Extra forestry protection for koalas

A MAJOR south-west forestry operator which accidentally killed koalas and was stripped of environmental accreditations says it will do everything it can to avoid deaths in the future. 

Australian Bluegum Plantations (ABP) — the country’s largest wood chipper — has been reinstated into the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) after it was suspended by the Rainforest Alliance in October last year over koala deaths. 

The ban came following a string of graphic reports into the company’s lax protections for koalas during harvesting and forced the company to cease some operations in south-west plantations spanning from Yambuk to South Australia. 

The company has agreed to a costly demand to employ koala spotters during harvesting and will leave a minimum of nine trees around koalas found in its bluegum plantations. 

The trees can however be removed if the koalas move on. 

Koroit wildlife carer Tracey Wilson, who has led calls for change over the past three years, welcomed the changes saying ABP now had the best standards of any operator. 

Ms Wilson was at the centre of revelations last year that koalas were regularly maimed and killed in ABP forests.

“I think ABP have improved enormously,” Ms Wilson said. 

“I would like to see all the industry like ABP ... they are the shining light. 

“But I truly don’t think they would have made the changes if they hadn’t lost certification.”

She said the nine-tree minimum was an enormous improvement over a minimum of five trees under protection plans of other green triangle operators. 

Among other new measures introduced by the company: 

n an improved koala protection plan with input from government environment departments and wildlife carers;

n consultation with a zoologist to identify koala densities in the green triangle; and 

n an employed koala project officer.

Rainforest Alliance has used the case to talk up the effectiveness of the FSC — the industry’s self-regulating body. 

“Forestry is an industry full of risks, it is as impossible to say no koalas will be killed on plantations as it is to say no forest worker will be injured on plantations. How the industry works to minimise the risk of harm is critical,” Rainforest Alliance spokeswoman Anita Neville said. 

“This case demonstrates the transformational impacts FSC certification can have on forestry practice here in Australia as well as globally.”