VicForests: a threat to Strathbogie forest Koalas

dscf0157You might have read in a previous post, that VicForests conducted a pre-logging Koala survey in Parlour’s coupe, though they incorrectly concluded that there were no Koalas living in the coupe. The pre-harvest survey methods employed are themselves interesting, but aren’t dealt with here.

VicForests’ Koala Management guidelines rely on two things:

1. That Koalas in tall forests can be reliably and effectively detected.

2. That the contractor logging the forests is suitably skilled, qualified and has the incentive to detect Koala sign and then interpret what it means.

Let’s examine the assumptions.

1. Can Koalas be located in tall forests?

Spot the Koala in this Narrow-Leaf Peppermint - see it?

Spot the Koala in this Narrow-Leaf Peppermint – see it?

Finding Koalas in the canopy of a tall forest is always difficult, whether it’s daytime or night; the most skilled observer will always miss some. The taller the trees, the harder the task and the greater the likelihood of error. To add to the difficulty, tree canopies in forests are usually at least partly obscured by other trees, leaves and branches – not like the roadside tree in this pic. In short, it’s impossible to assess anything more than presence/absence of Koalas in tall forests – as VicForests’ survey has shown.

Then there’s the Koala scat survey. Koala scats are about 15 mm long, 8 mm thick and look a little bit like leaf litter. Here are images of Koala scats and the forest where Conservation Biologists and logging contractors are supposed to look. What chance?

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Then, once you’ve found a few scats (but you can’t find the Koala because it moved trees a couple of days ago), what do you conclude? A. That there was a Koala in the overhanging tree some time in the last little while. Q. Where is the Koala now? A. Who knows – it could be 15 m away, or 200 m away.

2. Should logging contractors be expected to double as Conservation Biologists?

The survey protocol stipulates that the initial coupe survey be conducted by a Conservation Biologist. Then, the just-as-important follow-up searching that actually does the protecting of the Koalas during logging, is left to forest workers that have no training (nor should they be expected to) in Koala survey and monitoring, let alone Conservation Biology. And of course this begs the question of what sort of habitat is left for the living Koalas after logging is finished.

VicForests’ Koala Management Guidelines fail to assess the very real risk of non-detection and then devolve responsibility (abrogate their own responsibility!) for detecting and managing Koalas in an active coupe, to the logging contractors.

If Koalas are impacted by the logging operation, who gets the blame?

In our opinion, these guidelines are seriously flawed.


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