In light of the increasing evidence of the devastating impacts if the bushfires on Koalas, the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) is renewing its calls for a thorough independent survey to identify the full extent of Koala refugia in Myrtle State Forest after finding a significant Koala fire refuge on 3 September..
In a brief audit of 7 hectares of burnt forest in Myrtle State Forest NEFA identified 1,118 Koala scats under 18 trees, with 516 scats under one tree, in an area where the Forestry Corporation have never identified Koalas.
Despite the Government's refusal to look before they log, NEFA have proven that Koala fire refugia exists in Myrtle State Forest, and are likely to be more widespread, making it clear that a full survey needs to be undertaken if the Government has any intent of honouring their promise to save Koalas, said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
"Rather than continuing to intentionally and blindly log surviving koala refugia the Government must undertake surveys to identify and protect them from further degradation", Mr. Pugh said.
"The recent report by Steve Phillips for WWF found an average 71% reduction in Koalas in burnt forests.
"The scats we found in Myrtle State Forest are all post-fire, indicating the colony was once a lot larger.
"This surviving Koala colony is of exceptional importance for recovery of the decimated Banyabba population, it is grossly irresponsible for the Government to now log it.
"The new logging rules require the Forestry Corporation to protect 10% of the potential logging area in perpetuity as Wildlife Habitat Clumps and Habitat Tree Clumps, and the rules for burnt forest require an additional 7% to be temporarily protected.
"There are a variety of criteria for selecting these exclusions, including that they maximise inclusion of the most important Koala habitat, such as the area we have identified.
"The problem is that there is no requirement to undertake surveys to identify the most important wildlife areas to be protected in perpetuity, rather it is up to the whim of a forester. So while 17% of the potentially loggable area of this forest is required to be protected, there is no requirement to first identify Koala refugia for inclusion.
"NEFA's Preliminary Audit of Myrtle State Forest found that the Forestry Corporation were selecting the most heavily burnt and degraded forests for permanent exclusions. As a result of our complaint logging was postponed on the 24 August when the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) intervened to oversee the Forestry Corporation's selection of exclusions.
"NEFA's request to the EPA that a scat detection dog be used to undertake a thorough search for Koalas with a view to identifying remaining core Koala habitat for protection was dismissed.
"The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) 2020 have recently undertaken surveys of 15 areas of national parks in north east NSW using a combination of scat-detection dogs and modelling to comprehensively identify the remaining Koala refugia, noting 'Identifying fire refugia areas and understanding their spatial configuration within the surrounding burnt matrix is crucial to post fire species recovery and management'.
"This highlights that the Government's refusal to survey for Koalas on State Forests is ideological because contrary to their pretence they don't want Koala fire refugia to be identified or excluded from logging" Mr. Pugh said.
NEFA's report 'The identification of Koala refugia in Myrtle State Forest' is at https://www.nefa.org.au/audits