Next generation of koalas returned to the forest after Peak View bushfire tragedy



Posted

September 05, 2020 13:15:31

Seven months after the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust sanctuary at Peak View was destroyed in the summer’s tragic bushfires, koalas that were found struggling to survive in the charred forest are now ready to be released back into the wild.


ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton and Richard Snashall


Source: ABC News
|
Duration: 2min 49sec

Topics:

fires,

bushfire,

animal-behaviour,

animal-welfare,

bega-2550,

canberra-2600,

australian-national-university-0200,

peak-view-2630,

cooma-2630



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Rescued koalas returned to the wild after Peak View bushfire tragedy


When bushfires first broke out near the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust sanctuary at Peak View in late December, James Fitzgerald spent his days firefighting and his nights rescuing and caring for injured wildlife.

When the fires flared again in late January he lost his home, his 1,800-acre sanctuary, and all of the animals in his care.

He searched the burnt forest for months, finding koalas in desperate need of help.

Dr Karen Ford from the Australian National University is part of a team of researchers, veterinarians, and volunteers who have been caring for 41 koalas rescued since the fires and closely monitoring their recovery.

“It has been a lot of feeding and cleaning cages, picking up poo, and cutting leaves — lots of cutting leaves,” Dr Ford said.

Dr Arianne Lowe checks young koala Amelia’s heart before she is released.(Supplied: Michael Weinhardt)

She has spent most days at the Two Thumbs sanctuary since the first koalas were released back into the wild in late May, fitting the koalas with GPS collars to track their movements.

“We want to look at what parts of the landscape they are using, whether they need to rely on some trees that still have intact canopy or whether they’re quite happy to move through the burnt areas,” Dr Ford said.

“That’s really important for us, knowing when it’s okay to release koalas back into burnt areas, and how many koalas a burnt landscape can support.

Woman standing in sparse forest looking up at tree thoughtfully.
ANU Research Fellow Dr Karen Ford watches as one of three koalas is released at Two Thumbs wildlife sanctuary.(Supplied: Michael Weinhardt)

Jessie, an adult female with a joey on her back, was found with the help of Bear the wildlife detection dog and Dr Romane Cristescu from the University of the Sunshine Coast.

On her first health check, an ultrasound revealed that she was also carrying a joey in utero.

“When Jessie first came in, she was very, very thin,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“The vet had to warm her up, she almost died.”

Seven months on, Jessie is in good health, and her joey is almost ready to emerge from the pouch.

Before release, Karen Ford has applied a tracking collar and wildlife veterinarian Dr Arianne Lowe performed a health check.

She will be released with her two joeys and a young male who lost his mother in the bushfires, found with burnt hands and feet.

Small koala jumps out of a bag to climb the trunk of a eucalypt tree
Young koala Mark is released at Two Thumbs wildlife sanctuary.(Supplied: Michael Weinhardt)

A quarter of koala habitat in NSW — and 60,000 hectares of habitat around Peak View — was impacted in last season’s bushfires, but Dr Lowe is buoyant about the rescued koalas’ prospects for survival.

“Karen’s research is showing that the koalas are doing well in the remnant areas that were unburnt and in the burnt areas that are recovering,” she said.

“We want them to thrive, and they will. And if they need support, then we’re also there for them.”

‘Hazard reduction eaters’

The vulnerability of koalas in the face of drought and bushfires is well-recognised, but James Fitzgerald believes more consideration should be given to the role that native animals play in protecting the forest.

“It’s estimated that there were well over 10 million koalas in Australia before they were hunted for their furs in the early 20th century,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“Koalas eat up to a kilo of eucalyptus leaf every day, that would have been two million tonnes per year of ‘hazard reduction eating’, feeding on the most explosively flammable part of Australian forests.

Small koala sitting in a leafy eucalypt tree, looking at camera with alert eyes.
Mark, the last koala rescued in April, has now been returned to the wild.(Supplied: Michael Weinhardt)

“We’ve also lost our ‘forest engineers’, the bandicoots and potoroos. They turn over the leaf litter and bark, and keep the forest floor moist — instead of this dry forest floor which is much more fire-prone.”

