Secret cull of 700 koalas doesn’t come as a surprise

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

It was shocking to hear of the secret cull of about 700 starving koalas in the Cape Otway region near the Great Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, but this does not come as a surprise.

Australian media, including The Age said “wildlife officials did three euthanasia sweeps to kill 686 koalas in 2013 and 2014 in a covert campaign that was designed to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community.” The newspaper claims the cull was conducted under the previous Liberal government to address overpopulation.

Many koalas in  Victoria have become refugees, displaced from their habitats due to mismanagement of gum tree plantations.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Anthony Amis said their habitats have been shrinking more rapidly against a “large number” of koalas.

He said once plantations are logged, koalas that survive clearfelling become homeless, feeding on whatever suitable vegetation is remaining. At several locations, there are koalas living in a couple of trees. This often results in over-consumption of vegetation. He said, “Unless the koalas move on, vegetation will probably be overbrowsed, with the animals eventually starving to death”.

A koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

sA koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

There are regions in western Victoria where displacement resulted in starvation and deaths.  The Crawford River Region is one example where some of the displaced koalas moved to roadside vegetation, including old growth trees. The region has between 7,000 and 8,000 hectares of bluegum plantations.

In some native forests where koalas already exist, the influx of displaced koalas poses a great challenge. Most of them may remain homeless with no food to eat.

Amis said, “It does not take a genius to realise that logging of thousands of hectares of such habitat will cause a profound ecological impact.”

He added FoE also has concerns about the absence of animal care facilities in some of the more isolated areas to cope with increases of koala injuries during logging operations. Many animals could suffer horrible deaths. He said:

 “t is not good enough for the State Government and plantation companies to sit on their hands and do nothing about this problem. It is clear to us that we are only now witnessing the start of what will be a protracted and controversial problem.

Amis also noted that since the mid 1990s the State Government embarked on controversial fertility control options to control koala populations and reduce overbrowsing. He said, “Mt Eccles National Park and Framlingham forest have suffered overbrowsing in the past. We hope this situation does not increase into other areas in the South West”.

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

The population boom is presumed to be a result of displaced koalas coming from French Island. He explained the animals are more likely to be free from Chlamydia which means “the natural process of population control in koalas does not apply to South West Victorian Koalas”.

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Heatwave engulfs Australia

Mercury has risen to over 40 degrees Celsius for many days in most states of Australia this summer. Hard-it by the heatwave includes Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales igniting bushfires.

The Black Saturday flares up in Victoria (News Ltd)

The Black Saturday (2009) rages in Victoria. (News Ltd)

The ABC reports that several homes and farm properties have been destroyed as dozens of bushfires burn across large swathes of Victoria.

It said there is no confirmation yet on the exact number of losses, as Victorians faced their worst fire threat since Black Saturday just days after the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

High temperatures and strong winds fanned the intense and fast-moving blazes, as a weather change swept across the state bringing wind gusts up to 100 kilometres per hour.

By mid-afternoon yesterday, there were 70 fires burning across Victoria, and stretch from Goongerah in the far east of the state to the Latrobe Valley.

Fires are also burning in more densely populated areas around Melbourne.

Meanwhile in South Australia, a watch and act message remains in place for a large blaze at Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges.

Read on…..

A spectacular rock formation at Pangil Beach in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. (Photo: The Green Journal)

Finding refuge from heatwave in the cool water beneath the giant rocks. (Photo: The Green Journal)

The Green Journal has taken a break during this time as this blogger took a trip northbound to chill out. Islands in the Pacific – a perfect getaway! Write back soon!

 

Victoria bans fracking until 2015

Fracking is ongoing in many parts of Australia – business as usual. But there is a sigh of relief in Victoria, at least, for now. Re-blogging my post at AC over the weekend:

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Bad news for gas exploration ventures in Victoria: Fracking moratorium stays until 2015. But for Greenies, it is party time!

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine announced towards the weekend his government is extending the moratorium on the process of unconventional gas fracking until at least July 2015.

Friends of the Earth Melbourne (FoE) has been seeking a gas-free Victoria and this announcement is a welcome development. The group said the state government has been listening to community concerns.

Lock the Gate rallies for a gas-free Australia (Photo:FoE)

The Premier, through his online news service, said that his government would not support on-shore gas production until scientific facts are known and clear evidence shown that such an industry would not risk the state’s assets. He said Victoria is taking a careful and measured approach to a potential onshore gas industry that will be informed by independent scientific facts and public consultation.

