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Covid 19 pauses FoE koala surveys

Friends of the Earth’s 2020/21 Strzelecki koala surveys have again stalled due to Covid 19. We had aimed at getting 200 surveys completed by the end of July. We’re 86% of the way there with just another 28 to complete.

Mullungdung (on the right) and Wonwron State Forest (on the left), in southern Gippsland showing koala scats found by Friends of the Earth during 2021 scat surveys

Some interesting results are coming in, particularly in Mullungdung State Forest where we have recently been concentrating our activities since June. Mullungdung is approximately 13,000 ha in size, making it one of the largest remaining intact forest areas in South Gippsland. Mullungdung is under pressure however from logging operations, including firewood removal, prescription burns, bushfires and unregulated trail bikes. Scant information is available about koala presence at Mullungdung.

The northern third of Mullungdung is dominated by Eucalyptus consideniana, commonly known as Yertchuk. These forests, provide very low koala numbers. Further south the forest is dominated by regrowth stands Yellow Stringybark (Eucalyptus muelleriana), which by themselves also provide low koala habitat values.

Stand of Mountain Grey Gum along gully line at Mullungdung

It came as a surprise to learn that in the southern most portion of Mullungdung, Yellow Stringybark grows in close proximity to Mountain Grey Gum (Eucalyptus Cypellocarpa). The Mountain Grey Gum prefers creeks and drainage lines in the Morris Creek Catchment and is the number one preferred tree for Strzelecki koalas. These drainage lines may have higher soil nutrient levels, which in turn mean that eucalyptus leaves also contain higher nutrients, making them more popular for koalas. Possibly 1500ha of Mullungdung contains Mountain Grey Gum. Population “guestimates” may suggest <50 koalas in the southern sections of Mullungdung.

Another interesting find is that in areas of Yellow Stringybark (without Mountain Grey Gum), there are also signs of koalas in proximity to small stands of Swamp Gum (Eucalyptus Ovata). These small stands of swamp gum are located in a number of poorly drained flat locations, including inside stands of Yellow Stringybark. Stands of Swamp Gum probably make up only hundred hectares at Mullungdung.

Proposed logging coupe Mullungdung 449-502-0004, showing koala scats finds. All these scats were found within 10-15 minutes of entering the site. Yellow Stringybark stands are the more densely compacted forest type on this image.

VicForests has recently announced that they want to log sections of Mullungdung for Yellow Stringybark. FoE recently visited one of the newly proposed coupes (Mullungdung 449-502-0004) and found signs of koalas (scats) at 3 locations in a short amount of time. VicForests have recently come under severe criticism and protests regarding their recent logging operations at Alberton West State Forest in the Hedley Range, 30km south west of Mullungdung. Koalas had been found within coupes due to be logged at Alberton West, but there appears to be no management prescriptions in place that protect koalas or koala habitat. As a result local residents have launched legal action against VicForests.

One of two koalas found at Alberton West State by DELWP. No protection is however afforded to koalas from logging operations. To help resolve this issue, please sign our online petition to get more recognition for the Strzelecki Koala

Another issue of concern at Mullungdung is the lack of regulation concerning dirt bikes. FoE has witnessed new trailbike tracks being opened up, including new tracks that criss-cross the Mullungdung Flora and Fauna Reserve. The tracks would total many km’s in length. There appears to be no regulation of these activities.

Many kilometres of new dirt bike tracks have been observed at Mullungdung. At this location the new track cut through key koala habitat in Mullungdung Flora and Fauna Reserve.

We hope to conclude our surveys at Mullungdung as soon as possible. We expect more positive signs of koalas as we will be targeting stands of Mountain Grey Gum. A report summarising our survey results will now probably be released in September, depending of course of Covid. Stay safe!

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