Koalas cling to viability in the wake of bush fire holocaust

Bush fire kick in the guts for national icon

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Koala populations are being assessed for survivabilty in the wake of disastrous east coast bush fires.

Koala populations are being assessed for survivabilty in the wake of disastrous east coast bush fires.

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Some of the healthiest Koala populations on the North Coast have been

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NSW State Government has promised to maintain funding for koala monitoring research, following devastating bushfires along the Eastern Fall.

Meanwhile Queensland this week launched a draft strategy to help protect koalas by laying tougher clearing laws over 570,000 hectares of key habitiat.

In Sydney on Monday, another gathering of the NSW Upper House inquiry into the state's koala populations, highlighted stunning revelations about the threatened species, with estimates of 2000 individuals lost to fire in recent weeks.

That number could be low, says consulting biologist Dr Steve Phillips, Biolink at Uki, who gave evidence during an earlier session. He said the bush fires were a kick in the guts to a population already in serious decline. The loss could turn out to be more like 10,000 with a decline of 36,000, perished, in recent years.

"We are looking at a halving of their population," he said.

The incineration to ash of hundreds of healthy individuals in the Lake Innes nature reserve near Port Macquarie, Kiwarrak forest near Taree and Royal Camp forest near Rappville have caused the most concern.

We are looking at a halving of their population - Dr Steve Phillips

Now that fires have spread south, into the Blue Mountains, more populations will be affected.

But in the northern Pilliga, ravaged by drought but not yet fire, the koala is already functionally extinct, says Dr Phillips, after surveys in the early 1990s, in 2014 and again this year recorded a population crash.

Where the koala does exist, at Gunnedah, the Richmond Valley floodplain and on the Manning River floodplain, their habitat is broken by farmland which prevents destruction by bushfire.

"We may have to look at new ways of managing the koalas," he said.

Dr Brad Law from DPI has been heading up an acoustic research project that measures the number of koalas based on the call of males during spring mating season. Data is fed through an algorithm developed by Queensland University of Technology to determine an accurate head count.

He says early findings point to survivors in the Bril Bril and Bellangry forests in the Hastings Valley, particularly in protected gullies.

"It is too early to say exactly what the effect on the population will be, but the fires are likely to be devastating," he said.

Further research using GPS collars will add to the acoustic data, with that project partnering with the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and Forestry Corporation.

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