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The Bega District News recently published a couple of articles titled “National parks slash and burn: ‘Ridiculous amount of years of experience’ lost” and ” Murrah flora reserves work toward rebuilding koala population on the South Coast.”

The first article quoted a former NPWS employee suggesting job losses had reduced the capacity to undertake general duties, let alone deal with emergencies. He suggested structural reform of NPWS is aimed at privatizing the service.

The second article, from an unnamed NPWS spokesperson, indicated there was no additional funding for the reserves but the ” . . . original allocation of $2.5 million in March 2016 has allowed the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to make the first steps in the right direction.” Among these steps and in addition to the secret koala surveys, is the suggestion that ” . . . Koala habitat rehabilitation within the reserves is being researched by the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program.”

Exactly what this means isn’t clear, but it may mean the proposed management plan for the reserves, may not be released in the short term.

Not surprisingly the article doesn’t refer to the greatest threat to koalas – dieback- just ‘land clearing for urban development and logging’. Despite this omission ” . . .The hope is the koala population will grow and sightings of the native animal will increase in time.”

Of course the potential for koalas to increase in numbers is largely dependent on management that provides for this outcome. So the answer to Dawn Walker’s question on notice, pasted below is notable.

According to the EPBC Act, fire prevention activities that may require federal approval include –

one-off fuel reduction burns in remnant forest that is important habitat for nationally threatened species and has not been previously subject to burning regimes.
and
trial or experimental ecological burns, on a significant scale, in habitat for nationally threatened species or areas that form part of a nationally threatened ecological community.

I wonder whether a privatized NPWS may be more accountable, so key threatening processes are given due consideration. The areas subject to recent burning for example, have Bell-miners in most of the gullies. Then there is the loss of large woody debris, that may be burned, or in the case of the trees in the photo above, cut up for firewood despite the prohibition on timber removal.
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1592 – Lands and Forestry – MURRAH FLORA RESERVE
Walker, Dawn to the Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, Minister for Trade and Industry representing the Minister for Lands and Forestry, and Minister for Racing
In relation to the $2.5 million allocated from the NSW Environmental Trust to Forestry Corporation of NSW for a haulage subsidy to source alternative logs following the declaration of the Murrah Flora Reserves:
how much haulage subsidy was allocated in 2015-16?
how much haulage subsidy was allocated in 2016-17?
Does the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 apply in State Forest flora reserves such as the Murrah Flora Reserves?
Answer –
Forestry Corporation has received revenue of $425,603 in 2015-16 and $413,085 in 2016-17 (July to December) from the Environment Trust under the “Protection of Koalas in Murrah Mumbulla Tanja Bermagui” project.
Yes
Question asked on 24 May 2017 (session 56-1) and published in Questions & Answers Paper No. 109
Answer received on 28 June 2017 and to be printed in a Questions & Answers Paper on 8 August 2017

Last Thursday, I dropped into the Council/OE&H drop in information session about Cuttagee catchment. It was soon apparent that the stated aim, to ‘ target environmental issues within the estuary and catchment’, had yet to progress beyond the estuary stage. On the basis that this progression may occur, I mentioned the extensive canopy die-back maps produced by Forestry for the catchment and region generally. Also Forestry’s observations that ” . . . In Bega Valley Shire, on the south coast of New South Wales, every near-coastal drainage system contains bellbird dieback.” (Jurskis and Turner, 2002)
The chap from Council suggested they could have brought along a map of the catchment. However, based on the information being employed, it would probably be similar to the 2010 Wapengo catchment plan map below. The Environmental Management System associated with the map, doesn’t mention die-back either.
Due to this arguably limited approach, confidence that major issues will be identified in any catchment plans may require an act of faith. Compounding the issue is the long term inability to acknowledge soil dispersion and its association with die-back.

