Logging paused amid koala deaths but solution unclear

Environment Minister Susan Close has joined the debate surrounding the introduced Kangaroo Island koala population and the need to remove the blue gum plantations they inhabit.

Mar 07, 2024, updated Mar 08, 2024
Kangaroo Island Plantation Timber blue gum forest that is being cut after company could not secure a port to ship the timber. Photo supplied

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timber blue gum forest that is being cut after company could not secure a port to ship the timber. Photo supplied

Loggers have downed tools on Kangaroo Island after footage emerged of a koala falling to its death as a result of tree-felling at the South Australian tourist hotspot.

The video, captured by whistleblowers and broadcast by Channel Seven on Monday, shocked wildlife advocates and the state’s Environment Minister.

“I think everyone is horrified by seeing animals suffering like that,” she said on Thursday.

“Across the world people are particularly fond of koalas but any kind of animal cruelty like that, seeing the distress and the pain, is just absolutely appalling.”

Plantation operator Australian Agribusiness Group says it has been clearing the trees under agreed environmental practices.

The plantations of highly flammable blue gums, which are not native to Kangaroo Island, contributed to the devastating fires that torched half the island and an estimated 30,000 koalas in 2020.

Their removal is seen as essential by residents.

However, the koala population has rebounded spectacularly since the fire and large numbers now inhabit the plantations.

Australian Agribusiness Group halted logging when the allegations came to light but briefly restarted harvesting on Thursday to demonstrate to Department of Environment and Water investigators its koala management practices.

The company says it is operating “well beyond what is considered best practice” including using spotters and thermal binoculars, and leaving buffers of nine trees around koalas to minimise the risk of koala death.

“Our teams resolved to further increase their efforts with greater vigilance across all our workers, including additional koala spotting resources, to provide a greater focus on the protection of the local animal population,” a spokesperson said.

But the environment minster was not convinced.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“We’ve all seen the video,” Close said.

“I’m not sure whether they think that is beyond best practice.”

Close said she would be meeting with Australian Agribusiness Group’s chief executive face-to-face on Thursday.

“Really, it’s devastating for their reputation as well as for South Australia’s but most of all it’s really bad for koalas,” she said.

SA Opposition Leader David Speirs warned the situation would hurt the state’s tourism industry as the news had quickly spread across the globe.

“I had my cousin contact me about this from Scotland last night and say ‘what are you guys doing with your koalas?’” he said.

“It’s creating a lot of embarrassment.”

Koalas were introduced to Kangaroo Island early last century in a bid to safeguard the species’ dwindling mainland population.

They have since boomed, with many considering them a pest, and are at risk of starvation due to their overabundance.

Close says the environment department is working on a long-term management plan.

Previous control efforts including sterilisation and relocation have proved unsuccessful while a cull would be a hard sell politically.

“It’s a very difficult issue but we cannot be culling this iconic national species,” Speirs said.

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.