CONCERNS over claims about the number of koalas being killed in hardwood plantations from log harvesting in the Green Triangle region has “unleashed” a national outcry.
With bluegum harvesting now gearing up across the South East and Western Victoria, shocking revelations have emerged that hundreds of koalas may be being killed in the harvesting
While the problem has surfaced regionally in recent years, the issue has now escalated after revelations on national television the bluegum estates have become a key habitat and food resource for established koala colonies.
The logging industry has claimed contractors were not deliberately hurting koalas, but it is understood in some circumstances koalas are being knocked from trees, squashed and caught up in mechanical shredding machinery.
It is understood when the sprawling bluegum estates were planted around 15 to 20 years ago, there was little knowledge the hardwood plantations would become a significant refuge and a new food source for koalas.
According to a national academic, the issue is also now becoming a global issue given koalas are an “international icon”.
Koala expert Dr Stephen Phillips, who is a member of the Federal Government’s Koala Abundance Working Group, said the emerging situation was “unfortunate” given the plantation estates were the way of the future and important economically for regional communities.
“They have a right to harvest, I certainly wouldn’t like to see that change, that would be ridiculous,” Dr Phillips said.
But he said the issue was now “publicly escalating” after national exposure of the sensitive issue.
With a need to protect the rights of plantation owners, Dr Phillips called for national protocols to minimise harm to koalas.
He said he hoped the national framework could be led by industry.
Asked about the numbers of koalas being hurt, Dr Phillips said he believed “no one really knew”.
“There have been some numbers bandied around,” he said.
But he said the numbers could be high given the “high density” of food provided by plantations.
“It could be significant, but the reality is we don’t know,” Dr Phillips revealed.
He said the issue had been simmering in the background for some time, with industry fearful the matter could become a major “public issue”.
“The industry has been a bit frightened,” Dr Phillips said.
But he said the issue had now “got out of hand” with people ringing the alarm bells.
Dr Phillips claimed there had been some conflict between industry and the conservation movement.
“The 7.30 Report on ABC Television has placed a lot of pressure that is being brought to bear nationally,” he said.
The university lecturer said the government was reluctant to step in on the matter given its resources were stretched and it was an industry matter.
He said the issue was also now impacting on international companies that had stakes in the regional plantations.
“This has been unleashed by the national show,” Dr Phillips said.
He said the issue became national when graphic pictures of koalas being hurt in the harvesting process were shown at a national koala conference.
Dr Phillips said some of the pictures shown were “bad”.
“Nobody wants to see that,” he said.
“Industry will have to take a lead, otherwise it could be forced on them.”