The cause of the fire that destroyed 65 homes in and around Tathra is being put down to a tree falling on power lines, along Reedy creek road. To date there has been no mention of the Flora reserve, although the fire started near the south west corner of the Tanja section.

As indicted on blurry map below, showing recent koala records and the Forestry Corporation’s incomplete logging history, the fire traveled straight down the Bega River. Aided by 38 degree heat and strong north westerly winds, it jumped the river and took off toward Tathra.

Under these conditions there is nothing fire fighters can do to stop a fire so the town was mostly evacuated. I say mostly because many stayed behind, successfully defending their homes and no-one was killed or seriously injured.

Unfortunately roads into Tanja forest remain closed, while more trees are cut down for safety reasons. However, it is clear that locations where koalas were active, back in 2012, were burnt. While trusting there will be some effort to ascertain their fate, the fire has led to the inevitable concerns about the ‘bush’ and the threat it poses.

A coronal inquiry will be examining aspects of the fire, although whether its scope will be adequate remains unclear. For example, when Europeans invaded this country, there was tall open forest, not bush. This new bush generally has a contiguous fuel load from the ground to the tree tops. Consequently, it seems likely that convection currents and the capacity to both produce and more rapidly spread burning embers is increased.

Clearly the major reason for this threatening bush is decades of mismanagement. However, there will be the inevitable calls for more broad acre burning, even though it won’t help.
Similarly, I’m anticipating, should no evidence of koalas be found, that post fire salvage logging will be proposed, so the timber isn’t wasted.

On a positive note the ABC reported on the Federal government concerns that renewing the RFAs may lead to a legal challenge, because the information is old. From another perspective the information was old when the RFAs were agreed and nothing has changed since then.


The Regional Forest Agreement drop in sessions featured on radio and in print this week. What hadn’t been previously revealed was ” two invitation-only meetings for industry and environmental stakeholders”.  While several conservation groups had suggested they would be boycotting the sessions. It seems some did attend the invitation only meetings, although none have to up their hands to confirm attendance, so far.

Local ABC radio interviewed a few people at the Eden meeting including former BVSC Greens councilor Keith Hughes. Keith suggested the RFA renewal is largely based on supporting the large financial investment, associated with logging. This suggestion was confirmed in a Narooma News story quoting NSW Department of Primary Industry representative Nick Milham – “We’ve heard from industry that the long-term security that the RFAs provide for them is absolutely critical because it provides them with that longer-term security to enable them to invest in what are significantly capital-intensive industries,”.

Of course if one is going to invest in cutting down trees, it’s a good idea to have the trees to cut down.

In that regard, it seems the Koala surveys did not return to the original plots, so a plot to plot comparison is not possible. However, as reducing soil fertility is a general trend, broader comparisons should identify associated changes to species composition. The following chart, featuring Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 17,670), recorded during the 2006-2008 surveys.

At the time Silvertop ash accounted for 9.9% of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she- oak accounted for 11.1% of the trees.

The next chart also features Silvertop Ash and Black forest oak ranked by diameter classes, is based on data from trees (n = 9,360), recorded during the 2016-2017 surveys.
Silvertop ash now account for 14.1 % of all trees above 150mm DBH. Black she-oak accounts for 18.2% of the trees.

Following up my information request, back on December 22, the OE&H has actually provided a link  to a database (Access 2007-56Mb), with the most recent information from the koala surveys.  

I’m not sure if the link was just a one off thing, but if there’s anyone interested in looking at the data base and the link doesn’t work, drop me a line and I’ll pass on a copy.

While certainly no expert, the data base appears to have been put together from another larger database. So there is data, in the form of tables and queries, for the tablelands, Tantawanglo, Yurammie and Kooraban NP. Unfortunately the plots numbers have been changed since the first survey back in 2007-09. However, when the plot locations in the respective data sets are linked, they will provide the largest and probably only, data on tree growth on the far south coast.

In the interim, the chart below shows data from the two time periods including the number of plots, the active plots where koala fecal pellets were found and the percentage active plots. As indicated the percentage of active plots marginally increased during 2016-2017, although the total number of plots almost halved.

