The EPA has released its three yearly state of the environment report for the years 2015 to 2018. Among the ‘ongoing challanges’ are the growing population, the effects of climate change, the number of species listed as threatened in NSW continues to rise and the condition of most native vegetation is deteriorating.According to the EPA ” . . . Innovative ways to use our natural resources more sustainably and to protect fragile ecosystems must continue to be found.” While it’s great to have points of agreement, evidence of innovation is pretty thin on the increasingly acid ground.

The latest atrocity is the burning of 775 hectares in Kooraban NP and 270 hectares in Gulaga NP.  During the koala workshop, earlier this year, an Aboriginal community member expressed his concerns about the proposed broad acre burning in Kooraban and that surveys for koalas had not been undertaken.  As indicated on the map, showing locations of threatened species records since 2000, the area being burnt could include koala home-ranges. All of the records in the purple ellipse are koalas, except for the blue star which is a long footed potoroo record.

The smaller area 270 hectares in Gulaga NP, is supposedly a long footed potoroo management zone. However, there are no potoroo or any other threatened species records in the area. Rather most of the potoroo records are all on the eastern side of the Princes highway and mostly on private land. Potoroos need lots of ground cover, so clearly the intention behind burning isn’t to help the species expand to adjacent areas.

According to the EPA ” . . . The 2014 Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review panel recommended the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring and reporting on the extent and quality of biodiversity in NSW (Byron et al. 2014). Such a system would improve the availability of information to more effectively track the status of all species in NSW. This recommendation was adopted by the NSW Government and new techniques for monitoring biodiversity are under development.”
Sounds good, just need the sustainable management to go with it.

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The WWF has released an updated ‘koala habitat conservation plan’ for NSW and south east Queensland. Not surprisingly much of the focus is on logging, as opposed to the management required to keep koalas when logging isn’t a threat.

The recent term ‘logging dieback’ is used to describe Bellminer Associated Dieback(BMAD), which is due to an overabundance of particular insects. However, logging dieback or BMAD seems to be confused with dieback associated with dry weather and drought, that is caused by a lack of water, brought about by reducing both animals and insects.

Exactly what criteria has been employed isn’t clear, but three areas are proposed as being important for koalas on the south coast. Along with the Murrah Flora Reserves areas of Yurrammie, that is now totally logged and Tantawanglo, where koalas are said to have become extinct 1996, are proposed. In addition, areas of Nullica SF, also totally logged and where forestry translocated koalas for ‘radio-collaring’ studies, is also included. Of course we can’t expect a distant organisation to be fully aware of regional issues and local details. So while it is a bit disappointing that no local conservation groups provided input to the plan, given the majority ignore dieback , it may be better that way.

A document produced by Chris Allen in 2010, is referred to in the plan, but not his statement -” . . .  Although dieback may be a significant threat in the long-term, currently we are in a remission phase, and this should assist surviving Koalas access suitable browse at least in the next few years.” Mr Allen’s understanding of dieback doesn’t appear to have improved over the years and there is no evidence to demonstrate the management, he has implemented, has helped koalas.

A surprise email arrived last week from Chris Allen titled ‘Proposed local koala strategy steering group’, pasted below. After reading the intro ‘Dear friends and colleagues’, I assumed that my email had been included on the mailing list by mistake.

It appears Allen and some of the people he likes, will be working with a David Newell to set up a ‘steering group’. While the tacit admission that Allen doesn’t really know what direction he his heading in may be reassuring. I think it’s reasonable to be concerned that the proposed group may not be any more effective than all the other groups, Allen has set up over the years.

I did ask Allen about the availability of some information he referred to at the Bega workshop, but it hasn’t been provided. I expect the majority of people invited to be involved are in a similar position, but probably don’t care.

The test for the group will be what strategies it supports to address the acknowledged threats keep koalas alive in the wild, for more than a few years.

Dear friends and colleagues
OEH have agreed to fund David Newell (Campfire Co-op) to facilitate the initial phase of establishing a local Koala Strategy steering group. This was one of the proposals that came of out of the Feb 19 workshop in Bega. Along with those who were involved in that initial conversation, I have invited a few others to add diversity to a small design team who will be working with David to develop a framework for enabling the start-up of a steering group.
This design stage will reflect the spirit of the Feb 19 workshop proposal, that it be a non-partisan, collaborative, community-based endeavour – open to anyone who wants to have input.
In this initial design phase, options for the group’s structure, meeting and internal and external communication processes will be developed, with the aim to hold the first community-wide steering group meeting in mid-June. At this meeting, people will be able to give feedback as to the direction of the group, and work on developing collaborative actions.
At this stage looks as though the group will be established under the Far South Coast Landcare Association umbrella. In that position it can work with, but be independent of government agencies.
Dave will keep you informed as the group’s establishment proceeds.
Thankyou for the support you have given koala conservation over the years -I hope this initiative makes an important, long-term contribution to the conservation of koalas in the SENSW coastal and escarpment forests.
Kind Regards

Chris

In the lead up to the federal election, the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) has proposed making 13 ‘forestry hubs’ across Australia. The federal plan for forestry and its ‘billion trees’ vision was for 9 hubs, that didn’t include the south coast of NSW.  While one can’t be certain, it is possible the south coast wasn’t included because there are very few trees left and in many locations eucalyptus trees simply don’t grow back after logging.

