Dear Friends of the Koala
The March issue of Treetops is already late and will be later still.
In part this is due to the critical stage of our campaign to persuade the Federal Minister for the Environment to reject the Ballina Koala Plan and determine against proceeding with the route chosen for Section 10 of the Pacific Highway Upgrade.
Here is a summary of our concerns with the Plan:
Concerns regarding data used in the Population Viability Analysis (PVA):
· The PVA uses an overly-optimistic estimation of the current koala population (236), at odds with that provided to the PVA author by the field study (196).
· The PVA underestimates the number of koalas likely to be displaced by the road’s construction (5 koalas), compared to the number, 10-14 estimated from field study observations of koalas recorded on or near the proposed route.
· The Plan assumes that all of these 5 displaced koalas will ‘be relocated. Therefore there will be zero impact, the assumption being that the animals will move of their own accord or that they will be translocated. Translocations elsewhere have had mixed success, therefore it should not be assumed all displaced koalas will survive.
· Mortality during construction of the new road has not been accounted for. Koalas will likely be killed as a direct result of vegetation clearing – displacement will increase disease and the chances of predation by dogs, not to mention vehicle strike.Concerns regarding data used in the Population Viability Analysis (PVA):
Concerns regarding the assumptions made about the proposed mitigation measures’ likely success:
· RMS has committed to offset 34ha of koala habitat loss by planting 130ha of koala food trees. The estimate of 34ha is inaccurate. Independent mapping of one of three key habitat areas shows more than 40ha of vital habitat will be cleared in that area alone.
· The Plan also assumes all 130ha of planting will be successful, ignoring the difficulty of establishing tree cover, in particular factors such as soil suitability, wallaby predation, drought, flood, insect attack, weeds, fire and water logging.
· The Plan fails to account for the time it will take for the trees to become suitable habitat for koalas. RMS proposes to plant half the 130ha prior to construction but the minimum time trees will require to reach a size that is suitable for koalas to utilize is 4-7 years, likely longer. The other half will be planted post construction.
· The Plan seeks to achieve a 20% increase in fecundity by proposing the application of the vaccine designed to counter the effects of chlamydia on breeding females. The vaccine is still in development and besides, only low levels of chlamydia were detected in this koala population.
· The current major cause of mortality appears to be road strike and dog attacks, with juvenile males disproportionately affected. Unless these issues are tackled, it will not be possible to reduce mortality or substantially increase breeding rates. Adding a new Highway, increasing motor vehicle traffic, and driving animals away from current habitat, will increase mortalities.
· Despite the inclusion of a large number of wildlife crossings, the Highway will still result in habitat connectivity being reduced by 60%. It can take two or three koala generations for koalas to use overpasses. Even underpasses can take a long, long time.
· As for fencing, too often it fails due to human error [gates are left open] and poor maintenance [holes in fencing are not fixed, weeds take over]. Besides, koalas are creatures of habit. If there’s a fence in the way, their instinct is to climb it.
· Mortalities on subsidiary roads and appropriate mitigation measures have not been properly addressed e.g. mortalities from increased activity of quarry trucks moving materials on subsidiary roads. While some fencing of subsidiary roads is proposed, there is no mention wildlife crossings on these roads, therefore connectivity will be further reduced, a factor not included in the PVA model.
Some of you may have already written to Minister Hunt by responding to the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) e-alert. If not here’s the link:
http://www.ifaw.org/australia/get-involved/demand-a-koala-friendly-ballina-highway#.VutOwif1zMw.facebook or you can write your own submission based on the above to Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au.
We are also in the final week of a crowd-funding event to assist promoting the campaign through regional TV and social media.
If you’d like to help by donating go to this link: https://planetfunder.org/projects/SaveBallina’sKoalas
President | Friends of the Koala, Inc.
Lismore’s Environmental Citizen of the Year 2015
T: 6629 8388 [H] | PO Box 5034, East Lismore NSW 2480
24-hour Hotline: 6622 1233 | www.friendsofthekoala.org