On September 7, 1936 the last Tasmanian Tiger died in captivity. For the last 30 years or so, we’ve marked that day with National Threatened Species Day. There are lots of platitudes and photos of politicians hugging Koalas and saying ‘never again’, but the chances of dozens more species being extinct by 2036 goes up every day.
Far from ‘saving species’ though ‘recovery plans’, governments of all sizes continue to make decisions that cut away at the habitat, the living place and conditions that animals need to survive.
I was shocked to read that wild animals now make up only 4% (by weight) of the total mammal biomass on the planet. Humans are 34% and domestic livestock 62%. Of the 4% of wild mammals, 2% are on land and 2% live in the ocean.
Here on the mid-north coast there are really very few wild mammals, and those that are hanging on, don’t have a bright future.
Recently, as part of citizen science efforts, I’ve been part of a team searching for Greater Gliders in Bulga State Forest. Most people have never seen or heard of a Greater Glider. And you’re unlikely to spot one by accident. They need old trees, with tree hollows where they can shelter during the day and raise their young. Like much of our native fauna, they are mainly active at night.
Scientists estimate that the Greater Glider population has fallen by a dramatic 80% over the last 20 years. A combination of logging and bushfire has seen the areas of forest where they can thrive, dramatically reduced. They have gone from common to endangered overnight.
Greater Gliders can glide long distances, up to 100 metres. They feed almost exclusively on gum leaves and they use multiple tree hollows, up to 20, moving from hollow to hollow for reasons only gliders know. Although we can guess that it helps minimise parasites, confuses predators like the Powerful Owl, and that seasons and changing leaf flavours might also be involved.
They have a relatively small home range of around 2 hectares. (An area about the size of the strip of park along the river between Pultney Street and Sailo’s.) Two or three Greater Gliders often have overlapping trees and home ranges.
They are about the size of a cat with an extremely fluffy really long tail. You’d think, given that this unique animal is so cute and fluffy that governments might take steps to stop them from going extinct, but you’d be wrong. That is at least until a couple of weeks ago when something happened that may yet save the Greater Glider from the extinction precipice.
A dead Greater Glider was found near logging in Tallaganda State Forest on the South Coast. Tallaganda was one of the few forests on the South Coast that wasn’t incinerated in the 2019/20 bushfires.
The Forestry Corporation are meant to not log within 50m of a Greater Glider den tree, about a third of their home range. But if they haven’t identified the den tree, guess what? There is no protection. And up until now Forestry haven’t been required to look, so they don’t. Because it would mean going out at night and being in the forest when the gliders come out of their hollows.
So incredibly in Tallaganda State Forest, the Forestry Corporation had only managed to find one glider den tree, despite the forest being a stronghold for the animal.
In a most unlikely move the Environment Protection Authority, issued a Stop Work Order for 40 days and suggested that Forestry Corporation needed to make an effort and try and find some den trees to give the Tallaganda Greater Gliders a chance of not being wiped out. That Stop Work Order was extended for another 40 days. We’re still waiting to see if the EPA stick to their guns or Forestry Corporation bully them back into their box. So far, the EPA and citizen scientists have identified at least 20 den trees.
Meanwhile, the discovery much nearer to home of a thriving Greater Glider population in the least burnt patch of Bulga State Forest throws up the question, will Forestry Corporation be allowed to go in there and wipe out their habitat, or will they have to make some effort to identify the den trees first? Logging is currently listed to start on November 6, so we’ll have the answer to that question by the time you are reading this.
Our local citizen science group has found about 6 den trees so far. We’ve also seen baby gliders in their mother’s pouch and young koalas riding on their mother’s back. Community activity, getting to know the forest and the animals may just be a lifeline to saving them. But really, shouldn’t the fact that this patch of forest is home to a thriving population of Greater Gliders and Koalas be enough to save it from the chop?
And so to another forest in our area, Kiwarrak, just south of Taree. Kiwarrak was really badly burnt in 2019/20. Most of the wildlife was wiped out. Four years later, the tree canopy has grown back on the trees that survived, but the diversity of understorey plants and animals is much reduced. Kiwarrak is a recovering forest.
Koalas who found sanctuary in Tinonee and on some of the private land nearby are in the process of recolonising Kiwarrak. But just as Koalas are moving back into Kiwarrak, Forestry Corporation announces plans to log the section of the forest nearest Tinonee, the area where most of the Koalas have been seen.
Coincidentally, this is also the part of the forest riddled with Mountain Bike Trails. It’s one of the most extensive Mountain Bike Trail networks in NSW. The trail network was burnt out in 2019. The State and Federal Governments gave more than $403,000 for the network to be re-established. How does that work after the bulldozers and logging equipment has pushed into the forest to take out all the largest trees?
Forestry Corporation say they have logged this forest for a 100 years, and should be able to log it for another 100 years. 100 years ago the trees in Kiwarrak were giants. There were gliders, owls, parrots, cockatoos and lots of koalas.
Now there are almost no big trees. The largest ones left you can wrap your arms around. There is no habitat for all the tree hollow dwellers. It’s a very silent forest. It’s very sad. And yet now the plan is to take out the largest trees, that maybe, just maybe, if left alone, will get big enough and old enough to once again host the diversity of wildlife that a healthy forest supports.
The sort-of good news is that we’ve just heard that the logging in Kiwarrak has been deferred until March 2024.
(It needs to stop. We need more people near and far to jump up and down and demand less logging, more habitat. Trees, especially old growth ones, are more valuable in situ than chomped for woodchips and being sent overseas. Ed.)