wapengoems

Coincidently, some associated research on the vascular traits of eucalyptus has recently been published in Ecology Letters. Unlike other species, the research found eucalyptus trees ‘cannot quickly adjust the size of their water transport vessels to cope with variability in water supply’. This limitation makes them ‘vulnerable to extreme heatwaves’ and leads to the ‘risk of developing air bubbles in their vessels’.
If this outcome was linked with soil dispersion and the associated reduction in soil Water Holding Capacity, a reasonable person might consider trees turning brown and dropping dead, during quite short dry spells, a realistic outcome.
Of course when the forests are brown, the potential for a hot fire is very likely to increase. So it was interesting to read NSW emergency services minister David Elliott’s comments regarding the Rural Fire Service. In essence ” . . . that the service needed more qualified salaried people and that it wouldn’t be too long before he could do away with the Dad’s Army of the VFA.”
While the politics of the comment are complex, when it comes to quick fire suppression I’d rather place my faith in the Friends of Oolong proposal for night equipped air-cranes. Along with the Hercules fire fighting tankers, currently being trialled in NSW.

 

 

 

 

As if the sun has suddenly dawned, ABC Radio National quoted parliamentary secretary  for forestry Senator Richard Colbeck last week saying ‘the issue about the long-term sustainability of our forests is one that we need to confront and address’.

Suggesting  the new RFA’s need to ensure logging quotas are be sustainable  he adds ‘I suspect that in some places there will be some very difficult decisions that need to be made around the availability of timber, and particularly in some cases in the context of contracts moving forward.’

The quotes are part of a lengthy article on north coast logging, also questioning Forestry Corporation NSW’s Nick Roberts about problems with resource estimates.  Mr Roberts doesn’t  think there is a problem indicating ” I think the resource estimates are … sound in so far as we need them to be.”

Much of the article is devoted to logging contractors, all of whom seem to share the opinion that forests have been trashed under the RFAs.

rcacut1

Back in the shire, Bega Valley Shire Council has secured funding from the Office of Environment and Heritage to undertake ‘rapid catchment assessments’ of Cuttagee Lake, Nelson Lagoon and Middle Lagoon.

Unfortunately Council’s Coastal Management Officer, Kyran Crane, doesn’t refer to the major problem in the catchments, soil dispersion, but suggests “ . . . It is crucial that good water quality is maintained in these ICOLLs, not only for recreation purposes but because Nelson Lagoon is also an oyster growing lake which relies directly on the quality of the water.”

Perhaps because governments have a generally poor appreciation of the environment, consultants have been engaged to undertake the assessments.

One of the issues with intermittently closed and opened lakes or lagoons is the differing views on how these catchments work. Several local residents have suggested that logging is responsible for the sediment that collects and intermittently closes the lakes.

However, a closer look at Cuttagee below, coupled with the understanding that soils have been dispersing from the catchment for a least several decades, provides a different understanding.

As indicated the main blockage is at the ocean/lake interface, where beach sand has slowly been filling the front end of the lake. This sand is not derived from the catchment, but is likely to collect in greater volumes because base water flows in the catchment have reduced, along with soil water holding capacity. In this case the influx of beach sand has blocked water flows from and to the smaller lake on the south side, where many trees died last year.

Exactly what will come from the assessments is unclear,  past assessments haven’t acknowledged the main issues or addressed them.

However, consultants Elgin Associates are calling for input and ” Project manager Dr Nicholas Yee can be contacted directly on 0400 365 234 or at nick.yee@elgin.com.au or interested residents, stakeholders and community members may complete an online survey via the following links.”
Cuttagee Lake   https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Cuttagee_Lake
Middle Lagoon   https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Middle_Lagoon
Nelson Lagoon   https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Nelson_Lagoon

In a week where Pope Francis has, via his environmental encyclical, poured scorn rich countries for their greed and unjustified ‘absolute domination over other creatures’. Bellingen Shire Council has wrapped up its second round of public comments for the shire’s Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPM).

There were several problems with the first CKPM, notably relevance to ‘State Government legislation governing private forestry operations’. It seems the EPA had advised and Council hadn’t fully realised, that any ‘core habitat’ left out of the plan could be subject to logging. Consistent with the NSW government’s tenure based approach, as indicated in the map of koala habitat classes below from the CKPM, there is no indication of what habitat may exist on public land.

bellplan
This is particularly the case for State Forest that occupies up slope areas adjacent to most of the habitat on private land. It seems at this point, it is once again necessary to have unbridled faith in the State Government’s understanding of ecological processes and koala management practices.

