Saving Banyabba Koalas
On 3 March 2020 the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) approved the Forestry Corporation to undertake logging of burnt Koala habitat in three State Forests on the Richmond River lowlands. Given the failure to account for the landscape scale impacts of the fires on this Koala population, this approval was irresponsible and jeopardises the Koala's recovery, and possibly the survival of this population.
The EPA are requested to immediately withdraw their approvals for logging of Koala habitat in Bungawalbin, Doubleduke and Myrtle State Forests and do due-diligence by assessing the landscape impacts of the fires on Koalas. As shown by this example, a moratorium is needed on further logging of populations of all species significantly affected by the fires until surveys are undertaken to assess their vulnerability.
The approved logging is in parts of the 142,000 ha Banyabba Area of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS) that had 83% of its modelled 71,000 ha of 'likely' Koala habitat burnt in the 2019 wildfires, with the apparent loss of 90% of Koalas from burnt areas.
NEFA have been particularly focussed our efforts on the conservation of Koalas since we caught the Forestry Corporation illegally logging Koala High Use Areas in Royal Camp State Forest in 2012.
We are gravely concerned that Koala populations on the north coast have crashed by 50% over the past 20 years, and that the increase in land clearing and reduction in logging rules will likely see them made extinct in the wild within the next 20 years.
Within a given area Koalas will firstly select feed trees based on species, and secondarily on size, preferring trees over 30cm diameter, with use increasing in line with tree size. They also utilise understory trees for shelter on hot or windy days. In good habitat they have stable home ranges, with a male overlapping a number of females. Logging is targeting the mature trees preferred by Koalas for feeding, with less feed trees there are less Koalas and social systems can break down.
For the past 20 years the Forestry Corporation were meant to thoroughly search for Koala scats (faecal pellets) ahead of logging. Where small numbers of scats are found token feed trees (5 of any size per ha) were required to be retained. Where there were abundant scats they were required to protect small areas around the scats as Koala High Use Areas. Because the Forestry Corporation normally refused to do thorough searches, and because of the minimal protection when found, only some 13 hectares of Koala habitat were protected in any year, and they are allowed to log these next time around. On private land there are few records of Koalas and no need to look before they log, so most Koala habitat is indiscriminately logged.
The Government has decided to remove the need for the Forestry Corporation to look before they log and are instead protect 10 Koala feed trees per ha over 20cm diameter in modelled high quality habitat and 5 per ha is medium quality habitat. The EPA recommended that it should be 25 feed trees per ha over 25cm diameter in high quality habitat and 15 trees per hectare in moderate quality habitat. The NRC over-rode the EPA to support the Forestry Corporation.
The 2018 OEH submission to the IFOA laments that there will "be a reduction in protections offered to koalas", with Koala feed tree retention rates "less than half those originally proposed by the Expert Fauna Panel", noting:
"The increased logging intensity proposed under the draft Coastal IFOA is expected to impact Koalas through diminished feed and shelter tree resources. Animals will need to spend more time traversing the ground as they move between suitable trees that remain, which is likely to increase koala mortality".
It is outrageous that 43% of the high quality Koala habitat on State Forests identified by DPI-Forestry is in the North Coast Intensive Logging Zone where clearfelling will be the norm.
On the north coast Koala populations have crashed by 50% over the past 20 years because they generally prefer the more productive forests left on the coastal floodplains and foothills, the forests that have been most targeted for clearing, logging and urbanisation. If Koalas are to be given a chance it is essential that all remaining colonies be identified and fully protected.
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).
The North East Forest Alliance has proposed that the 2,100 ha Sandy Creek National Park be created over an important Koala population in Royal Camp and Carwong State Forests, south-west of Casino.
We are seeking the protection from clearing and logging of all resident Koala populations across the north coast of NSW.
Dailan Pugh, March 2019.
This review focuses on assessing recent logging by the Forestry Corporation of Koala Hubs as identified by the Office of Environment and Heritage.
The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) have analysed Koala records "to delineate highly significant local scale areas of koala occupancy currently known for protection", which they term Koala Hubs. Based on the data then available these are the known highest priority areas for Koala protection in NSW to increase their survival prospects.
Koala populations in NSW are in precipitous decline. The threats are immense in coastal areas (where most hubs are), making the protection of the 19,785 ha of Koala Hubs on State Forests in hinterland areas the highest priority for the basis of a Koala reserve system to safeguard core Koala populations and begin to stabilise Koala numbers.
Further work has been undertaken by WWF which identifies Koala Reserves based on a broader analysis of Koala Hubs, though this assessment is limited to Koala Hubs as identified by OEH.
