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September 28, 2021

Are the new koala habitat rules enough protection?

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Loss of habitat means koalas face uncertain future. Photo supplied.

Tensions are rising over protecting koala habitat, and therefore koala lives, as preparations are made to log Braemar State Forest, south of Casino.

As reported yesterday North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) ecologist Dailan Pugh said that the Forestry Commission NSW (FCNSW) had a ‘wanton disregard for their legal obligations’ and that they were not meeting their obligations to search for and protect Koala High Use Areas (KHUA).

Responding to the accusation an environment protection authority (EPA) spokesperson said, ‘The allegations NEFA have made relate to the former IFOA (integrated forestry operation approval) conditions and therefore are not applicable’ as the upcoming operation at Braemar is ‘under the new Coastal IFOA.’

As one of the first Coastal IFOA on the North Coast the EPA says it will work closely with the Forestry Commission ‘to ensure they comply with the new rule set and engage with the community to ensure they understand the transition to the new ruleset.’

According to the Forestry Commission spokesperson the ‘new Coastal IFOA contains new, improved conditions for koala protection that were developed by experts drawing on the newest research into koala habitat.’

‘We will continue to look for koalas and their habitat throughout the mark-up of the area and have already identified a number of patches of koala habitat for permanent protection. We will also ensure that preferred koala browse trees are kept right across the harvest area.’

Conservationist Dailan Pugh looking for traces of koalas. Photo supplied

Claims refuted

However, the claims by both the EPA and Forestry Commission that the new Coastal IFOA will provide increased protection for koalas and koala habitat have been refuted by Mr Pugh who was at Braemar State Forest yesterday conducting another koala assessment over a 2ha koala high use area.

‘We found a widespread population of koalas utilising most of the forest, with extensive koala HUAs limited to parts of the forest with high densities and diversities of feed trees. Elsewhere koala densities appear limited by the low density and diversity of feed trees due to past logging,’ Mr Pugh told Echonetdaily.

‘It is reprehensible that the government has switched to the new rules to avoid having to search for and protect Koala High Use Areas. The new requirements for wildlife habitat clumps and tree retention clumps over 10 per cent of the logging area will mostly encompass existing exclusions and do not require the inclusion of Koala High Use Areas. Protecting just small fragments of high use areas is not good enough.

‘Claims by the Forestry Corporation that the “new, improved conditions for koala protection … were developed by experts drawing on the newest research into koala habitat” are rubbish. In 2016 the EPA‘s Expert Koala Panel reviewed DPI Forestry’s model and found it unreliable, instead recommending pre-logging surveys to identify and protect surviving koala populations. 

‘DPI Forestry’s model of koala habitat is so shonky that it identifies most of the exceptional KHUA we have identified as low quality habitat not requiring any koala feed tree retention.

‘The agency experts advising on prescriptions recommended the retention of 25 koala feed trees over 25cm diameter in modelled high quality habitat and 15 in medium quality habitat. Because of the Forestry Corporation’s claims of timber impacts the government reduced retention rates down to ten and five trees of 20cm diameter respectively. Even where they are applied these small trees will do very little to mitigate impacts.

‘In their submission to the new logging rules, the Office of Environment and Heritage (2018) complained that the new koala feed tree retention rates are less than half the number and of a smaller size than proposed by the agency expert fauna panel, concluding that the increased logging intensity proposed under the new rules is expected to impact koalas through diminished feed and shelter tree resources.

Koala scats were found under 42 trees in a 3ha area of Braemar State Forest marked up for logging, 81 Koala scats were found under this single tree where none had been found by the Forestry Corporation. Photo supplied.

New rules inadequate

‘This case proves how grossly inadequate Premier Berejiklian’s new rules for koalas are. If we are to give koalas a future it is essential that we identify and fully protect remnant populations, particularly those of outstanding significance on public lands, as in Braemar.

‘It is not good enough for environment minister Matt Kean to hide behind the EPA and do nothing about this important population of koalas. Last time we identified other parts of this regionally and nationally significant koala population in the nearby Royal Camp and Carwong State Forests the then environment minister at least directed the EPA to assess its regional significance. Their surveys, analyses and expert reviews all confirmed that it is a nationally significant population. ‘This new minister should not twiddle his thumbs while this identified extension to that koala population is devastated.’

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