Doomed Planet

A Policy Lost in Koala-La-La Land

Green member of NSW’s Legislative Council Sue Higginson has publicised an extremely disturbing truth in Australian Rural and Regional News: All levels of government agree that our koalas have declined and are facing extinction”. This says more about the success of the multimillion-dollar, multinational Koala Industry than the consequences of scrapping our sustainable timber industry, which Higginson wants to burn on the altar of green ideology.

In answering some questions from Editor Fiona Fox, the environmental lawyer cited one of my media articles, claiming that I suggest “all is well for our koalas”. Nothing could be further from the truth. My article emphasised that koalas, along with countless millions of other animals, were incinerated as a result of the Lock It Up and Let It Burn ‘conservation’ paradigm promoted by all levels of government and The Greens.

The editor declined to publish my response saying that my ‘tone’ would see the end of “balanced discussion”. I tried to point out that there are many more koalas than there were when Europeans arrived in Australia; further, that they are overcrowded and consequently suffering disease. Growing numbers are pushing into the valleys and plains originally sought by pastoralists and now subject to urban expansion. So dog attacks and vehicle injuries are increasing.

Higginson falsely claimed “all independent peer-reviewed and published evidence shows that koalas are in precipitous decline”. In fact, the CSIRO published, in their scientific journal – Wildlife Research, my peer-reviewed Ecological History of the Koala and Implications for Management. This independent scientific review identifies 14 examples throughout their range where koalas have irrupted during recent decades. These include areas where they did not occur naturally as well as new plantings for amenity or timber.

My scientific review also identified that 15 koala experts advising government policy and regulations claimed to have used “A quantitative, scientific method for deriving estimates of koala populations and trends … in the absence of empirical data on abundances.” This was the Delphi Process, named after the famous oracles, whom the experts apparently value as role models. These experts effectively boasted in a scientific journal that they made up the numbers which have been used to justify listing koalas as an endangered species.

Dr. Brad Law was not one of their number. He has published empirical data on trends. Law says that

koala site occupancy has been stable in north-east NSW, which is not the same as koala numbers … we clearly found a large reduction in numbers [on sites] where moderate to high severity fire dominated.

Higginson challenges the credibility of Law’s data, implying that he’s a supporter of the “extractive timber industry”. But objective examination of Law’s site-specific data, published in three separate scientific papers, reveals that koala numbers and site occupancy actually increased as irruptions continued in prime, lower altitude habitats, despite “a large reduction in numbers” on some sites burnt by the Black Summer megafires.

The irruptions in prime habitat were obscured in the regional data. Dr. Law reported

a stable trend in Koala occupancy after accounting for the influence of elevation and habitat suitability of monitoring sites. Estimates for each year assume median values (i.e. an elevation of 756 m ASL and habitat suitability of 0.56).

Law, nevertheless, parrots Koala industry claims that “habitat clearing, cars and roads, dogs, disease and fire are demonstrated, well-known threats to the koala”. In fact, koala populations and their habitat are expanding with our Lock It Up and Let It Burn ‘conservation’ policies. That’s why they’ve turned up in an Adelaide supermarket, on oyster bags in Wapengo Lake and on a fertilizer truck at Gunnedah. They’re evolved to seek out digestible protein in an environment where it’s naturally scarce. Hence, they have strong limbs, big noses and long guts.

Dr. Law was noted as an advisor to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which recommended the listing of northern koalas as an endangered species. Consequently, some of the koalas in an irrupting sub-population on the NSW-VIC border are officially endangered one day and officially OK the next, as they move around their home ranges. But NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service created a model in 2014, allowing them to declare these koalas near Eden extinct. I tabled a photograph of one of these ‘extinct’ animals at NSW Koala Inquiry to illustrate the explosive three-dimensionally continuous fuel in its dense scrubby habitat. They weren’t interested in seeing pictures of the same site after the holocaust.

All the ‘well-known threats’ listed by Law are animal welfare issues which could be solved by reinstating healthy and safe forests with low densities of koalas. There would be increased numbers of the truly endangered species which rely on diverse open grassy forest. The Koala Industry is the problem not the solution.

Ms. Higginson’s preferred Koala Industry spokesman is Dr. Stephen Phillips, who seems to specialise in counting koala faecal pellets. These laborious surveys provide negligible ecological information and certainly cannot provide credible population estimates. They were used together with the NPWS model, to ‘save’ supposedly the last few koalas hanging on in a ‘climate refuge’ at Eden. Law’s acoustic surveys revealed even higher occupancy here than in the irrupting north coast population.

You’d think this good news would make Law more popular in Higginson’s camp. However, according to The Greens member, Dr. Phillips says that koalas have declined in all state forests — the Koala Industry relies on those false claims of declining numbers. But Law cannot make such claims because his empirical data show the opposite. Law is compelled to say that logging currently has no impact on koala populations because, funded by Natural Resources Commission, he’s gathered data which place this beyond doubt.

Dr. Law is well-aware of equally sound empirical data from thirty years ago, showing that koalas were concentrated in dense young regrowth from intensive logging and in plantations and has cited this work in his own publications. There were three times as many koalas as in unlogged forests. Since then, koalas have increased in unlogged forests because Lock It Up and Let It Burn promotes chronic eucalypt decline and megafires. Declining eucalypts continually resprout soft, juicy and nutritious young foliage. Scorched eucalypt forests produce massive flushes of koala food.