So one would have to be confident that an impression of increased habitat use, wasn’t due to an inappropriate interpretation of the data.  On the positive side it is possible that koala numbers haven’t reduced, within the 10,000 hectares allotted to them.

What may be reducing, again, are the Giant honey-myrtles, skirting the southern edge of Wapengo Lake in Cuttagee catchment. The first time this occurred was in 2014, when about half of the trees died. It will take a while to confirm or otherwise, but the remaining trees all looked decidely yellowish the other day. 

Dieback in this species is generally associated with prolonged periods of inundation, when the lake isn’t open to the ocean. While the lake wasn’t open during the first event or now, the water levels were quite low, as they are now. Perhaps there is another explanation.

After spending too much time on them, my comments on the  Murrah flora reserves final draft working plan, have been dutifully submitted. Based on experience, there is no certainty that anyone in the OE&H will read them. Should they be read, there is somewhat less certainty anyone in the OE&H will understand them and some what less certainty they will be acted on.

While it would be reassuring to think the proposal for adaptive management in the working plan actually meant something. The impediment to adaptive management, as pointed out in ‘Options forestry-acting on uncertainty’ (Bormann & Kiester 2004) is clearly associated with ‘spurious certitude’.

That is, the NSW government agencies all believe they know what ecologically sustainable forest management is and that’s what they do, so there is no need to learn from experience or change anything. Then there is the native forest logging industry, that, from the governments perspective, has to be supported at any societal or environmental cost.
For those who feel this approach is reckless, at best. The ultimate outcome could be disastrous.

Recently published in the journal Nature is paper titled “Europe’s lost forests: a pollen-based synthesis for the last 11,000 years“. According to the paper Europe’s forests reached their maximum extent between 8000 and 6000 years ago and then began to reduce. However, sometime after 4000 years ago the rate at which the area of forest reduced, greatly increased.

The reduction was greatest in southern Europe and an example given is Lake Dojran, between Macedonia and Greece. Here, pollen retrieved from the lake pointed to a large erosion event some 3200 years ago. At the time people had been clearing the temperate forests for agriculture and there was an increasing demand for timber, to build boats. Soils had been depleting for some time, but the large erosion event topped it off.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article one of the paper’s authors, Mr Rothacker indicated  ” . . . the link between soil health and agricultural output would have shown up rapidly.”
He went on to add – “Without soil, you basically lack the key component in the eco-system to grow food,” he said. “If you don’t have mature soils any more, you can’t grow that food and you can’t supply a large population.”

The OE&H has released its koala recovery proposals for the period 21017-2021. Topping the 12 issues proposed to be addressed is ” Loss, modification and fragmentation of habitat In areas of known koala significance”. Actions proposed include – Existing degraded koala habitat restored and better connected – New koala habitat established and maintained and Permanent landholder agreements established for private land containing occupied koala habitat.

Regrettably, only the first of these is relevant to this area, because attempts to establish new habitat failed miserably and this failure confirmed why there aren’t many koalas on private land. So the disagreement is about how one restores modified and fragmented habitat, including whether there is any benefit dropping and monitoring Woollybut seed-balls.

Another threat the OE&H have cottoned onto is ” Intense prescribed burns or wildfires that scorch or burn the tree canopy”. Given this admission, with luck future NPWS intense prescribed burns may not be in areas with koalas.

Thankfully the threat of a brown forest and associated increased wildfire potential has temporarily passed given recent soaking rainfall. Although far less rainfall was recorded south of Bega, seemingly consistent with the findings in Lunney etal. – ‘Extinction in Eden identifying the role of climate change in the decline of the koala in south-eastern NSW’.

While addressing climate change is a low OE&H priority, I understand the current NSW Environment Minister would like to see a whole of government approach to the koala issue. The problem being that business as usual is still perceived as being consistent with helping koalas. For example and as indicated in the photo above, Bega Valley Shire Council has recently shredded a large number of trees along Benny-Gowings road, where it passes through the Murrah Flora reserve.

This is the first time Council has shredded vegetation along this road and it seems unfortunate that preferred koala feed trees, like the Woollybut, reduced to the large stump in the middle of the shot, were not retained. Of course the same goes for all the other feed trees council shredded, in this area of known koala significance.

