Strzelecki translocations, a bad gamble for koalas

Last month, at a small meeting held in south west Gippsland, OE&H threatened species officer Chris Allen put forward his case for translocating koalas from the Strzelecki ranges, ‘the most important population in southern Australia’, to the Bega Valley.

Koala surveys,  paid for under the Bio-fund project, were undertaken in central and eastern Strzelecki Ranges during November 2013 and March 2014. According to Allen the results indicate “ . . . The population currently appears to be relatively secure and occurs at a 72 per cent occupancy rate with variable density depending on the quality of the habitat.”

He goes on to suggest ” . . . Results showed that across 3,525 ha of habitat covered by the survey, there was an estimated koala population of 811, or one koala for every four hectares.”

Exactly how this estimate has been inferred from the data is unclear, given a 72 percent occupancy rate equates to 2,540 hectares occupied and 635 koalas with one every 4 ha., or one koala every three ha., assuming non variable density.

The total area surveyed, 3525 hectares, is equivilent to 141 plots, on a 500 metre grid. Hence every plot represents an area of 25 hectares, and a smaller grid size would seem to be required, to increase confidence around estimates of koala numbers at a finer scale.

Other koala surveys in the area, undertaken by Friends of the Earth, Friends of Gippsland Bush and Rainforest Rescue, ‘ found two separate areas of Koala hotspots in the Strzeleckis.’

Apparently, the FCNSW/OE&H proposal is to translocate nine adult koalas (three males and six females), ‘sourced from areas scheduled for harvesting on HVP plantation estates’, although it is yet be approved by NSW and Victorian authorities. The notion that approving the proposal is not entirely up to the OE&H and FCNSW is a small comfort.

Another of Allen’s suggestions ” . . . Koala populations in south-east NSW have been depleted due to land-use changes that have occurred since European occupation.”, should be a concern to relevant authorities. Particularly given he and other dieback deniers in the OE&H and FCNSW , seem to believe the factors that led to koala extinction in most of the SEC bioregion, have somehow gone away.

HVPcores-links

 

Also at the meeting was Ms.Faye Wedrowicz, a Monash PhD student, speaking about her work confirming the Strzelecki koalas’ unique genetic variability, relative to most other Victorian koalas. This research is partly funded by Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP), as it manages most of the Strezlecki’s, at least the more forested eastern section.

The HVP map above shows around 50,000 hectares of the bioregion’s 60,000 hectares of the remaining native vegetation, representing only 19% of pre-european forest, and the recently proposed ‘cores and links’ area. Closely mixed with plantations, much of the remaining native forest was burnt in a wildfire during 2009.

To it’s credit HVP have previously engaged the Australian Koala Foundation to produce a ‘koala habitat atlas’ for the area. This information suggests there is 5,307 ha of primary koala habitat and 18,737 ha of secondary habitat. How this information sits with other survey results, and degree to which koalas are using plantations or native forests,  is unclear.

Given the lack of clarity, it seems reasonable to expect more detail on the Strzelecki koalas, and their habitat. Chris Allen also claimed that translocated koalas will go to a ‘national park with similar habitat to the Strzelecki Ranges’.  This too requires more detail. Unless of course one believes Mr Allen can identify koala habitat just by looking at it, as he claims to do with ‘fertile soils’,  when planting trees.

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