Speaking on ABC radio yesterday, and seemingly in contrast to the most recent Bioblitz report in the Bega District News, OE&H threatened species officer Chris Allen suggested koalas have expanded into Mimosa Rocks NP, east of the main road. This claim is based on koala pellets being found at three sites. According to Mr Allen the first sighting in the area was two years ago, when NPWS workers saw a koala on the road, and took a video of it ascending a tree. Exactly why surveys were not undertaken at the time is unclear.
However, had that been the case, and no koala evidence was found, Mr Allen would be justified in saying koalas were expanding into the area.
As it is, without previous surveys, it is also possible that koalas have always been there, but nobody has looked properly.
Although details remain sketchy, he suggested pellets of different ages were found, raising the issue of the rate at which they break down. The generally accepted time frame for pellets to become unrecognisable is about a year. Although this depends very much on where the pellet falls and prevailing weather conditions. Locally, and in dryer locations, some pellets deposited in November 2012 remain readily recognisable. So it seems likely pellets in similar locations in Mimosa Rocks NP may have survived that long as well, indicating the need to find fresh pellets to confirm current koala presence.
In addition there is the uncertainty about where Mr Allen deposited the koala in Mimosa Rocks NP, given the potential bias it could introduce to the surveys outcomes.
I do wonder how much easier life would be if part of the $14 million governments are spending on koalas was put someone organizing a website or the like, so there might be a bit more accountability and information was more readily available.
The lack of a transparent and open approach does raise concerns, particularly given there are several projects and other than information available under FOI, only one report on one project has been made publicly available.
Another issue regarding the ad hoc approach is the lack of a big picture view, so issues like koalas expanding into a small area of NP, tend to distract from other interpretations of the information.
The map above shows most of the koala records, brown stars, in the area between the coastal towns of Narooma and Tathra since 2001. The areas of concern start at the very top, with Forestry’s incomplete records in Bodalla State Forest, beginning in 2001.
Similarly, in Bermagui State Forest, (red circles) the data indicates a reduction in areas that were occupied during 2008, although there has been no logging. At the bottom in Tanja State Forests, there have been no follow up surveys to confirm koala residency.
The loss of koalas from any where is a concern, and while areas of loss seemingly out number areas of gain, it seems justifiable to question the governments approach. Clearly there is room for improvement, particularly in the fields of information supply, community ownership and empowerment.