A landmark study into a proposed national park on the Mid North Coast dedicated to protecting koalas says it will increase regional economic output by $1.2 billion over the next 15 years and create more than 9,800 full-time equivalent jobs.
The Great Koala National Park would be formed by adding 175,000 hectares of native state forests to existing protected areas to establish a 315,000-hectare reserve.
Spanning five local government areas - Bellingen, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey and Nambucca - it will include two koala metapopulations located in Coffs Harbour-Guy Fawkes and Bellinger Nambucca-Macleay.
The new park would protect an area that is home to around 4,550 koalas, or approximately 20 per cent of the NSW population.
The research by the University of Newcastle examined the economic impact over the next 15 years, estimating expenditure across three stages: park establishment, park management and visitor expenditure.
Professor Roberta Ryan said the research demonstrated clearly that the Great Koala National Park would deliver a significant uplift in jobs and revenue for the Mid North Coast region.
"Over the next 15 years the park is projected to generate more than 9,800 extra full-time equivalent jobs across tourism, infrastructure, and science and education, and inject $330 million in additional wages into the region," Professor Ryan said.
The employment projections estimated the phasing out of approximately 675 direct and related forestry full-time equivalent jobs over a 10-year state forest native logging industry transition period.
"The research found that the loss of jobs in the medium-term in the state forest native logging industry would be more than compensated by the creation of new jobs in the management of the national park and in eco-tourism."
The research projected that the positive impact on the tourism economy would be significant including accounting for the effects of COVID-19.
"The research estimates conservatively that the Great Koala National Park would boost the tourism sector by an additional 1 million visitors to the region by the end of 15 years who will spend $412 million," she said.
The University study quantified the biodiversity value of transitioning 175,000 hectares of state forests to national park using the 'Willingness to Pay' methodology - a well-established international approach used to assess the community's willingness to pay to preserve the biodiversity for iconic sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef.
"Given the significant decline in the koala population from drought and bushfire and that we are confronting the reality of their extinction, the environmental value of each individual koala is now significantly higher than previously," Professor Ryan said.
"The biodiversity value of the koala is estimated to be $530 million for the NSW population and $1.7 billion for all Australians."
Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Koala Populations and their Habitat, Cate Faehrmann, said if the government was going to meet its commitment to stop koalas from becoming extinct before 2050, it must invest in bold initiatives such as this.
"The number one threat driving koalas to extinction is habitat loss which includes logging in core koala habitat," she said.
"If there are two things the people of NSW want to see more of, it's jobs and koalas. The government has now been gifted a project that does both, and I urge them to not reject it for the sake of continuing to prop up the dying native forest logging industry.
"Koalas can't wait another two decades for governments to act. It's now or never for our koalas and this Great Koala National Park plan is a lifesaver, " said Ms Faehrmann.
The Great Koala National Park economic impact assessment and environmental benefit analysis is available at www.hrf.com.au/gknp