ESFM and correcting koala history


The NSW OE&H have a chapter in a recent publication called World Environmental History, part of which is freely available, titled ‘AN ECOLOGICAL HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA’S FORESTS AND FAUNA (1770-2010). The authors (Dan Lunney and Chris Moon) argue that the role of the forest ecologist is ‘yet to be seen within that paradigm’ that is traditional forestry and Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management (ESFM) requires equal consideration of both fauna and trees.

They refer to their studies in Mumbulla State Forest in the mid 1980’s, pointing out the four mammal species that are extinct and other previously common species that are now ‘rare’, but suggest an understanding of ESFM requires more detailed historical information –

“. . . The base year really should be 1830, not 1980. To gain some knowledge of changes since 1830 to the forest fauna of the whole Bega district in the Eden region, in which Mumbulla State Forest is situated, a detailed historical study turned up four mammal species that are now locally extinct, and others that were common but are now locally rare. The Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) seen by many as a local pest less than 100 years ago, now it is a nationally-listed threatened species.

The Koala is now locally rare, but at the end of the 19th century there were two local Koala-skinning factories. Tracking these changes, and looking for causes of the changes, is where the fascination in the scholarship lies, but the results are of great importance for any recovery program. The case for conducting such studies grows stronger, but the interdisciplinary demands look too daunting for most potential entrants to the field.”

Leaving aside the OE&H’s lack of a bio-regional approach, what makes the interdisciplinary demands even more daunting is finding ways around Forests NSW’s perceptions of history as indicated in their Koala Management Plan for Eden (1997) written by the former ecologist Dr J. Shields who suggests –

” . . . Although not possible to prove, it is highly likely that the Koalas that survived clearing and hunting were concentrated in localised areas, where populations built up beyond carrying capacity and disease broke out amongst animals in high density populations.”

What  seems more likely is that the koalas that survived clearing and hunting on mostly cleared land, died as a result of declining food resources coupled with the disease that the remaining koalas still carry, chlamydia.

Dr Shields confuses endemic koalas with the ‘genetic bottleneck’ koalas, like those around Numerella and Campbelltown in NSW, that don’t have chlamydia, until they come into contact with koalas that do. This lack of chlamydia helps explain why their numbers can build up beyond carrying capacity, to the point where they often kill the trees.




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