According to the CKPM, the Office of Environment and Heritage has identified the following  five  threats to koalas in the shire –

1. Clearing of koala habitat for urban and rural residential development, roadwork, forestry and agricultural activities.
2. Fragmentation of koala habitat which isolates individuals and populations, impedes gene flow and the ability to maintain effective recruitment levels.
3. Mortalities caused by dog attack and vehicle strike
4. Mortalities caused by random events such as wildfire and/or extreme weather conditions.
5. Disease, mainly associated with Chlamydia.

Missing from the list is Bell Miner Associated Dieback, although it is associated with threats 1, 2 and 5, there is no mention of this threat in the CKPM.

The main idea behind the CKPM is to protect, rehabilitate and restore koala habitat using various trade-offs and private land incentives. Regrettably, while the terms protect and restore are readily understandable, rehabilitate isn’t. This and the need to log private land to sustain timber supplies, may be a reason why BMAD isn’t mentioned. Whatever, without reference to this threat and what to do about it, the plan is not comprehensive.

Climate change is referred to in the context of potential increases in wildfire and fuel reduction burning is proposed, at a minimum of every six years.

Closer to home, the NPA’s Dr Oisin Sweeney was kind enough to respond to my perceptions of inaccurate koala information reported in local newspapers. Oisin repeated the NPA’s concerns that a single wild fire may eliminate the last koalas. Regrettably the NPA hasn’t proposed any way to address this issue, but seems happy to accept broad acre burning and pretty well everything else, excluding logging, the NSW government is committed to.

What the NPA are yet to push for is the NSW government’s yet to be realised proposal for community based koala monitoring.  Should this occur, a focus on real koalas, as opposed to anything the future may bring, may be higher on the agenda.

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.

The Natural Resources Commission has released its proposals for the management of over-abundant White and black cypress pine and Bulloak (Allocasuarina luehmannii) in the Brigalow and Nandewar State Conservation areas.

Important because the NSW government will probably go along with it,  the NRC’s Executive director, Bryce Wilde said ” . . these forests are very different to the old growth forests found on the coast and ranges in NSW, and as a result need very different management regimes.”

Having recently returned from the north coast, hence the lack of a post last week, I didn’t see any old growth, rather massive development, vast areas of regrowth forest and many dead trees.

However, the report does refer to research on over abundant Black forest oak (Allocasuarina littoralis), found in drier forests and woodlands in coastal and tableland areas of New South Wales, including here, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. Also Drooping She-oak ( Allocasuarina stricta), found in the previous states and South Australia, finding theses species can also impact on environmental values, including an association with poor eucalyptus regeneration.

The NRC suggests it will ‘place the ecological health of the forests first and foremost’, although much like the Forestry Corporation, Office of Environment and Heritage etc, the notion that forest ecosystems are dependent on the animals isn’t considered. Hence the proposal is limited to suggesting the government subsidise thinning of over-abundant trees, identified in 15% (approx, 30,000 ha) of the conservation areas.

Three options to thin the trees are put forward being, no cost recovery, OE&H cut down trees and leave them on the ground, costing $3.85 to $7.1million. Number two, OE&H sell the trees they cut down, costing $2 -$2.5 million and three, OE&H engage a contractor to cut, remove and sell the trees, costing $0.9 to $2.5 million. In addition, as there are no established markets for the small timbers, the NRC propose a biomass power plant be constructed at a local sawmill, capable of burning 51,200 tonnes of timber a year.

Currently local sawmills produce 14,500 tonnes of waste a year and the NRC propose Forestry also undertake thinning to boost the volumes for the power plant. Based on its submission, it is assumed FNSW will line up for any subsidies that may be available.

