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Byron Shire
June 1, 2023

Who will rescue endangered animals at risk of dying from bushfires?

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Wildlife impacted by recent bushfires south of Casino desperately need rescuing, says North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh.

When natural disasters strike, emergency services both paid and voluntary come to the rescue as soon as possible.

Human lives, properties, pets and livestock are prioritised, it seems, more or less in that order, as seen last week when the Rappville fire near Casino destroyed 37 homes.

At least three evacuation centres were set up in Casino and Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow said more than 60 people had been using the one for people.

Another centre was set up for household pets and the Casino Showground, used annually as an outdoor stage for farmers to parade cows, horses and poultry, was turned into an evacuation centre for livestock with owners allowed to camp there too.

But what about wildlife?

Up to 700 koalas could have been killed in the same fire, says acclaimed environmentalist Dailan Pugh.

Nobody can be quite sure because nobody knew for sure how many koalas lived in the Braemar state forest near Rappville before the fire but Mr Pugh says research to date suggested anywhere between 350 and 700.

‘I’m expecting that probably the majority of them will have got killed but I’m still expecting there to be survivors,’ he told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week.

Wildlife rescuers banned from entering bushfire impacted areas

But while RFS volunteers were busy assessing property damage and Cr Mustow was calling for people to register themselves on a survival list run by Red Cross late last week, Mr Pugh said nobody was allowed into the fire-impacted area to check on wildlife.

‘I just don’t know why some of the resources can’t be put into going and looking for these injured koalas,’ he said, ‘we need some urgent action, we can’t afford to wait for days and days and days because koalas are dying now’.

Mr Pugh said groups like Friends for the Koalas in Lismore were ‘keen and anxious’ to go looking for koalas but they weren’t allowed to do it yet.

‘So many thousands of animals would have been injured in these fires that are recoverable if they’re brought into care very quickly,’ Mr Pugh said.

‘There needs to be built into this system some way of going in and looking for injured animals and that’s not there at the moment.’

Acclaimed Northern Rivers environmentalist Dailan Pugh is calling for a dedicated wildlife disaster emergency services. Photo Tree Faerie.

State koala inquiry to meet in Ballina

Mr Pugh said he would be raising the issue of a dedicated wildlife disaster emergency service at a state koala inquiry public hearing in Ballina this Friday.

‘This is our state government, they should be taking action,’ he told Bay FM.

Mr Pugh said the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA)had previously identified the area impacted by last week’s bushfires as one of the most important catchment areas in terms of high-quality koala populations.

The alliance had been calling for an end to logging in the Braemar State Forest before the fire and Mr Pugh said if the government went ahead with plans to continue logging, it would be ‘the death knell for koalas’.

‘We’ve lost about 316 thousand hectares of the Clarence and Richmond catchments in the current fires alone and we had earlier fires in August,’ he said.

A public hearing as part of the koala inquiry is due to happen at the Ballina RSL this Friday.

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  1. Spot on Dailan. Who will rescue the wildlife? The forest has been burnt and so has the feed for koalas. If they did survive the ordeal (and some did because it was not primarily a crown fire I have has been told), the koalas face starvation because the leaf has withered.
    We are so human centered that it is difficult for most of us to think about the native wildlife. The Premier and Prime Minister were here yesterday. Didn’t hear anything about koalas, but there was lots of patting on the back. A disaster is great for a politicians popularity.
    We need something like an Army to scan the thousands of hectares of forest and look after the native wildlife, but unless this comes onto the politicians agenda, and they can get the idea that this would gain them votes, I doubt they will act. So it may be left to some under-resourced community groups like Friends of the Koala or WIRES, who are not really set up for disasters like this anyway. Lets hope that the Koala Inquiry in Ballina will do some good in saving the lives of the remaining wildlife,

  2. I ,for one ,am sick to death of hearing the RFS make statements about huge forest-fires burning hundreds and thousands of hectares and “no damage done”. My contention is that the RFS is less than useless ,as at least part of this calamity was caused by incompetant ‘back-burning” that escaped and contributed to the fire spreading.
    It does seem that their priority is to protect the insurance industry, and the constant “fire-reduction burns” have been scientifically proven to lead to more fire prone vegetation growth and encourage fire-bugs in their idiotic belief that a ‘good’ fire is beneficial to the environment.
    Fires in rainforest are always catastrophic and their recovery is extremely unlikely, at least in our life times.

  3. People people people … everywhere ! Meanwhile, the innocent critters die by our hand … even by denial and general lack of interest in their well being we are guilty.

  4. Firstly Sarah we are meeting in RSL carpark Ballina 8.45 am….re Koala hearings .TOTALLY AGREE with Ken’s comments above re RFS. As a long time activist I have several reports validating the horrendous results of ‘back burning’. There is NO such thing as a controlled burn. The leaf matter & underground mulch which would have protected ground cover & trapped more moisture in the soil which is removed by back burning & sets up a combustible scenario. Our bush doesn’t get a chance to recover & YES DAILAN as usual you are right, who thinks about the wildlife ? Well some of us do. As a wildlife carer we have argued for the right to be allowed into fire ‘hazard’ zones once the fire is out for many years. We actually did this in West Head NP (Syd) and it wasn’t that difficult. We had protective gear/water & light cages. Many carers are willing to do this & WE MUST GET INTO THESE FIRE AFFECTED AREAS ASAP> Time that we gave equal priority to non human animals, after all we have destroyed their habitat (homes) and introduced pests/fences/ highways/ chemicals/ stolen their water etc & we owe them our support & help.

  5. I happened to be in Rappville on Sunday, when the politicians and their cavalcade arrived. As a Knitting Nanna I approached the Prime Minister and the Premier about the destruction of koalas and wildlife during the horrific fires. The Prime Minister, while shaking my hand – not really knowing about the Knitting Nannas – passed the buck saying he’d spoken to Parks & Wildlife as soon as he arrived in Rappville. He must have been pleased with himself to have dodged a bullet because he repeated himself a couple of times. I thanked him and moved onto our Premier.

    Earlier, Gladys Berejiklian had approached me, thinking I was a local, but we were interrupted ‘because the Prime Minister was calling her’ and ran over to the media circus. Later, I got her attention again, and introduced myself as a Knitting Nanna from Lismore. Her face visibly hardened as I began to ask her about the koalas & wildlife and really wanted to mention the forests too. However, she turned her back on me, stiffly walking away saying, ‘ I’m here for these (people), you can talk to me about your issues another time!’ She was so rude and aggressive in cutting me off. I was shocked. It was only then, to get away from me, a Nanna, that she condescendingly bent over to talk to the traumatised people sitting there. Just remember, Gladys, that the Nannas are watching you!

    Kevin Hogan was amidst the cavalcade and media circus, sticking closely to the PM’s side, saying nothing.

    So, our politicians care about people and their dreadful losses, only when there’s a media release. They have no regard whatsoever about the welfare of our wildlife and endangered koalas. As said already, only when there’s something in it for them, i.e., votes/money/ media, and only then, will they look down from their self-erected pedestals of pride and power to address what’s so desperately needed to be addressed. Shame on them all! It’s all left up to us.


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