timber groups together to ask them to cease aerial spraying of their plantations," Ms Saffin said.

Great Southern Plantations released a statement saying aerial spraying was undertaken under a strict framework of regulation and planning.

It said it used integrated pest management techniques that allow natural control of pests, minimising the requirement for chemical control.

Great Southern Plantations also said it provided advance warning to their neighbours beforeaerial spraying taking place, in line with their 'good neighbour' policy.

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