Making global headlines this week has been news about the full sequencing of the koala genome. Published in an article titled ‘Adaptation and conservation insights from the koala genome‘, the work can best be described as impressively comprehensive.

This is particularly the case for those, like moi, who tend to get lost in complex detail. According to the paper, a collaborative work compiled by 54 scientists –

” . . . Having characterized the genome, we undertook detailed analyses of key genes and gene families to gain insights into the genomic basis of the koala’s highly specialized biology. Gene families of particular interest were those that encode proteins involved in induced ovulation, those proteins involved in the complex lactation process, those proteins responsible for immunity, and those enzymes that enable the koala to subsist on a toxic diet. ”

Not surprisingly, much useful information has been gained and it seems likely that people, with their slightly smaller genome, will also benefit from this new information.
Of course, whether there are any koalas in the future, or indeed people,  is dependant on the ecologically sustainable management of our habitat.

In that regard the NSW Environment Protection Authority has advised submissions on the IFOA remake are now due by 5pm on Friday the 13th of July. Not exactly an auspicious date.
I can’t see much point in a lengthy submission, or one at all, given the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

However, it is worth the effort to try to point out, again, the different interpretations one can place on the available information, starting with soils. The following info comes from an attachment to my submission on the then proposed national listing for koalas.

The photo above shows three soil samples, taken from Compartment 2001 in Bermagui State Forest, 10 minutes after being placed in de-ionised water. A the time (2011) logging had been approved and Forestry’s soil person had found the soils were not dispersible. The issue was that the Forestry soil sample had been taken from a road cutting. Two of the samples (A&B) in the container above were taken from small holes and sample C from a road cutting. The next photo shows the same soil samples after two hours. Samples A and B have almost totally dissolved, yet sample C only has slight slaking.  The point being that disturbance is not required to disperse these soils, all it takes is water, to reduce the soil water holding capacity.

Advertisements

As part of its painfully slow approach to helping(?) koalas, the OE&H has made several announcements including ” . . . undertaking a study with The University of Sydney to determine the genetic status of the southern tablelands population.” Some may recall the OE&H previously engaged Sydney university to determine the genetic status of southern tablelands koalas, as part of the Cooma- Monaro koala CPoM (2004). This research was part of a broader study focused on areas in the map below.

At the time, a document prepared by OE&H employee Chris Allen, indicated two genotypes were identified and these contained halotypes also found in koalas from the Strzelecki Ranges, in south eastern Victoria and those in the greater Sydney area.

However, ” . . . there was no overlap of haplotypes between the population in the study area and the coastal forest population to the south east (D. Phalen pers. Comm.)”
Allen went on to suggest ‘ . . Further research in this field may reveal useful information about the history of koalas in the study area, and its genetic relationships with other populations.”

On this occasion the outcome may be that the history of koalas is a relatively recent one. This would explain why there is no close genetic relationship with tablelands and coastal koalas, just down the hill.

In addition the ” . . . OEH is also undertaking research funded by the Commonwealth Department of the Environment to examine the effectiveness of past koala conservation efforts”

This research will apparently include ” . . . evaluating the success of tree planting by farmers and the NSW Government in the last 20 years to provide habitat for the local koala populations on the Liverpool Plains around Gunnedah, and in Eden.”

I’m not sure about the Liverpool Plains, but there are still no reports on the now completed ‘Foundations for River Recovery and Return of Koalas to the Bega Valley’ project. So the notion that the OE&H  requires federal funding, rather than just getting the Local land Services to do their job, could be seen as more double dipping.

The passage of the Kosciusko wild horse heritage bill early this week, is another nail in the coffin for the environment in NSW. While it is not an unprecedented act, the feral trout in the park have been protected for decades. It casts further doubt on the NSW government’s environmental bona-fides and again raises the question of what the government is really trying to achieve.

The approach to the horses seems similar to the government’s approach to koalas in the flora reserves. That is, set up a committee, with little or no scientific qualifications, no apparent interest in addressing the threats to the species and the aim of ensuring those with unsustainable commercial interests ultimately win out.

This week has also seen the EPA undertake invitation only meetings with conservation groups, re the draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals. While SERCA didn’t attend, rather had letters in various local newspapers and a radio interview. It seem most likely that other conservation groups, particularly those that receive regular government funding, would have attended.

The EPA’s aim, as alluded to in the Natural Resources Commission advice on the Coastal IFOA remake, is to achieve a level of confidence for its claim there will be no erosion of environmental values.

Regrettably, ignoring the ongoing erosion of environmental values and the causes, like the feral cat above, recently captured on camera in the flora reserve, is a higher priority.

On a positive note there has been a little over 50mm of rain in the past week, perhaps enough to push out another extensive canopy die-back event for a month or so.

After only 15 months, the Office of Environment and Heritage has released comments received on its whole-of-government NSW koala strategy. Perhaps the most important of these, at least for the south coast, are those from the South East Timber Association (SETA).  Not surprisingly the comments are consistent with Forestry’s, arguably bizarre, understanding of both forests and koalas. From this perspective, all forests are killed by wildfire and then grow back. So all of the trees are the same age, all of the time.

This idea appears to stem from some Victorian and southern NSW forests where various ash eucalyptus dominate. Unlike most eucalyptus species, ash types are more likely to die in a wildfire. However, this isn’t always the case and ash can frequently be found with other species.  For example, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks, recently translocated 600 koalas from French Island, with 400 of these going to forests around Kinglake. The forests around Kinglake were burnt in the 2009 bushfires, but clearly not all the trees died.

Aside from the predicable understanding about forests and koalas, that they prefer regrowth forests, the SETA submission included the logging history map below. This map is quite different to previous logging histories.