While the report is detailed, critical data is missing, in particular, the timber volumes expected from the thinning, said to be in Box 5, Section 11.2.2, but the section and the box are not in the report. The NRC is yet to respond to a request to provide the information.elanora 1114

 

The idea behind thinning is to encourage the regrowth of eucalypt species, for koalas and in the longer term, species dependent on the hollows that large euclypts provide. Regrettably there is no evidence to demonstrate this will occur.

The small tree in the center of the photo above was planted when the housing development, located in Elanora, a Gold Coast suburb west of the highway, was completed some 30 years ago. There are koala signs on all of the local roads, and in this case a koala was recently observed on the road and then it went up the tree where it ate leaves for a while.

Originally it was proposed that the nature strip on each property would have two koala feed trees. Unfortunately this didn’t happen, and where they were planted some landholders cut them down. So in this case koalas have to cross the road to access one tree. Interestingly, koalas have learned how to access the few trees that were retained during the clearing, by walking along the top of paling fences.

Also worth a mention, the NSW government has decided to introduce a ‘Pest Control Order’ (PCO) for foxes, covering all land in NSW.  According to the DPI website, the PCO ‘seeks to better support the coordination of community‑wide fox control programs’.

The website also indicates that in certain circumstances ” . . . it may allow Local Land Services to issue eradication orders to individual private landholders to eradicate foxes on their land.”

Locally, the Corridors and core habitat for koalas project was supposed to be organising the coordination of feral control, but that organisation is yet to appear, and seems unlikely to.

Rather, the PCO provides the LLS with the opportunity to start serving notices, so local landholders can be said to be participating, without knowing what the larger game plan is, or what, if anything, the agencies have achieved so far.

Different approaches to conserving threatened species hit the news this week, the first being in the Northern territory. The ABC reports that animals from Kakadu National Park will be trapped and dispatched to Gardangarl (aka Field Island), as part of the federal government’s new 10 year Threatened Species strategy. Gardangarl forms part of Kakadu, is around 4,400 hectares in size,  and is apparently  free from cats, pigs, and other invasive species.  According to the Endangered Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews, ferals combined with inappropriate fire regimes, have resulted in many threatened species in Kakadu declining by more than 90 per cent .

In South Australia, the SMH reported on experiments attempting to ‘fast track evolution’ where ‘450 bettongs and bilbies will be placed inside a 26-kilometre-squared fenced area with one feral cat.’ The idea is to see which ones survive, so they may have a better chance to co-exist with feral predators, out side the fence. This is a longer term project, likely take take closer to 100 years.

In Western Australia, the ABC reported on studies determining which species were taking the 1080 baits put out for foxes. As it turned only one of the 100 monitored baits was taken by a fox, the rest being taken by quokkas (48%), possums, bandicoots, kangaroos, magpies, ravens, and feral pigs.

WA’s Department of Parks and Wildlife was concerned the research could be interpreted to suggest the fox baiting was ineffective. It indicated 10 years of fox baiting had increased quokka numbers, so it wasn’t surprising they were picking up more baits.

koala years

Locally, where fox/dog baiting has been occurring for more than ten years, there isn’t much to show for it. The long-footed potoroo for example, only found in the Eden region in NSW, has recently been listed as critically endangered, and it seems likely  there will be some sort of koala announcement in the near future.

After a long break, I recently came across some fresh koala pellets that, as indicated on the map, is the sixth time over 13 years I’ve found evidence of koalas at this location. The area is on both private land and state forests, and as indicated is wedged between two bell-miner colonies.

While trees under which pellets were found are consistent with the generally accepted koala feed trees, there are a couple of other factors.

Firstly, the distance between the furthest trees is only 180 meters, yet koalas have never used the same trees twice, or any others in the area. This small sample cannot be extrapolated to elsewhere, however it does raise the issue of proposed logging, and how one could possibly tell what trees koalas may prefer.

In addition, and given the recent admission from the OE&H that ‘there is relatively low suitable foliage for them to eat’, it seems reasonable to assume that the trees, due to the soils they are growing in, are only suitable for koalas very occasionally.

So it will be interesting to see if the government gets around to considering soil limitations as a threat to koalas. It seems likely the proposed ‘integrated cross-tenures approach’ will be pretty hollow if it doesn’t.

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