1 Nov 2021
KOALAS FOREVER: PREPARING KOALAS FOR A HOTTER WORLD
Tanya Pritchard, WWF-Australia’s Landscape Restoration Project Manager, answers four key questions on how we can prepare our koalas to survive in a hotter, drier world.
How would you describe the impact of climate change on koala populations you are working with right now?
From our own predictions at WWF-Australia we know that the koala, as well as many of our wild species and vegetation, are going to be very negatively affected by the impacts of climate change, such as increasing intensity and severity of bushfires and changing rainfall.
The UN report on climate change has now revealed that we may be facing these climate predictions even earlier than we thought. Our survey information shows that in some areas, koalas have declined by up to 80% over a 20-year period, which is tragic. There are also areas like the Pilliga in northern New South Wales, once home toa thriving population, where they are now functionally extinct.
Then in the NSW Northern Rivers, along the riparian areas where we are trying to restore some really fragmented landscapes, the koalas are hanging on in scattered food trees, but they’re now very vulnerable because they have to keep moving to find more trees.
You mention the Northern Rivers - can you tell us more about your activity there?
This is one of our key pilot areas for Koalas Forever. It is a stronghold for koalas in NSW, and it is important to protect it, because koalas have hung on there. With the fertile soils and high rainfall, they’ve got a fighting chance of surviving into the long-term.
We are investing in a koala activity assessment there to understand how the population trend is changing over time, working with governments and community groups over 300 sites. Similar surveys were done in 2015 and 2018 and we are repeating that now. Obviously it’s an expensive business, so with the University of Newcastle we’re developing new algorithms and more cost-effective ways of being able to monitor the population abundance across larger areas, using thermal-imaging drones. This spatial mapping will help us prioritise key landscape areas for protection, by showing what the population is doing within that key landscape.
Cultural burning is another exciting initiative under Koalas Forever. Why is it important?
Cultural burning is a major part of our multi-faceted strategy, together with koala population identification and monitoring and habitat management, to help prepare koalas for the impacts that are resulting from climate change.
The opportunity to learn from Traditional Owners in putting fire back into the landscape, where it existed for thousands of years and kept our forests healthy, is extremely important. By building the capacity of First Nations People to deliver on-Country, cultural burns is going to help us improve the integrity of koala habitat and the rejuvenation of those eucalypt species that need fire to regenerate. It will also hopefully decrease those really devastating wildfires by restoring healthy fire to the landscape.
What will make Koalas Forever a success?
I think it’s about our partners and our supporters, because we can’t do it on our own. The key critical issue is making sure that koalas’ habitats are protected, restored and healthy. If we can do that now, then there’s a chance that koalas will survive as the climate changes. I have seen a lot of positivity, and it has been one of the joys of being able to go into the community to build this Koalas Forever plan from the ground up. We do have increasing challenges to face, but hopefully we can face them with a healthy koala population. Plus, for every koala we assist, we help a host of other species too.
Australia’s forests are our shared heritage and our legacy, and we all have a part to play in saving and restoring them for future generations of people and nature.
Extinction is not an option for our koalas.
Donate today to help save them from extinction.