FoE Campaigner Cam Walker said the ban extension is a good start although he admitted the issue will not go away.  “Pushing the moratorium out to 2015 will take some of the heat out of the community concern over new fossil fuel projects… But it will not make the government’s problems go away. While gas exploration is allowed to continue, and the prospect of new coal allocations exists, the extension simply gives the community more time to get organised against these threats,” Walker said.

FoE maintains that the Napthine government’s capitulation to people power on unconventional gas will not diminish the community’s angst over new coal mining operations.

The next test for the government will be to see whether it drops plans for a further coal allocation.

Walker added that Napthine needs to understand that new coal is every bit as unpopular as new gas operations in regional Victoria.

Lock the Gate co-ordinator Ursula Alquier also said the state government’s extension to the moratorium on fracking will not stop the growing movement against unconventional gas. She suggested that the logical next step is for the government to ban any further exploration for unconventional gas and initiate a state inquiry into whether this industry will be safe for land, people and water.

“A public inquiry under an independent Chair would then provide information that would complement the findings of the 12-month community consultation program that will be carried out by Energy and Resources Minister Nicholas Kotsiras… without this data, we will be flying blind on whether this industry can be safe and compatible with continued agricultural activity in a densely populated state like Victoria,” Alquier said.

Friends of the Earth joined the National Day of Climate Action on Nov 17. (Photo: R. Yoon/Asian Correspondent)

The gas and petroleum sector, meanwhile, is disappointed with the Premier’s announcement.

According to a report from Mining Weekly,  the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) warned the moratorium would further delay diversifying the development of natural gas resources in Victoria and would result in higher-than-necessary energy prices.

Appea COO for Eastern Australia Paul Fennelly reportedly said, “The message to companies seeking to do business in Victoria – seeking to source natural gas, create jobs, revitalise rural communities, add to government revenue streams and provide additional income to farmers – is unfortunately crystal clear.”

Fenelly added the “Victorian government is paying more attention to short-term politics than science-based evidence and is clearly not displaying enough focus on attracting investment and building the economy, nor the consequences of failing to do so.”

Gas and oil explorer Lakes Oil’s chairman Rob Annells also criticised the moratorium on fracture stimulation, or fracking, claiming it is harming both Victoria’s economy and petroleum extraction industry employment, the Gippsland Times reported.

Annells said projects gas prices would rise significantly, probably doubling in the next three to four years, because Australia’s east coast gas market was about to be opened up to world prices when gas exports out of Gladstone, Queensland, began.

He is pessimistic that the consequent price rise will put pressure on local energy reliant industries, threatening employment.

The Silent Victims of Bushfires

Australian summer is the peak season of bushfires. The CSIRO, a leading scientific body, said bushfire is a natural phenomenon no less than the sun and rain, and it occurs frequently all-year-round. When the mercury hits over 40 degrees Celsius (140 F), heat ignites wildfires that spread extensively engulfing farms, forests,  and communities,  including sanctuaries of wildlife. While many animals can survive, bushfires put pressure on many species to the verge of extinction. Plant and trees, however, have more power to regenerate.

A kangaroo hops through a burnt paddock in Melbourne West. (Photo: AAP)

Fire authorities across states have issued fire warnings , maps, and  precautions. Three states were under red alert early this week: Tasmania, New South Wales, and Victoria.  But temperatures dipped on Wednesday easing total the fire ban in threatened areas.

Fire brigades, community workers, and volunteers help in rescue operations while authorities assess the extent of damage.

Beyond the ashes are the silent victims of the catastrophe–  animals and endangered species.

The past bushfires had left many animals dead, their habitats destroyed. In Victoria, among the endangered species are the state bird emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeaters Possums. According to Zoo Victoria, the Healesville Sanctuary is still reeling from the effects of Black Saturday in 2009. The Sanctuary itself was under threat and many animals were evacuated. The Vet team worked around the clock treating fire- affected animals in the wildlife hospital and in rescue centres in the community.

Threatened by bushfires (Photo: Supplied)

In Western Australia, many species of native animals and birds are feared to have been completely wiped out, according to Australian Geographic. Conservationists and animal carers note that populations of highly endangered possums, black cockatoos and other native species may now be locally extinct in the Margaret River, Nannup and Augusta regions. About 90 percent of wildlife in these areas are already presumed extinct.

Another endangered bird is the Red-tailed black cockatoo especially those the endangered Baudin’s red-tailed black cockatoos which are only found WA’s southwest. The number is estimated to be less than 10,000.

The ground parrot used to be a common bird seen in Australia, but the specie is disappearing. (Photo: Supplied)

The Wilderness Society has listed top five endangered species which could become extinct in the coming few years. These species are considered the most threatened by the fires: the Leadbeater’s Possum, Sooty Owl, Barred Galaxias, Ground Parrot. and Spotted Tree Frog.

