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Climate Impacts on Strzelecki Koala

Friends of the Earth has just published a new report looking at the impacts of climate change on the Strzelecki Koala. The report was written by FoE intern, Anna Slotnick, who spent time with FoE over November/December. Anna is studying for a Master of the Environment at the University of Melbourne.

The report explains why there are two distinct koala populations in Victoria and South Australia. The Strzelecki/South Gippsland population and translocated populations. The report helps focus the need for urgent conservation policies that will see the Strzelecki Koala survive. The most significant issue, facing koala populations in the Strzelecki's is climate change and associated habitat loss.

Fires also a key threat and are becoming more prominent due to climate change, increased logging and planned burn-offs, which are occurring at rates which exceed the rate of the koalas to repopulate damaged habitat.

The report also looks at the policy vacuum in which Strzelecki koalas "inhabit". There is no effective legislative protection for these incredibly important animals. Federal and State legislation does nothing to safeguard this unique population. Yet despite this vacuum both the Victorian and South Australian Government's have recently acknowledged the significance of the koala population, by allowing for translocation of Strzelecki animals for a breeding program in South Australia.

The report discusses trends in climate change and increased frequency of bushfires throughout Australia and the Gippsland region. "Gippsland will face an increase in daily temperatures and extreme weather events, with a particular threat of increased bushfire risk as fire seasons become longer and ideal fire conditions more frequent. Extreme rainfall events (such as the storms seen in June of 2021) are also expected to become more intense..."

"The horrific black summer bushfires of 2019-20 burnt through more than half of East Gippsland (1.1 million hectares) which contains key koala habitat and preferred eucalypt species... Following the occurence of the fires, team members of Biolink Ecological consultants surveyed land in NSW and found on average a 71% reduction of koala numbers in regions impacted by the bushfires." (Phillips et al, 2020).

"At the current prediction rate for increased temperature in Gippsland by 2030 (0.9-1.8 c) average daily temperatures will have exceeded the thermal tolerance thresholds for the Strzelecki/South Gippsland koala population, thus making their current preferred habitat inhabitable" (Phillips and Wallis, 2016).

The start of the destructive February 2009 fires which killed hundreds of Strzelecki koalas

"Bushfires which more directly impacted key Strzelecki koala habitat however were the March/April 2019 fires, which burnt through 1,800 ha of key habitat in Yinnar South. Unfortunately, these fires impacted sites which 2013/14 koala surveys in the area revealed to be some of the highest density sites in terms of koala scats. Also in early 2019, over 10,000 ha of the Holey Plains State Park in Central Gippsland was also burnt by a bushfire which had a small population of koalas. The Strzelecki Ranges were also hit by bushfires in January/February 2009, which killed hundreds of koalas on the northern slopes of the Ranges."

The report also makes a number of policy management recommendations. The SKAT collective would like to thank Anna for all of her hard work in writing her report. This is an area that SKAT has wanted to spend more time investigating, but due to limited resources have not been able to. Much of our current work has been spent locating and mapping koala habitat and networking the significance of the koala in terms of national conservation significance.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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