Koala Massacre Currently Occurring in South West Victoria
Feb 1 2020
Friends of the Earth has been alarmed to learn of a koala “massacre” occurring during the logging of a bluegum plantation, located approximately 12-14km west of the south west Victorian town of Portland.
According to our local sources ‘hundreds of koalas’ may have been killed or injured during logging activities this week alone. Apparently, the land in question was owned by Australian Bluegum Plantations, whose lease expired in 2016. The plantation was apparently taken over and logged by South West Fibre, a joint operation between Midway and the Japanese company Mitsui. Apparently, after logging, the land was handed back to a private landholder.
A logging harvest was completed in late December 2019, where reports came in about the plight of hundreds of starving koalas, whose habitat had been logged by the plantation company. A couple of days ago people apparently witnessed the bulldozing of many dead koalas into slash piles.
Friends of the Earth is alarmed that such wanton destruction and widespread death and injuries continue to plague the south west Victorian plantation industry. In July 2013, the issue raised national media attention when 7.30 uncovered koala deaths across the region.
In January 2017, the Victorian State Government announced mandatory reporting of koala deaths and injuries in South West Victoria. Yet the carnage still continues. Friends of the Earth fears that potentially thousands of animals may have been killed or maimed in South West Victoria since 2013 and gone unreported.
The problem is complex, with the animals in question descendants of translocated animals brought in from Gippsland. These animals are chlyamidia free and suffer from booms and busts in their population cycles. In the mid 1990’s, the region saw a massive increase in the amount of bluegum plantations established (hundreds of thousands of hectares) and as a result, koalas moved into these plantations, bred and thrived. Once the plantations are logged after a 14 year growing period, any resident koala population suffers the consequence of logging and also suffers from having their food source eliminated.
Friends of the Earth wrote extensively about these issues in 2014.
Koalas around Australia have suffered mass deaths from bushfires that have ravaged the continent. Tens of thousands of koala deaths were reported to have occurred during the Kangaroo Island fires alone. New South Wales populations have also been ravaged by wildfires.
Friends of the Earth continues to be alarmed at the extent of deaths also associated through plantation logging in South West Victoria and is concerned that the Victorian State Government has done little to understand and resolve this matter. The argument that private landholders are responsible for what happens on their land is no excuse for the wanton cruelty and harm caused by the bluegum plantation industry. What else aren’t they telling us? The bluegum plantation is getting away with koala cruelty and animal harm at a scale probably unprecedented for a century.
Friends of the Earth’s koala focus is largely focused on the Strzelecki region, but if you would like to see Friends of the Earth get better informed about South West Victorian issues donations for fuel and equipment are always appreciated.
Koala ‘massacre’: scores of animals found dead or injured after plantation logging
Victorian environment minister ‘appalled’ by allegations and her department is investigating
Investigators at the scene of a “koala massacre” at a cleared gum tree plantation in Victoria say the number of animals killed is likely to rise above 40 as they make their way through 10 kilometres of felled timber.
A major incident response has been set up at the site, on private land near Cape Bridgewater, with koalas being treated by vets for starvation and broken bones.
The state’s conservation regulator said it had assessed more than 80 koalas since arriving on the scene on Friday. About 30 koalas had been euthanised.
The Victorian environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said on Monday the event was “devastating” for the koala population in the Portland region and pledged the government would do “everything possible” to bring the perpetrators to account.
“Every Victorian can rightly feel not only appalled, deeply saddened and heartbroken, but angry. I am absolutely angry.”
Locals reported the incident to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), which arrived on site on Friday.
Portland resident Helen Oakley posted a video from the site. In the video, she said: “Look at the destruction that they have done and there’s koalas lying there dead … and there are mothers killed with their little babies. Australia should be ashamed of this.”
Victoria’s chief conservation regulator, Kate Gavens, said more than 80 koalas had been assessed since Friday and at least 30 had been euthanised.