The AFPA doesn’t provide maps of its proposed hubs, rather maps of federal electorates with dodgy numbers claiming to reflect both those directly and indirectly employed in forestry. For example in the Eden-Monaro electorate it is suggested that 2,168 are directly employed and 2,981 indirectly employed. Unfortunately, the figures incorporate the softwood plantation industry, where employment greatly out numbers those employed in the dying native forest logging sector.

The situation is different in the Gilmore electorate on the south coast, where there are no softwood plantations. Here it is claimed 482 are directly employed and 663 indirectly employed in native forest logging. Curiously and although Eden-Monaro surrounds the Australian Capital Territory, where there are quite a few plantations, there is no reference to any of the three federal electorates in the ACT, in the AFPA proposal.

Responding to the proposal, South East Region Conservation Alliance (SERCA)   spokesperson, Harriett Swift said : “Be prepared to hear grossly inflated job figures and wildly exaggerated figures on claimed economic benefits of the woodchipping industry and over use of terms like sustainable and carbon positive.” Ms Swift went on to say ‘that voters take these claims with a very large grain of salt’ and that Eden -Monaro is one of  ‘Only 4 other electorates in Australia have more threatened species dependent on them for their survival.’

 

Among the threatened species are koalas, both on the coast and on the tablelands. While SERCA are yet to acknowledge dieback associated with dry weather and drought (DADD) is this threat to coastal koalas and native forests generally. There is also some compelling evidence to suggest DADD also threatens koalas and forests on the southern tablelands, including the ACT.

The photo above is from an ABC article about the bar eating koalas from 2015. Based on the research to date, koalas eat the bark because the environment is nutrient deficient and it appears Sodium in the bark is what they are after. There is some concern that the particular tree species  they debark (E.mannifera subsp mannifera), may be declining as a result of koalas needing to suppliment this nutrient deficiency

However, in addition to the loss of bark, in this tree there also appears to be longitudinal splits in the bark. Similar splits were observed in another koala feed tree, Scribbly gum (E.rossi), during the unprecedented DADD event during 1965 on the tablelands. While in many cases trees developing these splits survived the event, whether koalas and their feed trees will survive another such event is uncertain. 

What is certain is that current unsustainable management does not consider or address DADD anywhere.

Over recent times the OE&H have released a document titled ‘A review of koala tree use across NSW’ and a ‘Koala Research Plan’ for 2019 til 2028. Arguably not before time, the tree use document provides a more realistic assessment of tree use than the state recovery plan.

However, it has retained the same broad management areas.One comment in the review, for Central coast management area suggests ” The Central Coast KMA (Figure 8) comprises a conglomerate of koala habitats and environments that don’t really sit comfortably as a unit of management (K Madden, OEH Wollongong, pers. comm.).”

The same could be said for the south coast management area (KMA 3), that includes areas in Sydney basin bioregion and potentially the southern tablelands bioregion. According to the review “. . Koalas in the South Coast KMA (Figure 9) are distributed in patchy and sparse populations from the Shoalhaven Gorge region in the north to the Murrah flora reserves, between Bermagui and Tathra, and the Eden area in the south.”

On the other hand the research plan suggests : ” . . . If koalas do occur in other parts of KMA3 (or do in the future) what is the likelihood, and impact, of various logging scenarios on koalas?”
Perhaps not surprisingly there are only three references to dieback in the research plan and no reference to management aimed at increasing soil fertility. Estimating the risk of dieback in ‘refuge areas’ and a suggestion to ” . . . Understand the role of dieback on persistence of koala populations, in areas dominated by lantana.” are the only proposals.

While it wasn’t really necessary, I suppose reinforcing the fact that the OE&H plans to continuing to ignore dieback where there are koalas, does provide some certainty.

 

The most recent photo of an actual koala, probably the same one as in the last almost photo, may be thanks to moving the water container away from the tree.

Bega shire councillors decided, at its recent meeting, to defer their decision on doubling the number of shooting days for the shotgun club, pending a site visit. Coming at a time when the feds have approved the Adani coal mine and the state government agencies have begun their annual broad acre burning, it is a small reprieve.

There were several speakers presenting their opposition or support for the gun club at the council meeting. While I would describe those in the latter group as, less than enlightened, another described the supporters as being ‘from the lower end of the gene pool’.

One supporter spoke of a disabled youth, who is bullied at school and finds shooting makes him feel better. Although I guess he would feel even better, if he took his shotgun to school. Another spoke of the training proposed and why it couldn’t be done during so-called competition days. A trainee may be smart and gain an advantage over those competing, which wouldn’t be fair.