While it is difficult to see how this loss of habitat sits with the state government’s proposals, it highlights – again – the difficulty achieving any sort of change to forest management in south-eastern NSW.

Four years after SE Forest Rescue raised concerns about logging of rocky outcrops in Glenbog state forest, the Land and Environment court has found the Forestry Corporation guilty of the charge.

According to the Harvesting Plan, the Supervising Forestry Officer was supposed to be looking for rocky outcrops, but this didn’t occur. Rather, the Forestry Corporation developed and relied on an ” . . . operator select methodology whereby Wiltons Logging was briefed about the difficulty in marking-up the area and was told to use their discretion when harvesting. ” The Harvesting plan alludes to this situation indicating ” . . . # SFO/Contract coordinators will continue to conduct onground mark-up & searches and report back to foresters/ecologists any features requiring further investigation.”

In addition to rocky outcrops and cliffs, contract coordinators were also to be on the look out for rainforest, wetlands, heath and scrub, as well as the endangered ecological community, Montane peatlands and swamps. The Harvesting plan also indicates a koala record in one of the compartments. However, Forestry decided the record was invalid and didn’t implement the required searches.

On sentencing, one of the aggravating factors is ‘whether the offence was committed for commercial gain.’  Strangely, the judge indicated ” . . . I find that, although there may have been an element of ‘cost-saving’ in Forestry Corporation adopting the operator select method, there is no evidence that Forestry Corporation gained a commercial advantage by the commission of the offence.”

The notion that trees are cut down and Forestry gets no monetary reward seems to be logically inconsistent.

The judgement also indicates ” . . . The EPA submits that Forestry Corporation’s failure to search, record and mark-up the areas subject to the licence as required, is contrary to the aims of the licence, and has undermined the protective regulatory scheme contained in the Parks Act and impeded the achievement of ecologically sustainable development . . ”

It would be reassuring to know that native forest logging is consistent with ecologically sustainable development. Unfortunately,  there is no evidence the regulatory scheme works and evidence to prove the ecologically sustainable management of any public forest is sorely lacking. 

In that regard the judgement states ” . . . In relation to the harm caused, Forestry Corporation submits that while it is accepted that it will take hundreds of years for the area to recover, this is a product of the time it takes for trees to re-grow and ought not be overstated.”

The acknowledgement of ‘hundreds of years to recover’ relates to all forests, including those in National Parks, but proving it requires data on tree growth rates. Perhaps these matters will be the subject of future legal arguments.

Forestry was fined $10,000, with a 20% reduction because it pleaded guilty, ordered to pay the EPA’s costs ($65K) and required to put a notice in the Bega District News.

On a lighter note, the photo shows one out of two of this years local baby possums, they both look a bit like boys, but it’s hard to tell. We can be certain the mothers don’t get on very well.

Spring has definitely sprung, although 30 degrees with a strong north-westerly wind does seem more consistent with an early summer. Perhaps more important is that this month, the eleventh day to be precise, is supposed to end to the six year regional federal and state funded koala projects.

Regrettably, there are still no reports for the ‘Foundations for River Recovery and Return of Koalas to the Bega Valley‘ project. Similarly there is still only one ,arguably irrelevant report for ‘Corridors and core habitat for koalas on the NSW Far South Coast’ project.

Of course time moves on and now, with the conservation movement calling for adaptive management, a reasonable question could ask about the degree to which our understanding of koalas and their habitat, has improved during this time. In addition, whether a similar sum ($13 million)could provide for more positive outcomes, given what has been learned.


The map above comes from the original for ‘Corridors and core habitat for koalas on the NSW Far South Coast’ project application.  It shows the areas defined as ‘core koala habitat’, aka logging exclusion areas. Areas proposed for revegetation with primary koala feed trees and theoretical corridors. Added to the map is the orange ellipse, indicating core habitat, recently burned.

One of the NSW government’s concerns was that a previously federally funded koala project, in an area it proposed for revegetation, had planted the trees incorrectly. Hence it had to be done again.
This suggestion forms the basis for the the NSW government’s general understanding of the environment. In essence that soil fertility never reduces, irrespective of how the land is managed. Of course this position may have changed since 2011, but to date, there is no evidence to prove it.

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