On Monday she said 40 koalas had died, but that number was likely to rise. “There’s about 10 kilometres of felled timber that we have to get through.”
Surviving koalas were being moved to wildlife carers for treatment and rehabilitation, and carers and vets were on site.
“The conservation regulator’s major investigations team is leading the investigation into how this incident happened and who was responsible,” Gavens said. “Animals that were considered to not require immediate removal have been provided with food and water.
“DELWP are working with the relevant parties on the long-term requirements for the remaining koalas – this may include translocation to suitable sites.”
Andy Meddick, a Victorian state Animal Justice Party MP, visited the site on Sunday and told Guardian Australia the trees in the blue gum plantation had been “bulldozed into piles” around the property.
“I saw at least 10 bodies in just one of those piles,” he said. “A couple had literally been crushed to death when these trees have been uprooted. In one instance, a koala had her arm stuck between two branches and she had starved to death. Animals have been killed, injured and left to starve by whoever has done this.”
D’Ambrosio described the incident as “abysmal”, saying: “We will do everything possible to bring the people responsible for this to account and will throw every penalty available to us at them.”
She said the government would consider breaches of both the Wildlife Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Under the Wildlife Act, the conservation regulator said, killing, harassing or disturbing wildlife could attract a penalty of up to $8,000 and an additional fine of more than $800 per head of wildlife.
A crime scene had also been established at Cape Bridgewater.
A logging company, South West Fibre, said it had been engaged to harvest timber from the site in October 2019 and handed the area back the following month.
The company said in a statement: “SWF left an appropriate number of ‘habitat trees’ for the existing koala population and provided details of such in a letter to the landowner noting that the koalas were uninjured and in good health.
“It is understood that subsequent to SWF completing its work, the remaining trees have since been cleared. This is particularly concerning to the foresters and staff who worked assiduously to protect the koalas during the harvesting operation.”
A company spokesperson said it handed the site back to the owner in mid-November with 72 koalas on site, leaving 10 hectares of “remnant vegetation” on site.
According to the Age, the property is run by Keith Troeth on behalf of his father Russell Troeth. Keith Troeth told the newspaper he had cleared the site last week to return it to pasture.
“We made every effort to do it professionally, we made every effort to minimise any fatality,” he said. “There may have been one or two koalas killed and I’ll wear the responsibility, but it’s not the big hoo-ha it’s been made out to be.”
Russell Troeth declined to comment, referring Guardian Australia to a phone number for staff at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) said it was launching its own investigation and that the industry was “appalled” at what it described as a “callous act of animal cruelty”.
The association’s chief executive, Ross Hampton, said forestry operators “scrupulously and meticulously follow koala preservation procedures overseen by the Department of Environment in Victoria”.
“I’m advised that the operators in this case were so careful that they even took an injured koala, which they found during inspection, to the vet,” he said. “I’m advised harvest of this area ended in November and the land was handed back to the owner before Christmas.
“It is unclear as yet who bulldozed the trees with the koalas apparently still in them, but it is absolutely certain that this was not a plantation or a forestry company. We support all those calling for the full force of the law to be applied to the perpetrator.
“AFPA will be launching its own investigation. Furthermore, we will be ensuring that none of the timber which has been cleared is touched by any AFPA member.”
Victorian farmer defends logging after dozens of koala deaths
Feb 3 2020
The deaths of dozens of koalas during logging operations at a private property in Victoria’s south-west are being investigated.
The owner of a private farm near Portland in Victoria – where at least 40 koalas have died and 80 others have been found injured – has defended his management of the property, as Victoria’s state government launches an investigation into the incident.
Photographs of the maimed koalas sparked public outrage around the world after being shared on social media.
But the landowner – who said he is horrified by what has occurred – said that the number of deaths has been inflated online.
He also said that overpopulation of koalas had resulted in the deaths.
“I did not seek to deliberately doze koalas to death. I am not a killer, I am a farmer, we care too,” he said.
