Our Black Summer proved two things beyond doubt: The unprecedented fires were a consequence of the unprecedented accumulation of explosive fuel, and koalas are under no threat of extinction. But the Coalition seems likely to be left in smoking ruins because the minor party is taking a stand against government policy based on green propaganda.
In 2020, the world’s largest-ever fire from a single, in this case, natural ignition burnt more than half a million hectares of mostly wilderness northwest of Sydney. Two hundred and thirty years earlier, during the Settlement Drought, with equally extreme climatic and weather conditions, Aboriginal fires were burning 24/7 but were controlled by Europeans with hand tools and green branches when they reached the settlements. Europeans didn’t even know that koalas existed at that stage because they were so scarce in the healthy open forests.
Federal and state government policies are based on the fantastic mythology that there were millions of koalas all over eastern Australia before we cleared most of their habitat and shot the survivors for their skins. Koalas actually irrupted in dense young forests that grew up in the foothills after Aboriginal burning was disrupted. Then they spread across the valleys where declining paddock trees were constantly turning over soft young shoots. Koalas were increasing at the height of the fur trade in the late nineteenth century. Numbers crashed when soft young growth frizzled in the Federation Drought.
In the late twentieth century, koalas irrupted again in dense young regrowth forests created by intensive logging on the north coast. From the 1980s, prescribed burning was reduced as a result of green ideology. Koalas and dangerous fuels increased in declining forests. By 2017 there were unnaturally dense populations right through the north coast in young, old and newly harvested forests.
In 2019, a star witness at NSW Koala Inquiry, Dr Kellie Leigh of Science for Wildlife, gave evidence that there were young expanding populations of koalas right through the wilderness around Sydney and into the suburbs. “Everywhere we look we find a lot of koalas.”
Before Black Summer, we endured a constant barrage of green propaganda that koalas were declining drastically as a result of logging, clearing and climate change. Then many thousands of these supposedly nearly extinct creatures were incinerated and the propaganda intensified. The irony was apparently lost on Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Rob Stokes. On 20th December, he released the State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019. It “aims to … reverse the current trend of koala population decline” by curtailing existing uses or new developments on private lands. “This Policy commences on 1 March 2020 and is required to be published on the NSW legislation website.” To me, it seems not to fit the Cambridge Dictionary definition of legislation—“laws suggested by a government and made official by a parliament”.
Environment Minister and moderate heavy Matt Kean is apparently more cunning than Stokes. He’s promised to double koala populations. It seems that his bureaucrats have worded him up that koalas are an irruptive species. But no one has asked, in the light of Black Summer, how creating more national parks is supposed to save koala habitat. I suggest that our representatives in parliament should be calling for the resignations of the North Shore Liberal ministers. In this case, the Deputy Premier seems to be taking a principled stand for democracy.
Vic Jurkis is a former NSW Forestry Commission professional forester, Officer in Charge of the Forestry Commission’s Regional Research Centre at Eden, the Forestry Commission’s Regional Planning Manager at Eden and Silviculturist for the Commission’s Native Forest Division, responsible for forest management across the State. In 2004 he was awarded a Fellowship by the Joseph William Gottstein Memorial Trust, to investigate eucalypt decline across Australia. He has published two books, Firestick Ecology, and The Great Koala Scam, both available from Connor Court.
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