Bushfires are wiping out the Spotted Tree Frog. (Photo: Supplied)

Koalas, kangaroos, sheep, and cattle are not spared from pain and suffering. The Department of Environment and Sustainability works with qualified and experienced wildlife care organisations and rehabilitators to assist with the recovery, treatment, rehabilitation and release of wildlife affected by fire.

This photo of CFA firefighter David Tree and Sam the koala became a bushfire icon of the Black Saturday in 2009. (Photo:Reuters)

Mobile animals, such as birds, kangaroos and wallabies, may be able to move out of burning areas to safer grounds. Other wildlife can take refuge underground, in tree hollows and logs, unburnt patches of vegetation, wet gullies, rocky areas and on leeward slopes.

Many perish in the fires while some badly burnt animals await DSE ‘s advice for their immediate ‘destuction’. Survivors are treated in vet clinics.

Plant species usually regenerate a few seasons after a bushfire. From the charred tree trunks and ashes from the earth, new life re-emerge–more resilent to face the evolutionary changes in the environment.

Many plant species resprout from protected buds, at or below ground level, and many others regenerate from soil-stored seed even if the adult plants were killed by the fires.

A wildfire near Deans Gap, New South Wales, Australia, crosses the Princes Highway. Pic: AP.

Links to Animal Rescue:

Department of Environment and Sustainability

Wildlife Victoria

Blog Link : Asian Correspondent

After carbon tax, coal to power the economy

Following economists’ recent prediction of the impending end of mining boom cycle, the Federal Government is scrambling to find an alternative solution to power the Australian economy and is now turning to seam gas and brown coal projects.

New South Wales and Victoria received the green lights to go ahead with the projects, respectively – stirring rounds of uproar from local industries, farmers, consumers, and environmental groups.

Hunter Valley in NSW is home to one of the world’s finest wineries and is now under seam gas exploration threat.

In January this year, the Federal Government created the Independent Expert Scientific Committee to provide impartial advice on the environmental effects of coal mining and coal seam gas projects. But ABC’s Lateline revealed that four out of the six members have financial links with the mining industry.

  • Professor Chris Moran – director of the Sustainable Minerals Institute at the University of Queensland. In 2010 the institute received $17 million, more than half of its funding, from coal seam gas and mining giants Santos, BHP Billiton, BG Group, Rio Tinto and many more.
  • Associate Professor David Laurence – head of the University of NSW Centre for Sustainable Mining Practices. It’s funded with a $1.1 million grant by Mitsubishi Development, a Japanese-controlled coal miner with significant investments in Queensland.
  • Professor John Langford – shareholder in coal seam gas and coal companies for his self-managed superannuation funds.
  • Professor Peter Flood –  a regular consultant for the resource industry.

Affected by the coal, the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders Association represents stallion farms, broodmare farms, the largest equine hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.

The committee is chaired by Professor Craig Simmons who said the committee is made up of distinguished academics with long and credible public records. He rejected any suggestion that the committee’s work is influenced by industry.

Professor Gary Willgoose, a hydrologist who holds a prestigious position of Australian professorial fellow said it is virtually impossible to find an independent expert as the coal seam gas industry funds and provides the vast majority of research and consultancy work.

Larissa Walters, Federal Green Senator, however said, “These people have been appointed to scrutinise the impacts of coal seam gas and coal mining. You want to make sure that they’re not getting paid by the industry and therefore might turn a blind eye to some of the more dastardly impacts of the industry.” Read ABC TRANSCRIPT.

In Victoria, the brown coal investment is in full swing under the Ted Baillieu Government. The federal and Victorian governments today announced the creation of a $90 million fund for new brown coal projects in the Latrobe Valley.

North brown coal power station in Gippsland, Victoria. (Photo: Aaron Francis/The Australian)

The Sydney Morning Herald said each government will contribute $45 million to pay for the development and rollout of brown coal technologies, including drying for export, conversion into fuels and fertilisers, and reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity generation. The announcement comes ahead of the Victorian Government opening its controversial tender for new allocations of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the program will create jobs in the LaTrobe Valley region, spur economic growth, and create a sustainable source of energy for Victorian industries and households.

The Minister also said,

There is a potential for brown coal to develop into a valuable export, which would not be possible without the technological innovation that may also assist in meeting the Government’s emissions reductions targets of five per cent fewer emissions than 2000 levels by 2020.”

Victorian Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said,

Our brown coal resource has for a long time benefited all Victorians, delivering a reliable and affordable power source that has underpinned our economic growth and been a competitive advantage for the state.

