What’s next after the bushfires?

Thanks to some amazing support from our core Project partners San Diego Zoo, and funding for our research under the NSW Koala Strategy, we are now planning some large-scale surveys across the Greater Blue Mountains region to assess where koalas survived the fires. This is vital information for planning conservation action and population recovery.

We need to know where the koalas are, so we can allocate resources to protect them. For example, if the surviving koalas are mostly in areas that have been developed by people, which were also asset protection zones and didn’t burn, then those koalas face human-caused threats including vehicle strike and domestic dog attack. Being forced out of preferred habitats by fire can also make koalas more susceptible to disease. With so much of the protected area network burnt, koalas in asset protection zones are likely to be important for potentially recolonising wilderness areas.

If there are pockets of surviving koalas, then we need to know where they are, how many there are, and how connected they are to each other as that will impact if the population can grow again. We also need to learn more about the state of the trees in their habitats and the rate of vegetation recovery after fire, to understand if there will be enough quality habitat around for them to survive. We’re starting all of this vital work from July onwards.

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Featured above: Koala being held by S4W member (left), koala and her joey (right) (Image credit: Amy Davis)

But koalas are not the only species that suffered during the bushfires. Due to the massive and unprecedented scale of the fires, species that were listed as common or with a conservation status of least concern could now be in trouble. We don’t know how our wildlife has fared and so a critical step is to survey for surviving wildlife so that we can develop plans to protect them before the next large fires come.

While we are out in remote areas looking for koalas, we have an opportunity to assess other species too. We could tie this into our koala scat surveys; these have been focussed on koalas until now, but we always see scats of other species. However, there’s a big difference in resources between running a scat dog through a survey area targeting only koala scats, versus teams of people fossicking through the leaflitter trying to ID every scat they find and then sending some of the poop off for genetic testing if species ID is uncertain.

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Featured above: Local native species in the Blue Mountains region (Image credit: Amy Davis)

We also have 90 cameras we bought during the bushfire crisis, which is also a great start, but to design and run large scale camera trap surveys in remote areas for multiple species we need funding.

We’re committed to securing resources to get this multi-species work underway and have been submitting grant applications. Work of this scale is expensive, and we need help right now as our first surveys for koalas start in July. If you’re looking to donate before the end of the financial year, please consider conserving more of our precious wildlife with a donation. All donations are tax-deductible and can be made here.

For everyone who donated during the bushfires, thank you. It’s a long road ahead, and we appreciate your support.