CLAIMS of koala carnage in western Victoria’s blue gum plantation harvesting operations have been played down by the industry.
The ABC’s 7.30 Report on Monday night raised concerns about koalas killed or injured in plantations across Victoria’s south-west and South Australia’s south-east.
Wildlife carers from Warrnambool and Koroit told of retrieving dead and badly injured wildlife after harvesting operations.
One had a severed arm, others broken backs and limbs.
Conservationists have called for stricter monitoring and a rapid expansion of alternative habitat to house koalas removed from timber plantations.
They warned of a looming crisis if displaced koalas could not find enough food.
The issue was hotly debated at a south-west industry meeting yesterday.
Green Triangle regional plantation committee chairman Laurie Hein told The Standard instances of koala deaths and injuries were “extremely unfortunate”.
“We take our social and environmental responsibilities seriously — our future depends on it,” he said.
“Our goal is not to injure, maim or kill any wildlife.”
The committee has been developing a policy aimed at getting all plantation operators to sign on to a new code of conduct.
Mr Hein expects it will be ready in two months.
“In the past each company had its own process for wildlife management,” he said.
“It’s important operators quantify the native animal population with an up-to-date survey before harvesting.
“Then if koalas are present there must be a plan to relocate the animals or ensure trees around the koala are not felled.”
It is estimated there are at least 8000 koalas in blue gum plantations across the south-west.
In the Macarthur district, for example, koalas had walked up to 15 kilometres from the nearby Mount Eccles Park to a plantation and many were removed before harvesting.
“We face a looming crisis of having thousands of starving koalas because alternative habitat is unable to sustain them all,” Koroit wildlife rescuer Tracey Wilson said.
“I believe the answer is to get more trees planted for habitat as soon as possible. There also needs to be monitoring of the new guidelines to ensure koalas are not killed or injured.”
Mr Hein said blue gum harvesting in the Green Triangle was expanding and soon would double to about 3.5 million tonnes a year.
Most of the product goes to Portland for export to China and Japan.