A tragic legacy

Among the rescued koalas in James Fitzgerald’s care are three adult males named after the three US firefighters, Ian McBeth, Paul Hudson, and Rick DeMorgan Jr, who were killed when their air tanker plane crashed shortly after dropping fire retardant on the sanctuary.

ground view of a destroyed and burnt out plane surrounded by burnt trees
The aircraft was being used to protect properties from the Good Good fire in Cooma.(Supplied: NSW Police)

“For those firefighters to come from the other side of the world to help us and then lose their lives, it’s a huge tragedy,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

Mr Fitzgerald now lives in a caravan, surrounded by a ‘ghost forest’ of burnt trees, focused on the task of rebuilding his sanctuary to support the koalas that survived the fires.

Man in checked shirt and cap standing in forest looking up with a bittersweet expression.
James Fitzgerald lost his life’s work when the Two Thumbs wildlife sanctuary was destroyed by bushfires in January.(Supplied: Michael Weinhardt)

“These koalas have been recognised as a nationally significant population, with strong genetics,” Mr Fitzgerald said.



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Kabe Goddard, accused of lighting dangerous Adelaide River bushfire, faces court


A 24-year-old man has faced court accused of lighting a bushfire south of Darwin as authorities battled the worst fire conditions seen in the Top End for half a decade.

Kabe Goddard was refused police bail when he was arrested in Pine Creek on Friday and did not make an application for bail in the Darwin Local Court.

He faces one charge of causing a bushfire.

Police allege Mr Goddard lit bushfires around the Adelaide River area about 7:30am on Thursday when the fire danger in the Top End was at catastrophic levels.

Josh Fischer, Bushfires NT’s assistant director of operations, said around 190 hectares of land was burnt and it took volunteers and staff around 34 hours to bring the fire under control.

“We had a total of eight volunteers and staff, plus an incident management team managing all incidents,” Mr Fischer said.

Aerial water bombers, ground crews and local residents worked to protect homes in Darwin’s rural area last week.(ABC News: Nicholas Hynes)

At one stage, a home north of Strickland Road was under threat.

Firefighters managed to save the house, but several vehicles on the property were destroyed.

“We had five fixed-wing waterbombers attached to that fire as well as observation helicopters,” Mr Fischer said.

In the brief court appearance today, Mr Goddard sat in the dock but did not say anything.

He was not required to enter a plea.

Mr Goddard will remain in custody and return to court on October 28.

A photo of a group of firefighers standing in front of a fireground.
Bushfires NT responded to 32 fires in seven days last week.(ABC News: Nicholas Hynes)

Mr Fischer said fire weather conditions would increase this week but were not expected to reach the catastrophic levels seen in the Top End last week.

“People shouldn’t be lighting fires full stop, unless they’re authorised to do so,” said Mr Fischer.

Bushfires NT staff and volunteers responded to 32 fires in seven days last week.

“It was a very long week, seven days of continuous fire weather … it was a very busy period, lots of hours put in in quite difficult, horrendous and unsafe conditions,” Mr Fischer said.



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Australia’s spring bushfire outlook refreshingly average, but areas of concern in Qld, WA


The bushfire outlook for spring is looking “normal” for most of the country, driven by vastly different climate drivers than the previous two fire seasons.

Last year, large areas of the eastern seaboard were facing above-normal conditions, from central Queensland down through to Victoria, as well as areas in South Australia.

There is a definite contrast this year, according to Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.

“This year we’re coming into the beginning of spring with a La Nina alert now active, meaning that there’s a high likelihood that we get a La Nina event during this spring period,” he said.

BOM’s ENSO outlook has moved to a La Nina alert.(Supplied: Bureau of Meteorology)

While a La Nina would encourage wetter-than-average conditions, parts of Queensland still face above-normal fire potential, particularly in the south-east and central coast.

“That will all be dependent upon whether the rainfall comes or not [and how soon],” Dr Thornton said.

Queensland largely missed out on the widespread rainfall in southern Australia this winter.