This review found that of the OEH Koala Hubs on State forests in north-east NSW, 2,546 ha has been logged over the 4 year assessment period 2015-2018, which is an average of 636 ha logged per annum within Koala Hubs. It is assumed that some 430 ha of Koala hubs have so far been logged since they were identified. Many more are proposed for logging in current harvesting plans,
Outside exclusion zones and plantations there are 12,253 ha of Koala Hubs identified on State Forests, which means that over the past 4 years 21% of the loggable area of Koala Hubs within native forests on State Forests have been logged. Many of these have been logged well in excess of allowable logging intensities, with significant areas subjected to the unlawful logging practices of heavy and regeneration Single Tree Retention.
Of the 2,546 ha logged from 2015-2018, 1,283 ha (50%) has been modelled by DPI Forestry (Law et. al. 2017) as high quality Koala habitat and 574 ha (23%) as medium quality habitat. There are also 590 Koala records within the logged areas of the Koala Hubs. These confirm the importance of these areas for Koalas, and emphasise that this should have been well known to the Forestry Corporation before they logged them.
Over the period 2015 to March 2017 in the Lower North East forestry region, of these logged Koala hubs 22 ha is identified as being subject to the unlawful logging regimes of Regeneration Single Tree Retention (STS), 116 ha to heavy STS, and 348 ha to medium STS. It is evident from Harvesting Plans that intensive logging of Koala Hubs is more widespread than indicated by these figures, which is also shown by satellite images. This shows that many of these Koala Hubs, and surrounding areas, were subject to more intensive logging than the logging rules allowed.
It is essential for the future of Koalas that a moratorium be immediately placed on all remaining OEH Koala Hubs on State Forests, along with potential habitat within one kilometre, while further ground based assessments are undertaken to delineate the full extent these "highly significant" resident populations which, based on current records, are the highest priority for protection on public lands.
You can read the full review document here: Forestry_Logging_of_OEH_Koala_Hubs.pdf
Illegal logging of Koala habitat at Gibberagee State Forest prompted peaceful action as shown in the NEFA video below.
Dailan Pugh, North East Forest Alliance, March 2019.
The one survey relied upon by the timber industry to justify the ongoing logging of Koala habitat was undertaken by the forestry unit of the Department of Primary Industries, who are not independent and whose data do not justify their subjective conclusions.
There are far more robust studies that shows that Koalas are declining on State Forests and that this will be exasperated by the increased logging intensity, reduced retention of mature trees and reduced exclusions allowed by the new logging rules.
The DPI-Forestry1 survey used acoustic recorders to record male Koala calls for a week during the breeding season at 171 sites in modelled medium-high quality Koala habitat throughout northern NSW, recording one or more calls at 106 sites.
The biggest failing of the DPI-Forestry assessment is that it is based on extrapolation from just the calls of male Koalas somewhere within 300m (or more2) of the recorder, with no indication of whether other Koalas were present or whether it was just a transient male searching for a mate.
Forestry's current rules for identifying a high use Koala tree is that it has to have more than 20 Koala scats (faecal pellet) under it, and a Koala High Use Area has to have an additional 3 out of 10 trees searched with scats under them.
The only ground-truthing reported3 for Koala occupancy in the DPI-Forestry study were searches of 40 trees at each of 65 sites for Koala scats, with no scats found at 54 sites and just 1-2 scats found at 11 sites.
Koalas were recorded calling at 19 of the 65 ground-truthed sites, with no scats found at 16 sites and only single scats found at 3 sites. This indicates either a very low usage by Koalas or that the calling Koalas were outside the sampled area.
Half the sites recorded only1-3 calls over 7 nights in the breeding season, which does not indicate the presence of a breeding colony anywhere nearby.
It is particularly significant that any Koalas calling could have been hundreds of metres away or transient. Given that measurements of habitat variables were made within 50m of the recorders it means the variables measured (i.e. tree species, tree cover, stand structure, logging intensity) and used in analyses are not necessarily indicative of where Koalas live.
Both DPI-Forestry and the industry conveniently ignore other more robust research that has found Koalas prefer the larger trees targeted by loggers and that their populations are declining on State Forests.
A 2016 EPA study4 found that higher Koala activity was positively correlated with trees and forest structure of a more mature size class, and areas of least disturbance, concluding that once high quality Koala habitat in Clouds Creek and Maria River State Forests had been degraded and now have declining Koala populations.
A 2004 study5 by Dr. Andrew Smith of Pine Creek State Forest found that Koalas preferred structurally complex, uneven-aged forests with some mature and oldgrowth elements and a large basal area, concluding that modern high intensity harvesting practices that remove a high proportion of stand basal area and leave only small diameter stems (<50 cm diameter) are incompatible with koala conservation.
A 2013 Biolink6 study for Port Macquarie-Hastings Council found that State Forests had less than half the number of active Koala sites than nearby National Parks and concluded that logging had decimated the once substantive local Koala populations.