There is a long term viable future for the Latrobe Valley based on the sustainable use of brown coal.’

Expressions of interests for grants will close on November 19. The governments said construction of the  first funded project will be scheduled for 2013-14.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth campaign coordinator Cam Walker released a media statement to express his group’s disappointment over the government’s sneaky plan of scrapping clean energy projects.

The Yallourn brown coal power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. (Photo: News Limited)

Last week, the Federal Energy Minister announced it will cancel the $100 grant to the proposed HRL coal-fired power plant in the Latrobe Valley. He said the announcement is devastating for the Victorian communities. The $45 million Victorian government contribution could be use to invest in clean energy technology. Walker said the announcement is a massive lost opportunity.

Instead of continuing to peddle the notion of ‘clean’ coal technologies, the government should be putting public funds into job rich renewable technology. The state government has shut off much of the state to wind energy, and refuses to listen to community concerns about coal and CSG. Having done a U Turn on climate action, it seems the government of Ted Baillieu is determined to take Victoria back into the 1950s by continuing to support the expansion of the obsolete brown coal industry.

Australian Koalas on danger list

Oprah Winfrey cuddles a koala during her trip to Australia in 2010. (Photo: AP)

Australia’s iconic bear– the koala –will become extinct in 10 years unless a national protection is given, Green activists have warned.

The Friends of the Earth and the Gippsland Bush have slammed the Federal Government for its failure to enlist the koala in the Gippsland region of Victoria under the nationwide endangered species list.

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke said on Monday koalas in Victoria and South Australia should not be listed due to their abundant numbers in the said regions.

He admitted though that the marsupial is facing possible extinction in three states such as Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Real estate developments in recent years are said to have primarily displaced them from their natural habitat.

More than 40 percent of the specie is reported to have disappeared in Queensland while it dropped by third in NSW over the past 20 years. In the ACT region, koalas have completely disappeared, the SMH also reported.

Sam the koala became famous around the world after this photo was taken during the Victorian bushfires. (Reuters)

Koala advocates led by the Australia Koala Foundation have been pushing for the enlistment of the specie under endangered category since 1996, but the federal government has been ignoring the issue.

Last year, Greens Senator Larissa Waters had pushed for the marsupials to be listed as a nationally-threatened species believing that they are threatened. She said that with fewer than 5000 koalas left in south-east Queensland, for example, the senator believes that koalas along the koala coast may become extinct during the next 10 years.

However, until now, the Environment Minister is not convinced that the specie should be listed under the national endangered list. He said out that that while koalas have disappeared in the three states, the animals abound in Victoria and South Australia.

He, therefore, announced that koala has been listed under endangered species category covering the three states, but not a national listing following a three year scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee He said a species is usually not considered endangered if it is bountiful in some locations.

Following the announcement, the FOE and the Gippsland Bush blasted Burke for not listing the Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges koala as endangered or vulnerable.

In a media statement, the Green activists said the future of the Strzelecki Koala is “bleak” adding that the specie has lost 50 percent of its habitat in the past decade due to logging and fire.

FOE spokesperson Anthony Amis said almost the entire habitat of the Strzelecki koala is in private hands. He said the Hancock Victorian Plantations has converted close to 10,000 hectares of koala habitat over the past 14 years. Add to this was the 2009 Churchill and Boolarra bushfires which burnt out approximately 20,000ha of koala habitat.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Strzelecki koalas were killed during those fires. After 14 years of logging key koala habitat, Hancock Victorian Plantations still do not have a koala management plan, and 75% of logs from the Strzelecki Ranges end up at Maryvale Pulp Mill owned by Nippon Paper.

The activists groups claim that most of Victoria’s koalas are translocated from the South Gippsland to the French Island in the 1880′s. These koalas are said to have a low genetic diversity compared to the only native koala population which is based in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Amis is convinced that the “genetically superior Strzelecki koala” holds the key to the preservation of the species in Victoria, because translocated koalas suffer from a range of problems, many of which are the result of inbreeding.

The Strzelecki koala does not suffer from the problems of inbreeding which makes it more robust than its translocated cousins. “Its population is clearly unique in the context of Victorian and South Australian koalas. This simple fact appears to have eluded the Minister.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke during a media ambush interview. (Photo: News Corp)

In a related development, the Envronment Minister lashed out at the new Queensland Priemere Campbell Newman who released a statement claiming the koala protection law as a “needless duplication” and a “mindless red tape.” Newman claims that the environmental law will only serve as a red tape to potentially slow down the construction industry.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

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