That rainfall, however, could cause other issues as we get closer to summer if crops and grasses grow and then dry off — a further bushfire outlook will be issued as summer approaches.

Map of Australia, Blue for NSW, VIC and TAS but red for the south west, QLD and largely below average or average for SA and NT
Large parts of Queensland, the tropics and the west missed out on the good winter rains.(Supplied: BOM)

Fire is normal

The latest outlook is not ruling out fires in southern Australia this spring.

“Anywhere where those forested areas or grassland areas fires can start, and under the right heat or windy conditions, they can spread rapidly.”

He said the beginning of spring was a good time to be preparing properties and people for the oncoming fire season.

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What can you do to prepare?

Dr Thornton said it was important to have a plan and understand what you would do and when you would act.

“Making sure that you’re prepared around the property as much as you can, be really clear about what you are going to do with your family, have multiple backups, be clear on what the signal is for you to enact that plan,” he said.

“Remember that fires can start close to where you live, so you may be the first person that knows about a fire — don’t always expect a warning.”

Pets, animals, children, elderly neighbours — now is the time to think about it and talk it though.

Queensland does get fires

Queensland is just starting its fire season and there have already been fires in the Gold Coast hinterland and near Toowoomba over the weekend.

“So now is the time when certainly people in Queensland should be really seriously thinking about their bushfire plans, thinking about what they’re going to do and understand where they’re going to get their information from,” Dr Thornton said.

“[That means] looking towards the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service for advice on what they should do and how they should behave.”

As usual this season, check the warnings with the BOM or your local ABC emergency broadcaster on Facebook or radio and heed the advice of your local emergency services.

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Bushfire photo showing ‘wave of flames’ secures Australian Geographic’s top nature image prize


An image of flames “snaking across” a mountain taken during Australia’s Black Summer bushfires has earned its photographer top prize at one of the nation’s most prestigious nature photography competitions.

Queensland’s Ben Blanche snapped the photo at a tinder-dry Mount Barney National Park, south-west of Brisbane, last November.

He has now been recognised as the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year for 2020, an award bestowed by the South Australian Museum.

Recalling the scene that secured him the honour, Mr Blanche said he was helped by a local who provided information on fire conditions “leading up to the day”.

“The fire was rather slow-moving and took some hours to move across the mountain,” Mr Blanche said.

“When I took this image, many Australians were grappling with the very real effects of climate change and how it is impacting our environment, communities, economies and way of life.”

Raoul Slater’s image was runner-up in the animal habitat category.(Supplied: Australian Geographic)

The competition’s judges said the photo “skilfully captures a landscape”.

“In the wave of flames snaking across the mountain, we see the true scale of the fire,” the judges said in their citation.

Scientists have estimated as many as three billion animals were killed or displaced in the horrifying bushfire season, which claimed 34 lives directly.

“I think all Australians will connect with this image and take a moment to pause and reflect on the impact bushfires have on our environment,” South Australian Museum director Brian Oldman said.

“Each year the entries astound me, they capture moments in time that are often invisible to the naked eye.”

Fungi and frogs also secure honours

Of the 1,796 photos entered in the prize, many capture the splendour of Australia’s wildlife.

Belgian photographer Kevin De Vree snapped an unidentified species of fungi at Lamington National Park in Queensland.

“I wondered when the ancient trees would start talking and if the fairies would appear,” he told the award’s organisers.

Fungi growing on a branch with a waterfall in the background.
Botanical category winner Kevin De Vree was recognised for his fungi photo.(Supplied : Australian Geographic)

WA’s Alex Kydd took out the animal behaviour category for photographing a “fever of cownose rays” on Ningaloo Reef.

It shows the rays possibly mating or courting.

A lot of stingrays intertwined.
Alex Kydd’s image won the animal behaviour category.(Supplied: Australian Geogaphic)

Young photographer Tess Poyner won the junior prize for a snap of a “graceful and green” tree frog in the Daintree.

“I was lucky this petite frog caught my eye, as they’re hard to spot due to their size,” she said.

