Prior to the current bushfires koalas were at risk of major population decline through habitat loss and logging but with significant areas of their habitat being burnt out by bushfire many of the previously stable colonies are on the verge of collapse. Recognising the disastrous impact that the fires are having on koala populations a call is being put out to the NSW government to stop logging of koala habitat.
A number of groups appearing before today’s NSW Legislative Council inquiry into koala populations and habitat in New South Wales have requested the committee actively call on the NSW government to put in place a moratorium on logging koala habitat across public and private lands as an emergency response to the loss of thousands of koalas and their habitat due to wildfires.
‘Today’s hearing is timely and necessary. We will be hearing from some of Australia’s leading experts on koalas, bushfire and climate change. We will also hear recommendations that must be urgently taken to ensure these fires don’t lead to the irreversible decline of koalas in NSW,’ said Cate Faehrmann chair of the inquiry into koala populations and Greens spokesperson on the environment.
Millions of hectares burnt out
‘Since July, as of yesterday wild fires have burnt out over 1.6 million hectares of the north east NSW bioregion (north from the Hunter River and westward to the Great Escarpment ), this represents 28 per cent of the region and 39 per cent of native vegetation,’ said North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
‘It has been observed that in eucalypt forests even where tree canopies are just scorched, rather than burnt, that most leaves are desiccated or die, leaving little food for surviving Koalas
‘Various koala habitat models show that over a quarter of potential koala habitat has been burnt, though koala losses are expected to be far greater because many areas of potential koala habitat have already been degraded by logging, previous fires and other factors, and thus already lost most of their koalas.
‘As the wildfires have impacted particularly heavily on know core populations, such as on the Richmond Lowlands, Dorrigo Plateau and around Lake Innes, it is likely that over a third of the north-coast’s koalas have lost their habitat, at least until it regenerates.
Koala populations on verge of collapse
‘Some populations are particularly badly affected. Of the 29 areas of regional koala significance identified on the north coast, eight are in major trouble as 73–90 per cent of their koala habitat has burnt (Gibraltar Range, Clouds Creek, Nowendoc, Banyabba, Crowdy Bay, Girard-Ewingar, Kiwarrak and Khappinghat)
‘An expert workshop in 2012 estimated that koala populations on the north coast had declined by 50 per cent in the past 20 years, leaving an extant population of around 8,400 koalas. It is likely that thousands of these survivors have been killed, with many populations now on the verge of collapse.
‘In just one fire season, which is not over yet, thousands of koalas have lost their homes, and most of these are likely to have died. These fires have greatly compounded the plight of koalas and driven them, and numerous other species, further towards extinction.
‘If we want to give koalas a chance to survive this unfolding catastrophe then a logging moratorium must immediately be placed upon all potential habitat in order to allow burnt feed trees a chance to recover, and to protect the remaining intact refuges essential as source areas for recolonisation’, Mr Pugh said.
Call for a moratorium on logging koala habitat
A number of groups appearing before the committee of inquiry into koala populations and habitat in New South Wales today have requested the committee actively call on the NSW government to put in place a moratorium on logging koala habitat across public and private lands as an emergency response to the fires, stating:
‘It is an appropriate precautionary response to put on hold further native forest logging on both public and private land until a comprehensive and independent assessment is conducted, and the appropriate measures are taken to ensure the best possible outcomes for koalas and other threatened plant and animal species.’
The letter was signed on behalf of the Nature Conservation Council, North East Forest Alliance, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation and Mulong.
‘Hearing that we have lost up to a third of koala habitat and more than 2,000 koalas on the North Coast is utterly devastating and should be a wakeup call for this government that they must take action to protect koala habitat,’ said Ms Faehrmann.
‘As a result of this new evidence, there must be a moratorium on public native forest in Northern NSW.’