Researcher’s giant feat defending native forest and prime koala habitat

Dr Cadman has identified claw marks, belonging to koalas, on the bark of trees proposed for logging.

Dr Timothy Cadman has successfully secured the protection of local hardwood areas once primed for logging, including native forest belonging to the proposed Great Koala National Park along the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

Dr Tim Cadman is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with the Law Futures Centre and the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith.

Thanks to the support of extensive fieldwork, satellite mapping software and historical imagery, Dr Cadman led effective negotiations with the NSW Forestry Corporation to preserve original remnant forest erroneously marked as ‘plantation forest.’

“It’s a major win and some of the most gratifying work I’ve ever done, but it is similarly frustrating and depressing,” said Dr Cadman.

“We’ve logged our state forests to exhaustion, so we’re now going into ‘plantations’ cutting old growth and remnant forest.”

Dr Cadman has traversed the globe supporting sustainable forest management, his last Griffith project before Covid sending him to the red panda region of Nepal.

When international travel came to a halt however, he realised there was a world just outside his window in need of research and rescue.

Native turpentine, a windbreak and shelter tree, in remnant forest.

Spanning across Pine Creek State Forest, close to where Dr Cadman now resides, are pockets of old growth tree “treasures” potentially threatened by logging, as they are inside zoned plantation area.

“This is prime koala habitat — and these remnants, these islands of refugia as they’re called, are absolutely critical for maintaining biodiversity across the landscape,” he said.

Land clearing and forest logging are the greatest contributors to the ‘endangered’ status of the koala, as well as other native creatures including the Leadbeater’s possum and greater gliders.

The koala ‘habitat hubs’ within the Great Koala National Park can be found in the tens of thousands of hectares facing potential logging.

With a rich understanding of both environment and industry, Dr Cadman is supportive of sustainable forest management but only in plantation areas, and not those containing native forest.

“We need those native forests for all their valuable services: clean air, clean water, climate mitigation, wildlife habitat, all those things that are seriously challenged now because of climate change and unsustainable development,” Dr Cadman said.

“We know timber is much better than steel and concrete, and we have to get it from somewhere.

“But if we want to put an eco-label on it and make people feel good about consuming it, we need to be able to say, with our hand on our hearts, this is sustainable, good wood – this isn’t greenwash, this is a genuine solution.”

Loopholes in the NSW legislation allow remnant vegetation to be logged legally, whilst other states have protections for native species in place and legislate that ‘plantation’ is strictly planted forest.

Under this guise, Dr Cadman argues that what is considered ‘legal’ is not necessarily ‘sustainable.’

“Sustainability certification schemes recognise that in fragmented landscapes we have plantations on farmland and trees on farms, and that these kinds of little pockets of native vegetation are incredibly important to protect,” he said.

Dr Cadman uses GIS technology and Google Earth Pro to conduct forestry research.

Thanks to a Griffith university grant, Dr Cadman has employed geographical information systems (GIS) for data mapping and analysis of the local environment, providing evidence of native forest in areas set to be clear-felled.

Dr Cadman is now translating this technical knowledge across user-friendly systems such as Google Earth, providing voluntary training and support to concerned communities on the fringes of the forest.

“I’ve developed a citizen science training course, having trained people on all the spatial tasks such as how to import historical images and draw polygons, how to put those polygons on their iPad for mapping, and then go into the bush and find the trees or the stumps,” he said.

“I go out in the field with them, I try and comfort them when the bulldozers come or interact on their behalf with forestry, and I assist them on how to participate in processes that can be both confusing and challenging.

“As an academic you need to be evidence-based if you are going to help the community.”

Dr Cadman continues to lead evidence-based advocacy for native forest under threat, insisting that the forestry industry needs major reform to prevent destruction of critical koala habitat.