Friends of the Earth (FoE) have been alarmed by reports that at least 2 koalas have been incinerated in a "planned" State Government burn inside Mount Richmond National Park in south western Victoria. 2 other koalas nearby also suffered serious burns. Friends of the Earth spokesperson Anthony Amis, said that FoE were tipped off about the incident by a local bushwalker. "The burn, containing the koalas, would have been less than 10 hectares in size, so to have 4 animals seriously impacted in such a small area is a major concern. It also appears that koala hotspots were targeted by the burn off. How many more koalas will be killed by more planned burn offs in Mount Richmond National Park. At least another 300 hectares are planned to be burned in the National Park. There are also major concerns about planned burn offs outside of the national park, in areas of state forest in the south west."
The animals killed, included a female and a young male. Big questions remain about how many more animals could have been impacted by the burn offs and who is accountable to rescue burnt animals. With hundreds of hectares of forest still to be burned at Mount Richmond how many koalas and other species could also be burnt?
It would appear that the fires were set by Forest Fire Management Victoria whose staff includes: Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria and VicForests. What processes are in place to minimise impacts on local fauna?
Burnt female koala in Mount Richmond National Park. Thousands of hectares of native forest are burnt every year in Victoria, however to see such wanton animal death in a National Park is particularly galling. The impacts these burns are having on native flora and fauna would be incalculable. Much of the forest being targeted at Mount Richmond National Park is Damp-Sands Herb-rich woodland and Heathy Woodland.
Hundreds of koala scats found under Burnt Manna Gum and near dead koala. Its obvious that the site was heavily utilised by koalas, yet it appears that no one from Forest Fire Management Victoria bothered to check the site for animals before setting the site alight.
The location of the this animal was in a stand of Manna Gum, with enormous amounts of koala scats under the trees that were burnt. It is obvious that the site was favoured by this animal and others. Yet no precaution was taken by Forest Fire Management Victoria to ensure that koalas would not be impacted by their thoughtless burns. It is likely that the koala fell out of the tree after being engulfed by smokes and flames. It would have most likely been burnt alive.
A young dead male koala was also found about 200m from where the first dead animal was located. Again this site also had plenty of koala scats in it which should have been checked before the site was torched. It would appear that there are plenty of process failures occurring within Forest Fire Management Victoria.
For some reason it would appear that Manna Gum has been targeted, but Messmate and Brown Stringybark have also been burnt. The excuse for burning can include the need to kill invasive weed species such as Coast Wattle and Pittosporum. But why have native forests and their fauna also been targeted during this burning for weeds?
This burnt koala was also observed in close proximity to where the dead female was found. What consultation does Forest Fire Management Victoria have with animal rescue teams? Does Forest Fire Management Victoria check for injured wildlife after they set fires alight? Do they do animal surveys before burning? If not, why not?
The approximate location of the burn offs is marked in yellow on this map.
It is clear from this sad example that Forest Fire Management Victoria need to quickly improve their processes of identifying key koala habitat and not burning these areas at all. Alternative weed control methods need to be utlilised in areas of high conservation significance, particularly in areas as significant as national parks.
If you think that koalas are safe in national parks, you better think again.
Friends of the Earth SKAT collective runs on an oily rag. Any donations are greatly appreciated and tax deductible. Most of our attention is in the Strzelecki Ranges, but we also have a long history of work in South West Victoria.