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Forestry is not a threat to koalas

Sustainable timber harvesting is not a significant threat to koalas in New South Wales, a State Government inquiry has been told. The Forestry Corporation of NSW told the Inquiry into koala populations and habitat in New South Wales last week that known threats to koala populations are permanent land clearing, activities associated with urban development, fire and drought. Source: Timberbiz

These threats occur across tenures, including in areas set aside for conservation, corporation told the inquiry.

It said NSW had a world-class reserve network that encompasses more than a quarter of the 22 million hectares of native forest found state-wide and includes the forests with the highest conservation value and best koala habitat.

The NSW Chief Scientist had acknowledged a lack of baseline data about koala populations in NSW at a landscape scale. Current research was addressing this and offering a clearer picture of koala populations across the landscape.

New research carried out in partnership by multiple government agencies suggested that koala occupancy in NSW’s north-east forests is up to 10 times the rate previously estimated.

“As studies have found a decline in some koala populations and long-term stability in others, it is important to address the threats to specific populations,’’ the corporation said.

“Known threats to koala populations are permanent land clearing, activities associated with urban development, fire and drought.

“Timber harvesting, or logging, is very different from land clearing and multiple studies have demonstrated that sustainable timber harvesting is not a significant threat to koalas.

“Research has also demonstrated that koalas occupy harvested forests at the same rate as unharvested forests.’’

The corporation said key reasons for this were the small scale of timber harvesting in the landscape context, the regulations around forestry activities that ensured trees are retained in each operation and the fact that forests are continually regrown after each operation, with new trees growing for every tree that was removed.

State forests made up 9.1% of NSW’s native forest and the area subject to timber harvesting comprised less than a quarter of 1% of the native forest in NSW.

“Forestry operations in State forests are carried out in line with regulations designed to protect soil and water, ensure quality regeneration of forests and protect, at a landscape level, the habitat of koalas and other species,’’ the corporation said.

Recent changes to the regulations governing native forestry in coastal State forests meant that more than triple the number of koala browse trees were being retained compared with the previous settings.

“This is important, given research has found that the availability of preferred koala tree species is a fundamental component of koala habitat regardless of landscape context.

“Effective land management must be driven by robust data and underpinned by ongoing research.

“Tenure change will not address the known threats to koalas,’’ the corporation said.

“Ongoing investment in long-term monitoring across the landscape is essential to ensure future land management decisions are informed by the best available data.’’

There remained a need for better monitoring to ensure decisions about conservation measures were based on data.

The corporation said there were further opportunities to focus on threat abatement strategies, including:

  • managing fire in the landscape
  • planting trees in degraded landscapes
  • managing roads and development and predators in areas with suitable koala habitat
  • investing in epidemiological research round disease
  • consideration of translocation or breeding strategies for areas where koalas no longer occupy suitable habitat due to historical impacts.

“However, the success of any koala conservation strategies now or into the future will only be measurable if NSW moves to implement a system of monitoring for koalas over the long term,’’ the corporation said.