Prioritizing threats to koalas, certainty preferred over long bows

Greater detail has emerged this week about the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) concerns about wildfire, along with Forestry comments on koalas.

According to the Merimbula News ‘ . . NPA Science Officer Dr Oisín Sweeney said: “ Because their population is so small and localised, one major fire could be the final nail in the coffin for the south coast koalas. With an El Niño predicted for eastern Australia this year, the chance of this occurring has greatly increased.” In an effort to save the region’s dwindling koala population, the NPA has developed a strategic proposal to relink the forests of the south coast. The proposed Great Southern Koala Forest would connect the south coast’s remnant koala population with larger ones in Shoalhaven and the Southern Tablelands, including a significant population 700 strong in Cooma-Monaro.’

If the El nino results in low rainfall there is no doubt the chances of wildfire are greatly increased. However, the bit both the NPA and FCNSW tend to ignore is the certainty that most forests will turn brown if rainfall is too low. Consequently, efforts to connect the remnant population, by protecting areas away from koalas, won’t do much to help them.

Another concern, when talking about the Southern Tablelands koalas, is the genetic issue. While noting the NPA and FCNSW may have priviledged access to relevent genetic information, given the NSW government has seen fit to place an embargo on it. The NSW koala recovery plan indicates ‘ . . . If koalas were to be moved from South Australia or Victoria to NSW and allowed to breed the gene pools would mix. The result would be a reduction of genetic diversity and this could be detrimental to the recovery and long-term survival of koalas in NSW.’

For its part, FCNSW’s ” . . . Operations Planning Manager, Justin Williams, said that a combination of forest fires in the Bega Valley in the 1980s and changes in land use over the past 20 – 30 years have contributed to low koala populations, suggesting that land managed “off-forest” may have had a greater impact than current forestry operations. Mr Williams referred to the corporation’s Koala Code of Practice which sets out procedures for forest harvesting in NSW.”

Koala habitat nsw

As indicated in the map above of ‘indicative’ koala distribution from the corporation’s code of practise , koalas are known to be pretty well every where, including ‘off-forest’ areas. The notion that fires thirty plus years ago and putting State Forest into National Park contributed to decline in koala ‘populations’ seems to be drawing a long bow.

The final words were from the NPA’s Kim Taysom saying .“With the current Regional Forest Agreement due to terminate in 2017, other more economically viable and environmentally sustainable options for these forests should be considered”.

Now there is something I can agree with, although the RFA’s can’t really be described as legally binding, especially when it comes to day to day unsustainable management. However, any approach has to be across tenures and it’s a shame that the NPA aren’t pushing for improvements to National Park management, to set an adequate standard.

Moving on, and despite my negative feeling about the RFAs, I thought it worthwhile to put in some brief comments on the Tasmanian RFA review, related mainly to international reporting obligations and because extensive canopy die-back associated with drought has also been observed in the state.

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