Working with Local Rural Fire Service Brigades for Improved On-ground Outcomes
Inappropriate fire management (particularly intense wildfires) is a major risk to koalas (see Fire and Koalas). Fires that burn the eucalypt canopy are particularly devastating, resulting in a loss of koala food and causing direct mortality and injury to koalas through burns and smoke inhalation. Devastating wildfire events can even cause local extinction or otherwise a population ‘bottleneck’ which can greatly reduce genetic diversity. A lack of fire can also be problematic as eucalypt forests in certain areas can encourage the growth of rainforest species. The high abundance of regenerating rainforest shrubs not only strips nutrients from the eucalypt canopy, but also can prevent the regeneration of eucalypts- resulting in the loss of koala habitat with time. Too frequent fire can also be a risk- again reducing koala food supply in the short-term but also in the longer-term as regenerating eucalypts are burnt before reaching a resilient age. Clearly fire management in koala habitat is no easy task and must be considered against many other factors which influence how and when fire is managed (human life and assets, cultural reasons, other threatened species etc). The Hastings-Macleay Fire and Biodiversity Consortium brings together fire management agencies, land management agencies and koala experts to consider fire management in the context of koala habitat. Participants include ForestCorp, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire and Rescue, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Kempsey Shire Council, Port Macquarie- Hastings Council, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and the Nature Conservation Council. The Report seeks to identify the most important koala habitat in each of the Rural Fire Service Brigade Areas in the study region and to examine the fire history of these patches to better inform fire management. The report also identifies “Mesic Koala Refuge Areas” in each Brigade Area. These shadier, wetter parts of the landscape are increasingly being recognised as a key element of koala habitat and are particularly important during droughts, bushfires or extreme hot weather events. The information provided in the Fire Report enables fire management practitioners and land managers to consider fire management in koala habitat. The Program also initiates a communication plan about fire and koala conservation to engage the broader community, has Best Practice Guidelines for Undertaking Hazard Reduction Burns in Koala Habitat and Best Practice Guidelines for Post-fire Koala Search and Rescue (an important component to prevent localised extinctions and prevention of genetic bottlenecks).