Also among the comments is a submission from Coast Watchers, a conservation group based in the Eurobodalla shire. According to these comments the last confirmed sighting of a koala in the shire was at Nerrigundah in 2013.

Forestry Corporation has recently provided detail of the compartments, totaling 9.700 hectares, it burnt in Moruya and Dampier State Forests. As indicated in the map below, circles with green crosses are koala records and the burning (blue hatch) was north east of Nerrigundah. The NSW government has developed and approved a burning plan for the Murrah Flora reserves, although details are yet to be made public.

The NSW government has released its draft Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA) , being the protocols and conditions for coastal public forest logging, over the next 20 years.  While there is a public consultation period, until 5pm 29 June 2018. I expect the draft is pretty well set in stone.

As I understand it the government believes it has a good understanding of koalas on the north coast. However on the south coast koalas are a ” . . . Threatened species requiring the development of site specific biodiversity conditions.” Of course the notion that conditions have to be developed is far too complex for Forestry Corporation, so surveys for koalas are only required in Glenbog and Glen Allen state forests in the Eden region. Both of these forests are on the tablelands and both are pretty well completely trashed.

In the Southern region, koalas surveys are required in Tallaganda, Badja, Dampier, Moruya, Wandella and Bodalla State Forests. As previously reported Dampier and Moruya state forests are where FCNSW has recently burned several thousand hectares. A request for detail ( compartment numbers) on the areas burned has been sent to Forestry, but there is, as yet, no response.

 

Researchers down in Victoria have been looking into the thermal qualities of man made and natural hollows used by native species.

The man made ones, generally constructed out of plywood, have been found to have poor thermal capacities. That is they get too cold in winter and too hot in summer. On the other hand, hollows in trees are far less variable, staying warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The researcher made some prototypes using a chainsaw.

So I had a try at making a little one, as indicated in the photo, from part of a smallish tree trunk that recently fell on the road.  In essence it is a section of trunk cut length ways and a cavity is then cut into its center. A 3.5cm diameter hole provides access to the cavity, when the two pieces are screwed together. It is a relatively simple process, although best for those experienced in using a chainsaw.

Last Sunday the NSW government released its statewide koala strategy. The response from conservation groups the NCC and NPA was generally poor and less than supportive.

A major issue both groups refer to is the government’s land clearing laws. It seems pretty stupid to allow vast areas of private forest to be bulldozed, while spending public funds to buy land and encouraging people to plant trees.This seems particularly the case when the government’s attempts to grow koala feed trees don’t work out.

Down here the ABC spoke to SERCA spokesperson and die-back denier Harriet Swift, who suggested the strategy did nothing for koalas and best way to help the species was to stop logging. Regrettably, this is one of the issues the government can exploit, because while logging remains the only focus for conservation groups down here, any other management is perceived to be acceptable. Hence, proposals for management aimed for positive outcomes at an ecosystem scale, don’t get a look in and forests continue to decline.

However, Harriet’s comments suggest a lack of support for the  “Saving our Species” approach indicated in the map above for koalas here. So while looking forward to information on what SERCA actually supports, I expect, apart from logging,  it won’t deviate much from the NSW government’s position.

In particular the proposal to translocate koalas as indicated in the quote below. According to the strategy ” . . The Office of Environment and Heritage will work with other NSW Government agencies to assess the koala habitat values of land excess to the agencies needs. This will help inform if the land should be permanently reserved or have protections in place.”

There is plenty of land on the south coast without koalas, that the conservation movement and forestry have previously agreed, is suitable for the species.

” . . . Office of Environment and Heritage will work with communities, through the local action workshops, and fauna rehabilitation groups, to identify areas to relocate koalas. The relocation will be informed by research and an agreed plan to maximise koala health outcomes. Office of Environment and Heritage will also partner with researchers to investigate the effectiveness and challenges of undertaking the translocation of koalas. Translocation in this context refers to reintroducing koalas from existing NSW populations to improve genetic diversity and health of local populations.”

It is now just over three months since comments were closed on draft flora reserve management plan. While it’s disappointing that the public are yet to be informed about any outcome, perhaps more disappointing is the lack of any sign of forest management that isn’t locked into the unsustainable past.

Looking north from the Murrah the sky is grey with smoke, from the thousands of hectares of forest that have been deliberately burned. One of these fires, lit by the NPWS, has apparently spread to adjacent forest in National Park and on private land, so far degrading another 300 ha.

To the south the NPWS lit up 120 ha in Bournda NP, within the black circle on FCNSW’s predisposition to dieback map below. The particular area is referred to as the ‘Sandy Creek Strategic Fire Advantage Zone’ and was last burned in 2005-06. On this occasion the very lame justification for the burn is to ‘reduce the spread of wildfire’. There appears to be no consideration of the animals, the ongoing dry weather or the fact that without substantive rainfall, most forests will again turn brown, within a few weeks.

Meanwhile down in Victoria, Friends of the Leadbeaters Possum (FOTLP), have successfully applied for an interlocutory application, to stop Vicforests logging several coupes in the central highlands.
FOTLPs application was based on the failure to undertake the required reviews of the relevant Regional Forest Agreement. A trial on the matter will commence on 25 February 2019, for a period of three weeks.

Things are a little different up here, where the flora reserve management plan has to be consistent with the Forestry Act (2012). In particular part 25 clause 2 that requires ” . . .The object of any such scheme is to be the preservation of native flora on the flora reserve.”

It seems an appropriate time to investigate the potential to challenge the plan/scheme, given the different views on the management required to preserve native flora.

%d bloggers like this: