A year ago there were fires burning on the North Coast and the forests of the mid-north coast were already tinder dry. Come November, several fires started by dry lightning strikes got the wind behind them and raced through the landscape.
In the village of Elands on the Bulga Plateau we were told to evacuate on November 11 as we prepared for the catastrophic conditions predicted for the following day. The next several weeks were a blur as fires ringed the cleared land of the plateau but steadily worked their way through the surrounding forests.
The undergrowth burnt to ash. Many old forest giants burned like roman candles, with the fire roaring upwards through their hollow centres like a chimney, spewing sparks and flame from hollow branches. And the fire front continued its relentless march to the south.
As we know now, the toll of animals dead and homeless from last summer’s fire season was to the order of three billion. 3,000,000,000. Reptiles, birds, frogs and mammals.
Koalas were particularly hard hit. Many perished in the flames. Others died of their injuries and those who made it through the fire and smoke battled starvation and thirst, as the few remaining leaves were scorched and provided little nutrition or moisture.
No Logging Promise Ignored
Most Australians assumed that in the face of such devastation habitat logging would cease. And that an animal census would find the survivors, provide supplementary food and water and ensure remaining habitat was preserved. Instead, logging continued. Promises by Minister John Barilaro, made at the Bobin Hall, and repeated on radio that there would be no logging of the unburnt areas within the burnt forest seem to have been cast aside.
Now an area of Bulga State Forest, adjacent to the devastated National Park, is being planned for logging. We know from previous records that the area was home to Koalas, Greater Gliders and Yellow-bellied Gliders. Did they survive 2019 and the fires?
The local community have made it our business to find answers.
A Few Survivors
We can tell you that YES! there are koala survivors. We’ve been out several times and each time have found evidence that koalas are actively using the area. They leave their droppings/scats near the trees they use. Most of the trees have blackened trunks and it can be heavy going searching, but so rewarding when a close inspection reveals first one, then two and sometimes many little pellets. Even more encouraging when some of them are a slightly slimy fresh green!
So far the elusive creatures haven’t been seen, but we know they are there. And we know from the different size pellets, there are at least 3 of them. One male and if we are lucky at least one female… and come the summer maybe we will see baby size pellets… but only if we can save the forest from logging.
We’re going out regularly most Sundays to walk, search and picnic. As soon as it gets a bit warmer we’ll do some spotlighting to see if any of the gliders survived. They only come out of their hollows at night and some of the larger surviving trees have good sized hollows that might have provided shelter from the heat and smoke. Fingers crossed.
PS we are planning a fight to save our Kola habitat. Keep tuned, volunteers welcome.