The key to protecting our unique Koala population and ensuring their long term future is to ensure that they have high quality habitat to live in. Koalas need to be able to find regular food and young need to be able to safely disperse to new areas and find breeding partners. The key things that the community can do is to protect existing habitat, this includes controlling weeds such as Blackberries that Koalas are unable to move through. Gullies and Riparian areas are particularly important areas for Koalas, especially in summer, because they are cooler and the leaves there have higher moisture content. The other thing to do is improve it by extending it and linking it to other suitable habitat nearby.
In the region Hancock Plantations (HVP) manage a large area of Koala habitat. They have strategies in place designed to better understand and protect the Koala populations and are open to working with community members on projects such as Koala habitat linkages. They have been involved in work to map the Koala habitat across the region on the land they manage. Studies have shown locally the preferred trees for Koalas are Mountain Grey Gum (Eucalyptus cypellocarpa), Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and Manna Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis), vegetation that is dominated by these species is classed as “Primary Koala Habitat“.
However all indigenous Eucalypt species in this district have been shown to provide Koala food and habitat. Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests as well as Yertchuk (E. consideniana), Messmate (E. obliqua) and Apple Box (Eucalyptus bridgesiana) are classed as “Secondary Species” so are still very important habitat areas.
Narrow Leaf Peppermint (E. radiata/croajingolensis) and Swamp Gum (E. ovata) are classed as supplementary species, and are also known to support Koalas.
One of the most significant species in this region is the local koala population which form a significant part of a special genetic group is known as the Strzelecki Koala population. They are important because they are believed to be the only population that survived the massive decline of the Koala across Victoria in the early 20th Century when there was massive habitat destruction and Koalas were being actively harvested for their fur. Koala’s across the rest of the state are all thought to have originated from a small number of individuals that were relocated to French Island and then re-introduced back to the mainland as the island population increased. As a result the majority of the Koalas from the rest of Victoria come from a very limited gene pool, which makes them far more vulnerable to disease (e.g. Chlamydia) and less able to adapt and change.
More research on the status of the population has stepped up in recent years and more is being learnt about the importance of this population. Several sources report that the 2009 Bushfires burnt around 50% of the Primary Habitat of the Strzlecki Koala. It is vital that a priority is placed on ensuring that important habitat for Koala’s are recovering well. Important actions include controlling weeds that restrict Koalas access and movement such as Blackberries and ensuring that habitat links exist for koala populations to move safely between areas of their preferred habitat.
Blackberries are clearly one of the most heavily established weeds in this district and are a major issue for farms where they take over productive areas and provide a harbour for vermin. They are also a major environmental weed that can invade native bushland and reduce the quality of habitat for native fauna e.g. The Strzelecki Koala. The fires, by burning off the above ground blackberry shoots have temporarily improved access to areas and provided an opportunity for blackberry regrowth to be more easily treated. There are many resources available to provide information on the best techniques for Blackberry control one of the best being the Blackberry Control Manual it is available online via this link : http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pests-weeds/weeds/publications/blackberry
The Central Gippsland Woody Weeds Action Group was formed in response to the opportunity to provide a community driven response to Blackberry control in the local area.