Ms. Higginson says Phillips’ research shows that koalas are using 100% of trees of preferred food species. But koalas in healthy mature forests live solitary lives in home ranges of around 100 hectares containing many thousands of trees. In 2005, NSW Premier Bob Carr ‘saved’ the biggest koala ‘colony’ in the Murray-Darling Basin by locking up a quarter of a million hectares of The Pilliga. We saw how well that worked as the Millennium Drought intensified. The unsustainably dense sub-population crashed by about 80%.

Black Summer proved beyond doubt that dirty, explosive scrub, koala plagues and megafires go hand in hand. This was already obvious from the Strzelecki Ranges, where Victoria’s supposedly last natural population is still unnaturally dense after 20 megafires in 200 years, including Black Thursday in 1851, Red Tuesday in 1898, Black Friday in 1939 and Black Saturday in 2009.

The idea that koalas will be extinct by 2050 unless we lock up more country is nonsense.        

8 thoughts on “A Policy Lost in Koala-La-La Land

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Thank you Vic, isn’t it astounding how empirical data can be ignored in just about every scientific field, that has even the remotest whiff of an ecological element, in favour of feel-good or the world-is-about-to-end theories and models.

    • vicjurskis says:

      Yes Peter, not just in ecology but also in ‘physical’ science. Look at the Climate Craze! Scientific journals and the popular media are equally bad. Australian Rural and Regional News is “Open for Debate” so long as you don’t put a strong argument that challenges the Editor’s personal view. Then it becomes ‘insulting and potentially defamatory’.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Hypothysis, Looking for answers to Climate Change does not emanate from the Sun, says the look here and there CSIRO and BOM political modellers. Koala numbers don’t have any relationship with Good nutritiously balanced Ph soils and their nutritional values nor freshly rejuvenated forests sprouting succulent sweet tips to nourish the young Koalas mindset and establish their feeding grounds, Alas the Government planners/ modellers have no cloths when ‘their Science only’ dictates the evidence to be used to ingratiate their public sector positions permanently is the only source of facts, Along with all those PR NGO’s sucking on Nanny States teat, while ground sourced evidence is rejected because it’s not party to the Academys group think, protection racket. The Governments Town planning industry is alive which liars and thieves, All to suit their mates, inside the public service and outside in the private sector, Mates rates corrupts, Start counting the ant’s next time Vic to measure the numbers of Koalas over your range, that will be part of any Koala sustainability reports terms of reference, coming to private property or forest in your area of application next.

    • vicjurskis says:

      Thanks Dallas. The experts say that fertile valleys were prime koala habitat and koalas were affected by clearing for agriculture. Fact is that koalas didn’t live there because there were wide-spaced healthy mature trees. Explorers and pioneer pastoralists saw none. When European diseases and, later, Europeans disrupted Aboriginal burning, koalas bred up in the hills in new young forests with lotsa soft shoots. Paddock trees in the valley pastures got sick because soils were ‘enriched’ with nitrogen. Sick trees continually cycle soft young shoots. So young koalas dispersing from irrupting populations in the foothills invaded the valleys and bred up in the sick paddock trees. Heavy koala browsing hastened their decline. Overcrowded koalas suffered malnutrition and disease. The humane solution was to shoot them and sell their skins. The more adults that were shot, the more young survived. So plagues continued until trees and koalas crashed in the Federation Drought. Modern experts blame clearing and shooting. One expert quoted by a Senate committee even claimed the possum snares (a sapling leant up against a tree with a noose to strangle a possum running along the sapling) were used to catch koalas. This physically impossible BS was published by the Australian Government and ‘guided’ the listing of a cute pest species as rare and endangered. Governments have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to increase koala plagues and fund hospitals and ‘research’ to deal with the consequences.


    The only place Kev Koala and his kind are facing extinction is in Sue Higginson’s mind. It is sad when any animal is hurt in a bushfire. Koala’s suffer as do many types of animals. But Koalas are surviving well in areas untouched by the fires she talks about. Judging by the characteristic mating sounds they make in the bush of an evening and early morning, they’re reproducing as vigorously as their desire drives them. Relax armchair Koalae luvvies. Koala extinction is not happening, but the idea has emotive value and is useful for political manipulation, so don’t let it go to waste when you have a political agenda to foster and you need to be stingy with the truth.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Thanks Vic. Good informative piece as usual.
    Plenty of Koalas in Daisy Hill forest near me in Logan south of Brisbane in fact they’re scattered throughout the suburbs as well from time to time, not only here but in the creek behind my cousins place in Mt Gravatt as well, however it’s become sort of politically correct for the parks people, and of course the schools and the young, to every now and then come out with the line that they’re endangered.
    My cousin and her young husband are a bit in thrall to the idea as well, so I sent them a copy of your book ‘The Great Koala Scam’ the other day. Haven’t heard anything back as yet.

    • vicjurskis says:

      Thanks Peter. The Moreton Bay District became the Koala Coast after the second irruption of koalas in the late 20th Century. When the unsustainably dense sub-population crashed during the Millennium Drought, the experts called it ‘extinction debt’:
      During the Millennium Drought, many dense koala populations inevitably crashed, whilst low-density populations remained stable or continued to increase. The experts attributed declines to habitat loss, climate change, disease, dog attacks and collisions with vehicles. A sharp decline on the Koala Coast did
      not coincide with habitat loss. This was explained as “extinction debt, where populations continue to decline long after the main habitat destruction occurred”. The experts alluded to major destruction of koala habitat before 1996, but presented no evidence of any decline in koalas prior to the onset of drought.

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