A close-up photo of a green frog with black background
Tess Poyner was the junior winner for this photo of frogs.(Supplied: Australian Geographic)

New Zealand’s Richard Robinson took a more sobering photo for the “our impact” category.

Labelled the Wreck of the Penguins, the image shows the aftermath of a penguin die-off on the North Island.

“Most had succumbed to starvation … some scientists are concerned wrecks will become more common as seas warm,” Mr Robinson said.

Dead penguins being inspected on a table.
Richard Robinson’s photo of dead penguins won the impact prize.(Supplied: Australian Geographic)

Jasmine Vink captured an image of this Tasmanian devil on Maria Island.

“The devils on Maria Island are an insurance population used to supplement the numbers and genetic diversity of other populations in Tasmania,” she said.

A Tasmanian Devil looking through bracken.
Jasmine Vink’s photo took out the threatened species category.(Supplied: Australian Geographic)

All of the finalists will be on display at the South Australian Museum until November 15.

They will also go on display at the Australian Museum in Sydney when it opens later in the year.



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Eclectopia Gifts owner facing bushfire recovery alone | Goulburn Post


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Small business owner Christine O’Neill says her retail shop in Taralga suffered a significant loss of revenue during the 2019-20 bushfires, mainly due to a decline in domestic visitors. Ms O’Neill also said her business was forced to close, and stock was damaged. “The fires greatly impacted my business,” Ms O’Neill said. The Green Wattle Creek fire burned within ten kilometres of Taralga, it destroyed the surrounding bush and closed nearby tourist attraction, Wombeyan Caves. “The town was blanketed in thick smoke for days, preventing me from opening my store. My business suffered as a direct consequence.” Ms O’Neill has operated Eclectopia Gifts for four and a half years, and she said her retail business was hit hard. Read also: Utterly derailed: Rockmans, Millers, Rivers owner to close up to 500 stores “My retail business had been moving forward and growing. The loss of tourism was felt heavily.” She said businesses across the Upper Lachlan Shire local government area had lost revenue due to a lack of domestic visitors. “Taralga and Crookwell businesses have suffered. “We face an unknown future in this little part of the greater Southern Tablelands,” she said. Ms O’Neill was astonished that local businesses missed out on bushfire recovery support. “The grant would make an enormous difference,” she said. Hansard records dated June 3 showed the Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman met with the Deputy Premier John Barilaro to advocate for local businesses during a visit to the area. The office of the Deputy Premier John Barilaro sent a request to the Minister for Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud to extend support to the Upper Lachlan Shire. However, the $10,000 small business grant to aid with bushfire recovery has not been extended to the community. We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

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Hazard reduction hotly debated as bushfire report calls for more targeted effort


The New South Wales Bushfire Inquiry report into last season’s terrible bushfires has put hazard reduction burning and grazing in the spotlight.

As the next fire season approaches, rural communities are wondering what needs to be done to prevent a repeat of the mega fires.

The report did not identify a lack of hazard reduction as a major cause of the extreme fires.

The authors, Dave Owens and Mary O’Kane, found the fuel load was extremely dry due to the drought and a high number of lightning strikes ignited many fires often in remote areas.

Despite that finding they also noted there was a “perception” in fire-affected communities that too much fuel had been allowed to accumulate and inadequate hazard reduction burning over decades were major contributing factors to the number of fires, their ability to spread, and their intensity.

Call to increase hazard reduction burning and grazing

Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen said more needed to be done to manage fuel loads in national parks.

Farmers in the Riverina Highlands want more roadside grazing to be conducted to reduce grass fuel loads ahead of summer.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

Mr Johnsen said Parks and Wildlife seemed to have a “lock it and leave it” approach to land management and he supported selective grazing to keep fuel loads down.

While acknowledging the report’s references to the changing climate, Mr Johnsen said he was still not convinced about the role that humans had played in the changes.

Former head of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Brian Gilligan said he was worried that the debate had not moved on much since he finished in the role in 2003.

