Wildlife campaigners have made a last ditch plea to the Victorian government to save koalas in a blue gum plantation due to be logged on Friday.
The Victorian government has approved the clear-felling of the Gordon plantation by owner Midway Pty Ltd without relocating the koalas, despite pleas from local carers and experts to protect them.
“It’s been such an uphill battle. We’re now at a last ditch effort just to try and stop koalas and other wildlife from being killed, ”Heidi Johnson, a wildlife carer from Wildlife Victoria, said.
The 16-hectare plantation is situated next to the Western Freeway, a major highway west of Melbourne.
Jessica Robertson, a Wildlife Victoria rescuer and carer, expressed concern that koalas would be injured by logging activity or run over by cars while attempting to cross into other habitats.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” she said. “We’re going to see fatalities on the freeway so we’re just waiting for a disaster to happen.”
Koalas were officially listed as endangered in February after a decline in numbers due to land clearing and catastrophic bushfires shrinking their habitats.
A report commissioned last month by landowner Central Highlands Water, seen by Guardian Australia, recommended the koalas in the plantation be relocated.
Relocation to an area 5km from the site would provide the koalas with the “greatest safety and wellbeing”, the report said.
The report argued the relocated koalas “would have a good opportunity to settle in” as the area “does not suffer from overpopulation of koalas” and there was a “large area of koala food tree species”.
But authorities have decided to go ahead with the logging without relocating the koalas.
Central Highlands Water in a statement said: “The plantation owner has agreed with CHW to retain additional vegetation and buffer zones above and beyond compliance requirements. This has been supported by expert independent advice. ”
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning did not respond to questions about why the relocation of koalas was rejected.
In a statement, they said: “A timber harvesting operator at the Gordon Wastewater Treatment and Reuse Facility site has been issued an authorization under the Wildlife Act. The details of individual Koala Management Plans are not published by the Conservation Regulator. ”
The Victorian MP Andy Meddick, from the Animal Justice party, said wildlife rescuers would be at the site on Friday to help animals trying to escape.
“It’s a very dire situation,” Meddick said.
“The logging should be halted right now and they should go back to the drawing board and consult with the local rescuers and carers as to what the best way of dealing with the situation is.”
The Victorian government is in the process of drafting a new koala management strategy.
Modeling referenced by the environment department estimated that almost 47,000 koalas live in eucalyptus plantations across Victoria.
According to a draft report from DELWP, an estimated 8,000-10,000 hectares of blue gum trees are harvested annually from plantations in south-west Victoria.
Robertson is concerned that the state government does not have a plan to relocate the koalas in these plantations.
“Every single one of those plantations is due to be cleared at some point and there’s no government strategy for dealing with those koalas,” she said.
“The reason [koalas] are eating these plantations is because their own habitat has been so depleted. So it’s a huge problem. It’s actually a crisis. “