The big news for 2023 was the Victorian Government finally driving the final nail into native forest logging's coffin, by ending logging in ~1.5 million hectares of native forest. The decision now means that plantation logging will drive the timber industry in Victoria into the future. There are however a number of intractable and ongoing ecological problems that have not been addressed by the plantation industry, particularly in areas of the state where plantations dominate the landscape such as South Gippsland and the Strzelecki Ranges in particular. FoE has a long history in the region and have been patiently waiting since 2006 for the reservation of 8,000 hectares of land promised by the Bracks Victorian State Government. The Strzelecki plantations (and native forest) were privatised by the Kennett Government in 1998 and sold to Hancock Victorian Plantations. Leases are for 99 years. Many plantations are also located on private land. What this means is that logging will continue in this region for the rest of the 21st century!!! The Strzelecki Ranges contain the only endemic koala population remaining in Victoria and South Australia. Their fate, and the fate of koalas in southern Australia is therefore intrinsically connected with the plantation industry.
In a recent visit to the "100km plantation belt" that stretches from the north of Foster in South Gippsland to Longford in Central Gippsland, Friends of the Earth was alarmed by the observation of a koala remaining in a scant waterway "buffer" in the Flynns Creek catchment. Koalas are one of the intractable plantation issues where there does not appear to be a simple answer. As plantations grow, koalas enter the areas planted out with trees, with some remaining and breeding inside the plantation and in areas of native vegetation on the edge of or inside the plantation. What happens to these animals during and after logging? FoE nominated the Strzelecki koala for Federal Government protection in 2022. The biggest threats to their existence are bushfires and the plantation industry.
Sole koala remaining in "retained" habitat in ex-bluegum plantation site in Flynns Creek catchment of Central Gippsland - located west of Gormandale. You have to look hard to see the koala. This problem is much more common in the South West of Victoria where koala populations in plantations are much higher than in Gippsland. However, the issue in the Strzelecki's is extremely important in terms of safeguarding the genetic diversity of the species, that is why FoE nominated the Strzelecki koala for EPBC listing in 2022.
A close up of the lone koala in one of the retained bluegums. FoE estimates that bluegum plantations in Gippsland sustain a koala population of about 1 for every 10 hectares of plantation. The area where the recent clearing has been occurring has been ongoing for about 2 years. About 500 hectares of bluegums were in the area, with all the logged areas now being converted to pine plantations. FoE estimates that 50+ koalas would have been impacted by the logging. Where are they now? This plantation area would have sustained about 2% of the estimated Strzelecki koala population if you agree that only 2,500 Strzelecki koalas remain. Hopefully this particular animal would now have moved on, however there is scant habitat available nearby and very few Preferred Koala Tree Species which are essential in maintaining a healthy koala population. Its' long term future is therefore precarious.
This 18km stretch of plantation land covers thousands of hectares between Callignee and Hiamdale and represents about 20% of the land 'as the crow flys' of plantation monocultures in the region. Loy Yang power station is in the upper left of image. Hancock Victorian Plantations are in the process of converting all of the hardwood plantations to pine plantations, further reducing available habitat for Strzelecki koalas. The area where the koala was found is near the cleared area on the image to the left of Gormandale. The plantations are located on the ridge between Merrimans Creek and Flynns Creek.
Koalas are very territorial and will attempt to return to locations where they were taken from or where there habitat has been removed. A number of koala deaths have been reported on the Hyland Highway in close proximity to the recently cleared bluegum plantations. This unfortunate koala met his fate in July 2023. Some koalas would have spent a majority of their lives inside bluegum plantations. In a desperate attempt to find feed or to return back, they have to run the gauntlet of busy roads. Koalas can also be killed during relocation due to stress.
How can a koala survive in this place? How can anyone entertain the notion that the plantation industry in its present form is anywhere near sustainable? Are such beliefs a form of ecological cognitive dissonance? The two are not compatible. Monitoring in such areas is also very risky, with the public not welcome or even allowed in such areas. The issue is definitely occurring beyond the gaze of almost everyone not involved with the industry.
In 2024 SKAT, FoE's koala collective intends to keep up pressure on the plantation industry, we are also intending to push for a koala reserve at Mullungdung State Forest and to see the Brataualung Forest Park handback eventually occur. We also will continue to highlight obvious issues concerning the impacts of koalas in plantations. Definately an intractable problem for now and the foreseeable future.