Koalas face starvation and mass culling in Victoria due to planned habitat loss, a Victorian MP warns.
A 2020 estimate suggested 46,917 of the marsupials made their homes in blue gum plantations across the state which are now ready to be harvested.
Images shared with Yahoo News Australia show numerous koalas surviving on the outskirts of bulldozed plantations in the state's southwest.
Many can be seen both dead and alive on roadsides, the only place where trees remain, while another sits alone in a cleared paddock.
Concern for future of plantation koalas
The majority of trees in the region were planted in the 1990s, and they are now reaching maturity, leaving Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick concerned about the koalas that have called plantations home.
He believes attempts to translocate displaced koalas to new areas will be challenging as the species is already overabundant in many national parks and old-growth forests.
“We will have starvation events, there will be disease, and there will have to be mass culling of koalas because of a deliberate attempt to translocate into populations that are already over numerous,” he said.
“That is not a solution.”
While koalas are only listed as endangered in NSW, ACT and Queensland, Mr Meddick warns Victoria is “fast heading into the same situation” through inaction to protect habitat and a history of not listening to wildlife rescuers.
“The world is watching. The world is waiting to see what we do,” he said.
What you need to know about koalas and plantations
Southwest Victoria plantations are part of the 'Green Triangle'.
The plantations span over the border into South Australia.
They include 270,000 hectares of mature softwood and hardwood plantations.
Victoria's koala population was estimated to be 459,865 in 2020.
Victoria government says koalas populations thriving
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio declined numerous invitations to be interviewed by Yahoo News Australia about koala welfare across Victoria’s southwest.
A Victoria government spokesperson instead issued a statement about koala management.
“Victoria has a large and thriving koala population and we continue to ensure their populations and habitat are secure, healthy and sustainable,” the spokesperson said.
“In some areas, koalas can occur at very high densities and can over-browse the habitat requiring health and fertility control programs to be considered.”
Wildlife carer says koala welfare worsening
While the government spokesperson said rules for the protection of koalas in plantations have been “strengthened” with “mandatory minimum requirements” during harvests, local wildlife carers tell a different story.
One rescuer, who spoke to Yahoo News Australia on the condition of anonymity said problems with displaced koalas are increasing.
“I can’t express how bad it is, what’s going on here, and it’s just getting worse,” they said.
The rescuer alleges koalas displaced from habitat are sometimes forced to eat New Zealand Christmas trees, fruit trees and even grass.
While loggers are required to leave a number of trees around koalas during harvests, foliage will eventually be grazed away.
When koalas search for new habitat they are frequently struck by cars and their joeys left orphaned.
New koala strategy set to be released
Mr Meddick is now calling on the government to halt all harvests “until a viable plan” is set up for koalas.
The first step of which would be an independent survey of their populations and health in plantations and forests across the region.
“Otherwise, if we just let things go the way they're going, we're deliberately creating a perfect storm of mass destruction of these koalas by inaction,” he said.
“That would be absolutely horrifying, and I’m confident Victorians don’t want to see that happen.”
In a statement, DELWP acknowledged the state’s koalas face a number of “challenges” including “overpopulation in some areas, climate change, habitat fragmentation, disease, and poor genetic diversity”.
A DELWP spokesperson said its new Victorian Koala Management Strategy, which will likely be released in the coming months, “aims to address challenges faced by koalas” and will guide policy for the next decade.
More than $3.3 million was allocated by the government in their 2022/2023 budget for supporting actions outlined in the strategy over two years.
Harvesters planning to disturb koalas in plantations currently have to apply for authorisation to do so, and prepare a management plan that meets standards set by DELWP to minimise risks to the animals.
Two major blue gum plantation owners operating in southwest Victoria have been contacted for comment.
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