'Death sentence' handed to koalas by Victorian authorities

Victorian authorities have refused to allow the relocation of a family of koalas living in 17 hectares of blue gums set to be logged next Friday.

Carers allege the animals have been given a “death sentence” following a decision by the state’s environment department (DELWP) to advise against the action.

The Gordon blue gum plantation, east of Ballarat, is positioned next to a freeway — a less than idyllic position.

A koala clutching a tree at the Gordon plantation.
A group of at least four koalas are living in a timber plantation set to be harvested. Source: Peter Kervarec

In a document prepared for landholder Central Highlands Water, relocation was suggested as a solution that would provide the “greatest safety and wellbeing of the koalas”.

It argued for moving them five kilometres northwest to a patch of bushland which will have “adequate food supply for many years to come”, adding the area “doesn’t suffer from overpopulation”.

Wildlife carer 'incredibly concerned' for koala welfare

With relocation off the table, the koalas will remain in the plantation as timber contractor Midway processes the habitat trees which surround them.

An aerial shot of the plantation to the left, the freeway in the middle, and more bushland to right.
Wildlife carers fear the koalas will travel from the plantation (left) across the freeway to forest (right). Source: Supplied

While they are required to protect koalas during the harvest, in the long term leaving the koalas in the denuded plantation is likely to cause koala deaths, Ballarat wildlife rescuer Jessica Robertson fears.

She argues the harvesting process will leave the animals isolated, terrified, and hit by cars as they leave the area in search of new habitat.

“The koalas are going to disperse, so we’re in this position where they are going to be in constant danger of being hit on the freeway which has a 110 km/h speed limit,” Ms Robertson told Yahoo News Australia.

“The bottom line is we're still incredibly concerned about their welfare.”

Timber harvester will comply with legislation to protect koalas

Ms Robertson said she has been left frustrated by attempts to get DELWP to reconsider, accusing them of bouncing her between different employees via email.

Seven questions posed to DELWP on Wednesday by Yahoo News Australia are yet to receive a response, with the department’s Conservation Regulator instead releasing a single-sentence statement.

“A timber harvesting operator at the Gordon Wastewater Treatment and Reuse Facility site has been issued an authorisation under section 28A(1A)(b) of the Wildlife Act 1975 which includes strict conditions to ensure koalas are detected, and impacts on koalas minimised during operations, a spokesperson said.

Central Highlands Water did not respond directly to questions sent by Yahoo News Australia, and instead emailed a copy of the Conservation Regulator’s statement.

In an email Midway said they “will comply with these legislative and regulatory requirements” associated with the harvest.

“Under State legislation and regulations, Midway is required to protect all native wildlife, including any resident koala population during the harvest,” they said.

“Specific pre-harvest and harvest requirements apply to protect native wildlife.”

Authorities have significant skill in relocating koalas

DELWP have significant expertise in translocating koalas, highlighted during their efforts during the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

In 2021, they relocated more than 90 individuals from a forest which had been overgrazed.

Previous government efforts to control numbers in Victoria controversially incorporated culling, including what was described as a "secret" euthanasia of almost 700 individuals between 2013 and 2014.

Two images of koalas being relocated in baskets.
DELWP have a proven record in relocating koalas. Source: DELWP

DELWP is developing a new Koala Management Strategy which it believes will ensure populations and habitat are secure, healthy and sustainable.

This strategy was informed by public comment and will be released this year.

Wildlife relocation remains controversial in Victoria, highlighted by DELWP's initial resistance to a proposal to moving a mob of kangaroos being displaced by a housing development.

While kangaroos have been successfully relocated in other states, this is the first time the process has been allowed in Victoria.

Wildlife Victoria calls for everything to be done to protect koalas

While koalas are federally listed in NSW, ACT and Queensland, they do not receive the same protection in Victoria and South Australia.

CEO of the state’s peak rescue group Wildlife Victoria, Lisa Palma, said the vulnerability of the species in other parts of Australia means regulators must do “everything we can to protect them and keep them safe”.

“Wildlife Victoria has around 1,000 koalas each year called in to our Emergency Response Service needing help,” she said.

“Consistently, the percentage of koalas needing rescue as a result of habitat destruction is at 65 per cent”.

“For koalas displaced by timber harvesting, safe access to appropriate and plentiful habitat is essential for their survival”

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