Not only are VicForests’ Strathbogie coupes home to Greater Gliders, Powerful Owls, Long-nosed Bandicoots and many other species sensitive to logging, it’s now clear that these forests are important Koala habitat as well. The Koala pictured above was found high in the top of a Victorian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus bicostata) during our recent spotlight survey of the coupe. Koala droppings were also recorded in the coupe on a previous survey, though on that occasion we didn’t see the animal. And they’ve been recorded elsewhere in the forest (see map below).
Koalas are big animals, with females weighing 7-11 kg and males 9-14 kg and 60-80 cm in height, yet they are extremely hard to find by sight during daylight, especially in the crowns of tall trees like those 30-40 m high Messmates, Blue Gums, Manna Gums and Peppermints in Parlour’s coupe.
VicForests say they surveyed the coupe for sign of Koala. From the coupe report: ” Strathbogie Ranges are within a high density Koala population area. During coupe reconnaissance preferred feed trees for this species were identified. No Koalas or scats were observed during coupe reconnaissance.” (Coupe Report, Harvest Unit 412-504-0001-A – Parlours Creek, p.15).
If VicForests’ survey missed finding Koalas in the coupe, what else have they missed? Either VicForests’ survey method for Koalas is flawed, or their expertise is wanting. Either way, it means the Victorian Government is selling the community and native forests short.
So, how are VicForests dealing with Koalas in Parlour’s coupe? Their policy is:
“Contractors will be instructed to look/listen and check for fresh scats of Koalas prior to starting each days harvesting to specifically check the immediate area of operation. This will be recorded in the Coupe Diary.”
This may be VicForests’ means of ‘ticking a box’, but it is not an effective way to mitigate injury or death of Koalas in a logging coupe where the trees are 30-40 m high and often have dense canopies. If the fauna survey failed to find any sign of Koalas in the coupe, when we know they live in there, what chance has the contractor got?
Koalas in the Strathbogie Ranges
The Strathbogie Ranges are recognised as a stronghold for Koalas in Victoria. Maps of Koala distribution in the Ranges show that they occur in a variety of habitats and altitudes, from the plains, up to 800 m asl. Across most of the Ranges, where native forests have been cleared, Koalas survive in the remnant paddock trees, roadsides and small patches of bush. They can travel considerable distances along the ground, but have an awkward gait and are vulnerable to attack and harassment by predators. Koala densities are lowest on the plains and in fragmented habitat and highest in larger forest patches where their food trees are abundant: Manna Gum, Narrow-leaf Peppermint, Victorian Blue Gum, Mountain Swamp Gum, Messmate Stringybark.
Koalas in small bush remnants on private land and along roadsides are a great local tourist attraction and delightful for landholders, but these populations are not secure. They are virtually all on private land and substantially exposed the threats of stress (reduced fertility), predation and perhaps most seriously – drought and climate change. The Strathbogie Koala population was decimated by the drought of 2000-2009. Numbers fell by more than 50% (perhaps up to 75% in some areas), through starvation and reduced breeding success – ask any local or visitor. They are only now just beginning to recover.
The Strathbogie forest is an island forest. It’s THE core habitat, the last secure refuge for Koalas (& Powerful Owls and Greater Gliders and Long-nosed Bandicoots etc) in the entire Strathbogie Ranges.
Which bits of the forest are most important to all these species? Well, no-one knows, because there hasn’t been an assessment of the values of the forest for 30 years. We’ve been making this point repeatedly for three years – ever since VicForests’ logging plans became known to us.
The Minister knows, DELWP knows, VicForests knows.
Is anyone listening?