Clearing our Koalas Away is a damning new report by Dailan Pugh that puts together intensive logging maps recently obtained via Freedom of Information, and the EPAs new koala habitat model.
The principal findings of this review are that:
Within the 103 State Forest compartments currently being actively logged on public land in north east NSW there are 4,663 ha of modelled high quality Koala habitat and 357 Koala records.
The identified protection for Koalas in current logging entails 2 Koala High Use Areas totalling 1.2ha from which logging is excluded and the identification of 15% of the high quality habitat as "Intermediate Use Habitat" where 5 feed trees of any size are required to be retained per hectare. This is mere tokenism.
Thirteen of the 20 current logging areas with >17% high quality Koala habitat are being targeted for logging intensities (regeneration and heavy Single Tree Selection) involving up to 60-86% basal area removal in blatant contravention of the Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (IFOA's) limit of 40% basal area removal.
During the period when it was practiced from 2000-2010 over 10,000ha of forests in the Lower North East region were allocated to Australian Group Selection patch clearfelling, incorporating 6,460ha of high quality Koala habitat, despite a prohibition on the use of AGS in "intermediate" Koala habitat.
Since 2006 in the Lower North East region. the Forestry Corporation have subjected 74,906 ha to the unlawful logging practices of 'medium', 'heavy' and 'regeneration' Single Tree Selection involving 41-100% basal area removal. This is comprised of 23,742 ha (32%) of high quality Koala habitat and 717 Koala records.
Of the unlawfully logged area, 23,340 ha has been subjected to 'heavy' and 'regeneration' STS, comprised of 39% high quality Koala habitat, in what amounts to clearing and conversion to quasi plantations.
Over the past 10 years the Forestry Corporation have progressively and unlawfuly converted half of the logging area of the proposed North Coast Intensive Zone in the Lower North East Region to "quasi plantations", with the proposed zoning to give retrospective approval.
There have been no records of Koalas from 41% of the current logging areas encompassing high quality Koala habitat, and no records for at least the past 9 years in 12% of the areas. Records over the past 20 years indicate that Koalas are in decline across State Forests.
There needs to be an urgent intervention to stop the accelerating degradation of Koala habitat in north-east NSW. Surveys need to be urgently undertaken to identify all areas containing remnant Koala populations. Identified areas, along with sufficient additional areas of potential Koala high quality habitat and habitat linkages, need to be fully protected to establish viable populations across the landscape.
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We have long recognised that our iconic Koalas are in danger of extinction on the far north coast of NSW and, despite having laws in place for over 20 years to redress their decline, our Governments collude to hasten it. Governments of all persuasions have proven that they are willing to have rules and regulations to protect Koala habitat as long as they are ineffective.
Stable breeding aggregations of Koalas are comprised of individuals with overlapping home ranges of around 5 ha. Koalas show strong fidelity for their home ranges throughout their lives, which may be 8-10 years. The size and viability of a Koala’s home range is dependent on the availability of resources within it.
On the north coast Koalas preferentially select larger (over 30cm diameter) individuals of Tallowwood, Grey Gum, Grey Box, Forest Red Gum and Swamp Mahogany for feeding, though also utilise other species. These are the same trees targeted by the loggers.
For Koalas the logging codes variously require the retention of 5 to15 feed trees per hectare (for public and private lands respectively) when Koalas are found in preferred forest types. They also require the establishment of 20 metre exclusion areas around Koala high use trees if they are found. Koala high use trees are taken to be those with at least 20 Koala scats (faecal pellets) beneath them. It is this later requirement that has the theoretical potential to provide protection for parts of core Koala breeding habitat.
For public lands the Forestry Corporation are required to thoroughly search for Koala scats ahead of logging to identify and protect Koala High Use Areas (HUAs). It wasn’t until NEFA caught the Forestry Corporation logging Koala HUAs in Royal Camp State Forest (near Casino) in 2012 that their ongoing refusal to properly search for Koala scats and identify Koala HUA’s was publicly exposed after 15 years of avoiding this requirement (see Doing Surveys).
For private lands loggers are required to protect Koala high use trees, though are not required to look for them (or any threatened species) and therefore they are not usually protected. This wasn’t publicly exposed until the local community and NEFA intervened in 2013 to identify Koala high use trees on a private property being logged by the Forestry Corporation at Whian Whian (north of Lismore). Where the Forestry Corporation had identified 2 such trees, the community identified 26 along with core Koala breeding habitat. Undaunted the Forestry Corporation continued to road and log the core habitat.
It is evident that the Forestry Corporation can not be trusted to provide the required protection for core Koala habitat and have instead been routinely logging it. In order to provide Koalas with the protection they need the National Parks Association have recently proposed the Great Koala National Park and a series of smaller Koala Parks throughout north east NSW. (see A Blueprint for a Comprehensive Reserve System for Koalas on the North Coast of NSW).