‘It is not the first time’
Conservation group Friends of Earth (FOE) posted the koala photos online in the hope it would lead to stricter regulations.
The organisation’s land-use researcher Anthony Amis said: “It’s disturbing because it is not the first time it has happened in the south-west”.
“In 2013, similar issues were reported by the press and in 2014, 2015 we were getting reports in from animal carers down there that similar instances were happening – this particular incident seems to be the worst of the lot,” he said.
“In south-west Victoria, in the last 20 years there were about 150-200,000 hectares of blue gum plantation planted – koalas love blue gums – so as this industry has moved into the area, koalas have moved into these plantations, then the plantations are logged after 15 years … that’s the disaster.”
‘It’s a slap on the wrist’
The state government is investigating whether the incident breaches the Wildlife Act 1975 – which protects koalas from being killed, harassed or disturbed and can attract a fine of $8,000 and an additional fine of more than $800 per animal.
Those convicted can also face six months imprisonment and a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, Bruce Lindsay, told SBS News that the government could possibly investigate two other laws as well; one being “the prevention of cruelty to animals act”.
“The third area of law is actually the regulation of forestry itself; there is a code of practice which includes the management of plantations and also the protection of biodiversity at plantations,” he said.
But Mr Amis said the penalties do not go far enough and are the equivalent of a “slap on the wrist”, doing little to deter individuals or logging companies from repeat offending.
“Potentially, even if this guy goes through the court process and is found guilty, could be up to a maybe a $10-20,000 fine max,” he said.
“The wildlife isn’t respected because the fines aren’t there for people that do the wrong thing.
‘There is a difference between logging and land clearing’
Logging company South West Fibre, which worked on the property until November last year, has condemned the incident and adviser Robert Hadler said the company is in no way connected to the koalas’ deaths or injuries as the land was returned to the property owner by Christmas.
“We have a koala management plan which includes individual spotters to identify koalas in trees – the trees are then quarantined from harvesting and all koalas are identified, mapped and protected during the harvesting process,” he said.
The company harvested around 28 hectares of the 55-hectare property, leaving 12,000 trees behind, an amount Mr Hadler said left sufficient habitat for the 72 koalas they counted on the property.
“There is a difference between logging and land clearing. In the case of South West Fibre the selecting harvesting or logging that occurred was only a partial amount of trees on the property,” he said.
“The subsequent land clearing that appears to have been undertaken was total land clearing where all the trees and remnant vegetation on the property were cleared.”
‘We’ve got to look long term’
Mr Amis wants the government to take a long term approach to koala protection which goes beyond enforcing stricter regulations for logging companies, but considers where koalas can be relocated to if their habitats are being cleared, “You can’t just take a koala out of its environment and put it somewhere else 50km away and expect everything is going to be fine,” he said.
“We call on Dan Andrews to get a koala plan happening that has the long term interests of the animal at heart.”
The Victorian government is investigating the incident and the state’s Chief Conservation Regulator Kate Gavens said initial assessment suggests the logging of blue gums is to blame.
“There are a diverse range of issues here, one of them is starvation and … potentially, injuries from the harvesting of timber on the site.”
While Victoria’s Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has condemned the act as “abysmal” and pledged to hold those responsible to account, “It is a crime, it is cruel and it should not be allowed to be gotten away with.”
Koala deaths in Victorian blue gum plantation ‘a crime’, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio says
Feb 3 2020
Victoria’s Environment Minister has described the deaths of at least 40 koalas at a blue gum plantation in the state’s south-west as “a crime”, vowing to bring to account those responsible.
Lily D’Ambrosio said she was “angry” about the deaths, adding that she expected many more than 40 animals to die as a result of the incident.
WARNING: This story contains graphic images.
“What I’m … deadly serious about is bringing to account every single person who is responsible for this devastation,” she said.
“It is a crime, it is cruel. And it should not be allowed to be gotten away with.”
Officers from the Department of Environment (DOE) were at the timber plantation near Cape Bridgewater this morning.
