Victorian wildlife advocates call for a moratorium on blue gum harvest to protect koalas
Wildlife advocates are calling for an immediate moratorium on the harvesting of blue gum plantations across Victoria, to protect koalas.
- Environmentalists call for a halt to harvesting in Victoria’s blue gum plantations
- There are nearly 50,000 koalas living on plantations in the state
- The government says it has improved protection measures
Ballarat Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Inc. president Jess Robertson says she is concerned about the thousands of koalas living on the plantations.
“We are at a tipping point,” she said. “It’s a crisis because all the blue-gums are going down now.”
According to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), nearly 47,000 koalas live on blue gum plantations across the state.
Blue gum is grown for softwood and hardwood supply with large plantations in central Victoria and Gippsland, although most are in the ‘green triangle’ of south-west Victoria.
Each year, approximately 8,000 to 10,000 acres of bluegum are harvested from this part of the state.
Calls to stop harvesting
Ms Robertson says she recently advised the department on how it could protect koalas.
“It’s a problem they don’t know how to solve,” Ms Robertson said.
“We call for an immediate moratorium on all blue gum harvesting until a management plan is established…and a solution is found for these koalas.”
Chief conservation regulator Kate Gavens said plantation operators must obtain a permit from the regulator to harvest where koalas are present.
They must also consult with an ecologist to decide how to “manage” the koalas.
“[It includes] having trained koala spotters on site, conserving vegetation where you spot koalas and taking action if you spot a koala,” Ms Gavens said.
“It’s a long-term industry in Australia, so as we see areas harvested, we also see areas replaced,” Ms Gavens said.
“The work that is being done with conservationists is to identify where the opportunity is for koalas to move into adjacent vegetation.”
But Ms said the “adjacent vegetation” was shrinking, leaving the koalas vulnerable.
“The only vegetation they have is in national parks and state parks, the rest of the vegetation is really scattered and fragmented,” Ms Robertson said.
“National parks are full of koalas, they already have populations. And all sorts of overabundance [DELWP] must control.”
Wildlife veterinarian Dr Adrienne Lavinia said the main reason injured koalas were brought to her was “overwhelmingly” because of cars.
She said the animals might “coincidentally cross the road just as a car, at high speed, comes around the corner”.
“Maybe he’s had trouble finding a food source – and they have to move – and they’re likely to be hit by a car.
“It’s a pretty sad picture that we see most of the time.”
Andy Meddick, MP for Western Victoria and member of the Animal Justice Party, backed calls for better protection.
Unlike New South Wales and southern Queensland, Victoria’s high population of 450,000 koalas is not listed as endangered.
But Mr Meddick fears that if tree harvesting continues without additional protection for the marsupials, the population could plummet.
“Leadership has to come from the top down – the minister, the government,” Mr Meddick said.
“They all need to step back, listen to what the caregivers, rescuers and officers are saying and stop the logging.
“Then they have to formulate an appropriate strategy that is not just for the next 12 months, but long term.”
Last week, the Victorian Greens announced a billion dollar ‘zero extinction fund’ to protect Victoria’s endangered species.
A Victorian government spokesperson said: ‘We have strengthened rules for the protection of koalas on bluegum plantations which set mandatory minimum requirements for the management of koalas during harvesting operations.