“I think it is very disturbing that we have got politicians apparently like Michael Johnsen who haven’t made up their mind still about climate change, despite the fact that there are scientists who are specialists in that area having been telling us for at least 30 years that is what we are facing,” Mr Gilligan said.

Grazing questioned as hazard reduction method

Cattle in a grassy national park with trees in the background
Some farmers are keen to see grazing in national parks to reduce the fuel load, but the Bushfire Inquiry report questions the effectiveness of that strategy.(ABC News)

Mr Gilligan welcomed the inquiry’s decision to recommend more research into hazard reduction techniques such as grazing, but cautioned against raising expectations after trailing it himself in the parks system.

“Concentrated fuel reduction is only going to happen around a water source and where the animals find a preferential plant to feed on, and in that area they will tend to overgraze,” he said.

He warned that grazing in national parks increased the potential for erosion and weed infestation.

Mr Gilligan said the overwhelming number of fires impacting on national parks started outside the parks on adjoining land, and if the park was the origin it was invariably due to lightning strike.

‘Not a licence to burn’

MP Justin Field warned people not to misinterpret the report’s finding on hazard reduction.

“It didn’t talk about opening up national parks for grazing,” he said.

The report did note that individual responsibility for managing risk was central and making properties as safe as possible should start from listening to people at the local level and taking action locally.

Burnt pine trees on hills with green hill in foreground and a dam.
Burnt pine forest near Tumbarumba in NSW. This photo was taken six weeks after the January fires hit the Riverina Highlands.(ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

Action wanted on RFS equipment

Riverina Highlands farmer Alan Beck understood the risks associated with fire in rural areas.

He lost sheds, fences, livestock, pastures and fodder when two fire fronts swept through most of his property at Lower Bago, north of Tumbarumba, on New Year’s Eve and again on January 4.

Mr Beck welcomed the findings but wanted more detail and certainty from the Government on exactly what the recommendations were and when they would be implemented.

He said authorities should promptly enact a minimum 100-metre boundary on pine forests bordering roadsides and properties.

It was one of a long list of things he would like to see done including more roadside grazing to reduce grass fuel loads; improved communications between RFS ground staff and regional control; more on-ground firefighting support; and fallen dead trees on roadsides to be cleared for access.

Mr Beck, who is also president of the Lower Bago RFS, said the brigade desperately needed to update its truck, which was more than 20 years old.

He said the Lower Bago RFS had received a grant and it would be used to improve firefighting equipment for the future.



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Emergency situation declared amid bushfire threat around Darwin, conditions to worsen on Thursday



An emergency situation has been declared in response to the bushfire threat near Darwin, with dangerous weather conditions set to worsen on Thursday.

A total fire ban declared on Wednesday will remain in place, with extreme conditions forecast in the Darwin and Adelaide River forecast zones and severe conditions to stretch as far south as Katherine.

A fire near Lake Bennett that took hold on Monday night was downgraded from watch and act level to advice on Wednesday afternoon.

Bureau of Meteorology NT manager Todd Smith said dangerous conditions fuelled by “exceptionally dry air”, high inland temperatures and a high pressure system to the south would peak on Thursday and last for the rest of the week.

He said the fire danger forecast could reach catastrophic levels in exposed areas between Batchelor and Adelaide River on Thursday.

“This sort of weather set-up is something that we will probably only see once every five years,” he said.

An emergency operation centre was set up in Darwin on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Emergency Services Minister Nicole Manison confirmed an emergency situation had been declared late on Wednesday afternoon.

It means authorised officers can issue directions to property owners and evacuate residents by force if necessary.

‘Unpredictable’ conditions for volunteers

Forecasters warned dry winds were expected to persist overnight on Wednesday.

Bushfires NT executive director Collene Bremner said Wednesday’s 65 kilometre per hour winds and dry conditions had made firefighting difficult for volunteers.

Ms Bremner said an extra waterbombing helicopter had been sent from South Australia to the Top End to assist.

The NT Health Department issued a statement on Wednesday warning smoke from the fires was affecting air quality and could pose a risk to people with respiratory conditions.



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The 76 bushfire prevention recommendations about ‘removing obstacles from landowners’


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