Portland woman Helen Oakley first raised the alarm with authorities on Wednesday after hiking into the area and finding about 10 dead koalas.
Dozens more koalas were found trapped in two isolated stretches of gum trees on the property.
In an emotional video she posted on Facebook, Ms Oakley said 140 acres of land had been bulldozed and “[they’ve] just killed all of their koalas”.
“Australia should be ashamed of this, and we need help,” she said.
‘It is a crime scene, we are treating everything as evidence’
Office of the Conservation Regulator wildfire officer Ash Burns said about 80 koalas had been assessed on-site so far and 30 of them had been euthanised.
“This is very distressing for everyone. We will take as long as we need to capture and assess every animal,” he said.
“It is a crime scene, we are treating everything as evidence.”
Up to 100 koalas were yet to be found, he said.
About 50 koalas that have been saved are at a wildlife shelter undergoing treatment for injuries such as fractured bones, starvation and dehydration.
Mr Burns said challenging environmental conditions, including undulating terrain, piles of logs and natural debris known as slash were making it difficult for rescuers to find and assess the remaining koalas.
Thermal imaging cameras were being used to find dead and live animals within the slash, and climbers and flagging poles were being used to retrieve animals from the few trees that were still standing.
Mr Burns said under the Wildlife Act a koala management plan must include koala spotters pre and post-harvesting, and a number of trees must be left standing for koalas to live in before the animals moved on to another habitat.
He said it appeared that when harvesting ceased about four weeks ago, remnant vegetation had been left for the koalas but had subsequently been destroyed, leaving the animals without food.
Mr Burns said the team of vets and wildlife carers would be on-site for at least a few more days.
Koalas ‘in good health’ when company left
South West Fibre, a Portland-based plantation hardwood processing operation, went onto the property owned by a farmer late last year to harvest blue gum.
Company spokesman Rob Hadler said all of the koalas were in good health when the company handed the property back to the owner.
“This is the last thing we like to see in any operation. And in fact we work very hard to avoid any injuries or deaths to koalas,” he told ABC Radio Ballarat.
“Everyone at South West Fibre is extremely distressed by the footage.”
Mr Hadler said the company was required to have spotters, who are independent contractors, on the ground to make sure that koalas were safe.
“Those trees are quarantined from being harvested,” he said.
“We report both to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning at the end of our harvesting what has happened to any koalas [and] how many koalas are remaining on the property.
“There were 76 koalas on that property when we finished harvesting and … they were all in good health.”
‘What’s happened here is wrong’: Premier
Interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne this morning, Premier Daniel Andrews called the deaths a “terrible outcome” and promised a thorough investigation, noting that killing native wildlife was an offence.
Mr Andrews said there may have been two logging operations on the property.
“One may well have been in accordance with the rules and the other one not,” he said.
“There may well have been work done by a contractor and then work done beyond that, potentially by a land owner,” he said.
“This is a very bad outcome but we’ve got to have a proper investigation.”
“Let’s establish the facts. And then if there’s punishment to be levied against anybody, if any offences have been committed then that investigation is all about getting to the truth and then taking action on it.”
NSW vets sent to Victoria to treat injured koalas
The clinical director of the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Cheyne Flanagan, called for “heads to roll” over the plantation deaths.
“The Victorian Government has handed over management of koalas in blue gum plantations to the blue gum industry — that just doesn’t compute,” Ms Flanagan said.
“They’ve got to change the legislation and the way all this practice is done.”
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has sent three vets to Victoria to assist local teams attempting to save the koalas injured at the plantation.
Ms Flanagan said the koala deaths make her “just so angry”.
“It’s not the first time, obviously not in this magnitude, but the issues have been going on with the blue gum plantations for many years,” she said.
The deaths were condemned by the Australian Forest Products Association, with chief executive Ross Hampton saying he was “appalled” at what appeared to be a “callous act of animal cruelty”.