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Sussan Ley 'workshop' reveals ignorance towards bushfire koala crisis

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Members of the public seem to be putting in more effort to save the koalas than our politicians (Screenshot via YouTube)

Despite claiming to be working on solutions to the koala populations devastated by bushfires, Sue Arnold reveals that our Government isn't doing enough.

WHAT ARE THE GOVERNMENTS doing to address the horrific fires turning habitat into charred ruins? How are koalas and our wildlife going to survive the ongoing drought, the worst in our history?

Let’s set the stage. Every care group IA has contacted tells the same story. Months before the fires, koalas were coming into care suffering from malnutrition and dehydration as a direct result of the drought. Koala mums have been abandoning joeys because they don’t have milk. 

Koalas were generally frail and seriously weakened. And then came the bushfires.

Last week, an article in the Brisbane Times indicated a koala round table had been organised in Brisbane on 21 November by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to “identify the best responses to the impacts of the fires and the future needs of koala populations”.

Her press release says:

‘I have asked a meeting of koala experts and on-ground practitioners to urgently identify key priorities for koala habitats in northern NSW and southern Queensland arising from bushfires.’

Given the massive destruction of habitat by the fires, together with an ongoing drought, the public interest in the round table cannot be understated.

Several phone calls to the Minister’s office revealed the following information provided by an adviser:

  • The Minister didn’t organise the meeting.
  • An unnamed independent body convened the meeting which is now described as a workshop.
  • The name of the independent body would not be made available.

Who were the participants? The adviser informed via email that no names would be made available as ‘it’s not appropriate to give out a list of names. We don’t want to start a witch hunt. The people involved have a lot of experience on the ground. The workshop involved koala experts from NSW, Queensland and Federal Government departments together with three Land Service Providers — North Coast Local Land Services, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services and Healthy Land and Water.

IA has checked all three organisations' websites and there’s no focus on koalas or evidence of any research. The two NSW Land Services are government agencies.  

IA asked if there were any independent koala scientists. Discreet phone calls by various koala experts revealed they had definitely not been invited.

The response: ‘We’re getting good advice’.

IA suggested one of Australia’s leading scientific experts, having informed the adviser that we had rung around some of the koala scientists but none had been invited to the round table.

The response: ‘That person might be important in your eyes’.

IA: ‘Actually, if you check him out, you’ll find it's not in my eyes, he’s very well recognised as Australia’s leading expert’.

The Feds have given $6 million to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, Australia Zoo and the RSPCA. According to the adviser, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has told the Federal Government they have sufficient funds and the crowdfunding will be ending.

However, this is not the only wildlife hospital in NSW dealing with burned and injured koalas. Many shelters are coping with dozens of animals and some are paying out of their own pockets for food and medical supplies.

A request for the outcome of the workshop was provided by Ley’s office. 

The workshop considered the ongoing impact of fires and identified priority actions as:

  • assessing the needs of wildlife carers and animal hospitals on the immediate front line with State and Federal Governments reaching out to provide and coordinate further assistance, identifying suitable release sites for rehabilitated koalas. Governments are already providing funding support;
  • a rapid mapping of the impact on known koala habitat and, importantly, to identify areas where healthy koala populations remain;
  • identifying the importance of remaining koala habitat and populations as significant environmental assets and developing management strategies for their protection;
  • identifying corridor strategies to link habitat areas along northern NSW and southern Queensland;
  • management of koala habitat should address a range of threats including fragmentation, degradation of habitat and the impacts of fire;
  • management could include establishing fire breaks and undertaking controlled burns when safe to do so to reduce the risk of destructive fires. In addition, working with rural fire services so they are aware of important koala habitat and can help protect it when they have the capacity, recognising that protection of people and property is their priority; and
  • longer-term funding can support the regeneration of degraded habitat to increase the area available for koalas and improve connectivity between these areas.

The major issues which need to be dealt with have been ignored. No moratorium on deforestation, mining projects or massive urbanisation development projects relevant to NSW and Queensland. No effort to address climate change impacts and the urgent need for protected refuge areas. No plans to deal with ongoing drought impacts.

Most of the information considered by the workshop is already available.

Welcome to the secret governments, where decisions are made by un-named bureaucrats at meetings convened by un-named entities.   

Australians have opened their pockets donating millions of dollars to wildlife hospitals and shelters in response to the catastrophic bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland.   

Unfortunately, it’s also been a perfect time for fraudulent money-raising schemes, taking full advantage of pitiful photos of burned koalas on social media. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been taken by these operators, a direct result of people failing to check the legitimacy of the fundraiser.

Some shelters have reported that the money-grubbing lot have bought up medical supplies from wholesalers and are selling them back to shelters at a profit.

It’s important to take the time to check out whether the organisation is a registered charity, if any contact details are provided and where the funds will be spent. Facebook has a major responsibility in ensuring that fundraising is genuine but there appears to be little interest in checking out the schemes and a virtually impossible task to report a scam.

Given the extent of fires in National Parks, forests and less inhabited areas where good populations of koalas existed, it's very clear that the state’s population has been decimated.

Many of the areas where animals have died horrific deaths have been ignored. Olivia Woosnam, a koala conservation ecologist, together with her partner drove on the back roads from Coffs Harbour to Glen Innes when the fires were relatively under control. 

We saw masses of dead animals piled up on the road and in the ditches. We didn’t stop to take photos because it was too gruesome. We saw dead animals all the way.

 

No one was out there checking wildlife.

 

The situation is very concerning. Primary koala areas have been experienced a terrible drought for a long time, there’s massive dieback in the forests. No flowering, barely any new leaf growth.

 

Koala carers were already screaming for help because they were picking up joeys abandoned by their mothers who were struggling to survive. They can’t produce milk, the leaves have no nutritional value. This situation is going to be a major problem for sustaining koalas who have survived. 

Stephen Taggart, President of the NSW Beekeepers Association, told IA that beekeepers who went into the forests after the bushfires to check on hives were horrified by the sounds of animals moaning and screaming, especially at night:

‘It was hair-raising and the sounds keep replaying in your mind. There’s a really urgent need for a protocol for wildlife after bushfires so that this suffering doesn’t keep happening.’

Taggart spells out the long-term impacts on trees that sustained fires so hot that they will not recover and produce pollen and nectar for at least 20 years:

‘Marsupials and nighttime animals use pollen as protein and nectar as energy. There’s going to be a real impact on native animals, gliders in particular.’

A quick check of Labor Party Shadow Minister for the Environment Terri Butler MP's website revealed a brief press release on the bushfires saying:

Recent bushfires across New South Wales and Queensland are seeing native wildlife being displaced at a concerning rate.

 

...Terri Butler said the growing number of displaced animals, like koalas and sugar gliders, is putting increased pressure on local wildlife hospitals.

That sums up Labor’s environmental concerns.

Probably the best quote for the week comes from the NSW Rural Fire Service in response to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian's stern warning to the state's firefighters:

“Please be cautious with your water usage. Ensure hose water is used efficiently and don’t leave any hoses unattended.”

Mark Glasson of the NSW Rural Fire Service’s response was:

“Her priorities are completely out of whack. She has no f***ing idea what she’s on about.”

Exactly. But unfortunately, she's not the only one.

You can donate to help injured and displaced koalas at Koalas in Care Inc HERE.
You can donate to help the NSW Rural Fire Service HERE.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

 
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