Whatever its shortcomings, the DPI-Forestry survey7 is based on past logging regimes where they attribute the persistence of Koalas near their sites to half the surrounding area being excluded from logging, including in riparian buffers, old growth and rainforest exclusion areas and Koala High Use Areas, as well as the retention of mature trees, habitat trees, recruitment trees and feed trees for other species in logged areas.
The NSW Government's new logging rules have doubled logging intensity, zoned 140,000 ha of coastal forests for clearfelling, removed the need to retain mature trees (including recruitment and most eucalypt feed trees), reduced the buffers on headwater streams and is intending to open up protected oldgrowth forest for logging. This will significantly increase impacts on Koalas.
Specifically for Koalas they are removing the need to look before they log and protect Koala High Use Areas, despite DPI-Forestry finding that Koala High Use Areas have 3 times the Koala call rate of recently logged forests.
In their submission to the new logging rules, the Office of Environment and Heritage8 complained in 2018 that the new Koala feed tree retention rates are less than half the number and of a smaller size than proposed by the 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.
It is ironic that DPI-Forestry refer to a Forestry Corporation radio-tracking study2 in the early 1990s near Eden NSW to justify their claim that koala home ranges can comprise a mosaic of regrowth and unlogged habitat, as that population was extinct a few years later9.
Now history is repeating itself as the Forestry Corporation use dodgy science to deny impacts while introducing an Eden-style alternate coupe clearfelling regime into 140,000 ha of what they identify as the best Koala habitat on the north coast.
To download a copy of the document or to see the references click here.
NEFA President Dailan Pugh, OAM presentation at the
Nature Conservation Council (NCC) Koala Forum in Lismore December 12th, 2018
You can find NCC's Koala campaign here: https://www.nature.org.au/koalas
Koalas and Logging of Public Lands
Koalas and Loggers prefer larger trees. Koalas preferentially select individual trees of preferred species for feeding. They prefer larger and older trees because they: provide more forage have less toxins are more stable and comfortable. You can read Dailan's powerpoint presentation here:
Koalas and Logging of Public Lands.
As a result of documents obtained under Freedom of Information it's now clear that the NSW Government ignored it's own scientist's advice when deciding on the koala reserves. Not only did it choose areas that were already protected and where there were few or no koala records...it DIDN'T choose the areas that have been identified as Koala 'Hubs'.
You can read an analysis of the information obtained in this new report by Dailan Pugh for NEFA. September 2018
Dailan Pugh, NEFA. June 2018
The NSW Government announced there would be 12 "new" Koala Reserves as a keystone of its Koala Strategy:Creating new reserves for koalas and protecting habitat corridors is a key pillar of the Strategy. More than 20,000 hectares of state forest on the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, North Coast, Hawkesbury and Hunter with koala habitat will be set aside as new koala reserves. Over 4000 hectares of native forest with koala habitat will be transferred to the national parks estate.
It is fraudulent for the NSW Government to pretend that these are new Koala Reserves. Ten of the 12 Koala Reserves are already protected as part of the informal reserve system (as FMZs 2 and 3). Four have no records of Koalas, and only 2 have "contemporary" records. Only 3 of the north-east reserves have high quality Koala habitat identified within them, and 2 of these have no "contemporary" records to substantiate the models... (View full PDF document)
If there is a genuine desire to stop the slide of NSWs Koalas into extinction then the primary requirement is for the current NSW Premier to direct her Ministers and their agencies to implement the intent of current legislation. We don't need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to make what we have work better.
She needs to direct that the agencies immediately identify and protect remaining core Koala habitat and habitat linkages across all tenures. This will require the allocation of significant resources to undertake the required mapping of core Koala habitat and to provide financial incentives to private landowners to conserve core Koala habitat in perpetuity. There is also a need to rehabilitate degraded habitat and to replant essential habitat linkages.
North East Forest Alliance, Revised March 2017
It is proposed to create the 2,100 ha Sandy Creek National Park in the headwaters of the Richmond River south-west of Casino. The proposal is comprised of two parts, including part of Royal Camp State Forest (compartments 13-16, 1,500ha) and the whole of Carwong State Forest (600ha). These forests are primarily proposed for protection for their exceptional importance for Koala conservation in an area where populations are in decline and in danger of extinction. The proposal is comprised of inadequately reserved ecosystems, includes 2 Endangered Ecological Communities, and incorporates the known habitat for the Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater, 3 Endangered plants, one Vulnerable plant, and 17 Vulnerable animals. There is the potential to improve its long term integrity by voluntarily acquiring intervening freehold land which has also been assessed as being of high value for Koalas... (View full PDF document)
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.
Authorised by Daniel Peterson for the North East Forest Alliance
at 115 Molesworth Street, Lismore, 2480