Another supporter confirmed, although it is not directly referred to in the development application, a desire to have the flexibility to combine a training and competition day for a weekend to hold a state shooting event. There was much gratitude for council staff, who have clearly bent over backwards to help the club, while ignoring their legal responibilities and local resident’s objections.

 

Another thing council staff and the OE&H have ignored is their obligations under the EPBC Act. While the intention of the Federal koala listing is to help koalas. This is left to state and local governments and seemingly based on the notion that they want to help koalas too.

As indicated in the map above of the area and post 2000 koala records, there are very few within the black line, where most of the high intensity shotgun noise can be heard. Koala records in this area prior to 2000, where adjacent to the club and at lower topographic positions further up the Murrah valley.

The loss of suitable habitat at lower topographic locations can be explained due to reducing soil fertility and dieback. However, only the gun club can explain a lack of koalas in most of this area. There is also the OE&H claim that koalas to the north have Chlamydia and those to the south don’t.

So it seems fair to say that the populations to the north and south are disjunct, a further sign of the species decline and another example of governments that don’t care.

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee has produced an interim report on Australia’s faunal extinction crisis.

In brief the report quotes the Australian Government’s State of the Environment 2016 report indicating – ” Based on the information available about vegetation extent and condition, and the small number of species for which there is some understanding of trends in distribution and abundance, the status of biodiversity in Australia is generally considered poor and deteriorating.”

The committee makes 2 recommendations being –
1 The committee recommends that to limit the drivers of faunal extinction, the Commonwealth develop new environmental legislation to replace the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

2 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth establish an independent Environment Protection Agency (EPA), with sufficient powers and funding to oversee compliance with Australia’s environmental laws.

Of course the major issue for koalas is the fact that forestry are exempt from federal environmental laws and the management of National Parks is a bad joke, in poor taste.

Back in NSW the re-elected government has decided to eliminate the Office of Environment and Heritage. The environment section is being placed within a new energy and environment ministry, consistent with federal government arrangements. Tragically, while governments come and go, government employees remain unchanged.

Some two years after attempting to get another day of shooting per month, Bega Shire council staff have recommended council approve the Bermagui -field and game shotgun clubs so-called ‘training day’. The club is located immediately adjacent to the Murrah Flora reserve.

According to the staff report ” . . . The Office of Environment and Heritage has advised the proposed additional training days do not require additional noise testing or threatened species assessments for koalas in the Murrah Flora Reserves. The applicant has advised that before every shoot, the shooting ground is visually inspected to make sure there were no koalas present on the day and this has been done on every occasion since their inaugural shoot.”

The claim that the club will look for koalas before shooting is both ridiculous and logistically impossible. This is because it would take all day for club members to check every tree.

There are koala records adjacent to the club, but these are from the 1990’s before the club was approved. It seems unlikely that any koala would want to live with the sound of shotguns blasting all day. The fact that the whole area is polluted with lead is given little consideration.

Most of the submissions were opposed to the proposal and while Council may reject the application, as they previously have. It won’t help koalas much, because the damage was done when they and the OE&H, first approved it, in 1999.

Contrary to the polling, the Liberal and National party coalition appear to have maintained a slim majority and held onto government in NSW. In this electorate Bega, the liberal incumbent has retained his seat, although his party, labor and the greens have all had swings against them.

The majority of the swing has gone to the Shooters, fishers and farmers mob. Local candidate for the SFF was Clyde Thomas and received more than 6% of the vote. Clyde wants to ” . . . Make our towns, villages, highways and escape routes fire safe, with substantial firebreaks creating a fire-safe town common.” and ” . . . a strategy to return forests to pre-colonisation open and wet sclerophyll via strategic forest thinning and prescribed cultural burns. This will employ not only public servants, NPWS and Forestry but will involve private contractors to remove and utilise this conservative, organic, renewable resource. ”

Some valid points but without further detail, perhaps a bit extreme and a little unrealistic.

 

At 4.30pm last Friday the OE&H emailed a copy of their summary of the koala workshop, held in Bega on February 8. Actions including re-introducing locally extinct native species for forest health and improving soil health and fertility are mentioned.

However, there is also a proposal to ” . . . Establish a steering group of local stakeholders to agree on priorities and deliver a regional, coordinated approach to koala conservation.” While this may sound OK, the first advisory group was less than helpful, perhaps in part because they were misinformed about the threats to koalas.

There is also a proposal to continue and extend the koala surveys, even though they have been going for 13 years and do nothing to help koalas. As indicated in the map above, there is only one record of the supposedly common Long-nosed bandicoot in the flora reserves since that time. During the same timeframe there are in excess of 150 koala records, at least to the end of 2012, when they stop.

So rather than continuing less than helpful surveys, they should be modified to more accurately inform on local conditions. Of course such an approach is only desirable if the intention is to keep koalas alive in the wild and to date, there isn’t much evidence to confirm that intention.

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