Cooperative koala project - protecting koalas, people and houses from wildfire
Friday, 10th February 2017
A key aim of the fire management strategy was to address whether fire management could be implemented and improved to offer greater protection to both koala and human assets. Koala populations were already included in the Bega Valley Bushfire Risk Management Plan, however the Biamanga National Park Board sought a cooperative strategy to exclude fire from areas being used by koalas and, where possible, to create low-fuel buffers adjacent to these areas.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) undertook koala surveys to determine the number and type of preferred habitat trees during the periods 2007-09 and 2012-15. The surveys were conducted by 10 local contractors, 19 traditional owners of Biamanga/Gulaga National Parks and 160 volunteers that contributed more than 1,200 person days of fieldwork searching for koala pellets under 27,540 trees. Koala pellets were located at 105 of the 918 sites surveyed, with a clear preference for Eucalyptus longifolia (woollybutt), E. globoidea (white stringybark) and E. sieberi (silvertop ash).
A fascinating and extremely rare behaviour was also observed during the survey. Some of the preferred koala trees showed evidence of ‘bark biting’, where bark is stripped and eaten near the base of the tree.
To create the fire management plan the survey results were then incorporated into fire behaviour computer modelling. With assistance from the University of Canberra (statistical analysis) and the University of Melbourne (fire behaviour modelling using PHOENIX RapidFire), 11 possible options for hazard reduction burning were assessed. These were used to predict where hot and intense wildfires were likely to cause the most damage to both property and koalas and assess the relative benefits of each option compared with the prediction with no hazard reduction burning. The results were used to determine the best options for the Fire Management Plan and as a vehicle to consult with communities and encourage them to be actively involved in the implementation of the overall Management Plan.
The Hotspots Project assisted in enhancing the community understanding of the Fire Management Planning process for the koala population and understanding fire in the landscape.
This collaborative on-going project is increasing community awareness, involvement and ownership of fire management for both risk and the protection of koalas. The project also links to several other fire-related activities that community members are involved in, including recruiting the dwindling number of preferred habitat trees through rehabilitation and weed control. Following the success of this approach, planning is now under way to trial this in other areas.
This plan was achieved with the cooperation of Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Forestry Corporation, NCC NSW, traditional owners of Biamang/Gulaga National Parks, the University of Melbourne, University of Canberra and the community of Bermagui/Tanja.