Threats to koalas – where state governments fail

After advice that koala populations are not as ‘strong outside of south-east Queensland’, the Queensland government has indicated it will move to list koalas as threatened under its legislation. The ABC reports Environment Minister Miles saying “But it’s good news because it means the Government and local councils will do more to protect our valuable koala habitat.”

Perhaps more consistent with experience, Australian Koala Foundation chief executive Deborah Tabart said she is not impressed by the listing and added that it did not necessarily mean good news for the koala. . . . “I believe if the Premier said to the Environment Minister in Canberra, ‘hey my legislation will cover this’ then I believe the Federal Government will back off and that is the last thing koala’s need.”

Meanwhile, to the south in Tasmania, federal MP Mr Andrew Wilkie has called for a Royal Commission into Forestry Tasmania. Suggesting the organisation’s financial position is “a diabolical mess”and the enterprise is effectively insolvent, his demand is to “finally get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable.”

Back in NSW and taking a contrary approach, the NSW Government advises it ” has temporarily amended the Lower North East IFOA to enable a limited field trial of proposed threatened species protections”. The idea is ‘ to ensure that the Coastal IFOA is fit for purpose and delivers against the remake objectives of not eroding environmental values whilst maintaining access to existing wood supply levels.’

It appears many of the areas proposed for the trial have resident koalas and there is no mention of eucalyptus die-back.biamangasoilkoala

The Nature Conservation Council has recently held its tenth biennial bushfire conference titled ‘Fire & Restoration: working with fire for healthy lands’. Although the edges are a little blurry, the focus seemed to be using fire to reduce weeds and encourage native species in grassy environments. The south coast example came from Eurobodalla Shire council, burning off headlands along the coast to kill encroaching banksias.

Among the many speakers indicated on the draft conference program and perhaps the most blurry, was a chap from FCNSW speaking on the ‘Challenges of resuscitating a fuel management program in a complex regulatory framework’.

Following this up the South coast branch of the National Parks Association put out a press release titled ‘One fire away from extinction the koalas of nsw south coast’. Unfortunately apart from the title there are no other words in the press release. However, it is unlikely that wildfire would impact on all forests with koalas and given the NPA’s roll on the Biamanga/Gulaga management board, it is regrettable that park management  is yet to show an interest in appropriate fire management and improving ecological processes.

The map above shows records from the original koala surveys up until 2009 (green trees) and arguably less reliable koala records from the Wildlife Atlas until 2014 (purple trees). The koala records within Biamanga NP are constrained to a relatively small area of the park, at most 25% of the total area. The majority of this area has previously been logged and burned, since being turned into National Park. Unfortunately this hasn’t reduced the wildfire hazard, because the greatest threat is the over abundant mid-storey trees.

Coinciding with the NCC conference, federal environment Minister Greg Hunt tabled the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015.

The amendment specifies the biomass must come from management that meets the following requirements of ecologically sustainable development for forests, being:

(a) maintenance of the ecological processes within forests, including the formation of soil, energy flows, and the carbon, nutrient and water cycles;
(b) maintenance of the biological diversity of forests;
(c) optimisation of the benefits to the community from all uses of forests within ecological constraints.

Sounds good in theory and time is rapidly running out for the state government  to implement it, should its credibility be an issue.

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