Wildlife, koalas hit hard in Gosse bushfire

Horror stories have emerged of koalas being burned alive as the Gosse bushfire tore through blue gum plantations on Kangaroo Island. 

Other native wildlife suffered as well and the entire Mount Taylor Conservation Park was lost.

Fortunately no lives or livestock was lost in the Gosse bushfire thanks to the brave efforts of CFS, Department of Environment and Water and local farm firefighters.

Mayor Michael Pengilly, who as a CFS volunteer drove the Wisanger fire truck on Thursday night, December 6, has never witnessed such carnage.

“Last week’s Mt Taylor Road fires proved again the resilience of the Island community in times of trying incidents. Well done to all,” Mr Pengilly said.

“What was also highlighted, which I witnessed first hand, was the lack of 10 metre mineral ground firebreaks in the blue gum plantations and lack of fire prevention measures generally by the owners.

“However that paled into insignificance to the carnage inflicted on the koala population in the plantations.

“I personally witnessed burning koalas falling out of trees, burnt koalas trying to escape across the limited cleared areas, countless females with joeys on their backs sitting in dams.

“Clearly the koalas are in plague proportions in the blue gum plantations .

“This will manifest itself in an enormous animal welfare issue with no apparent management plan if ever harvesting of the trees commences.

“It was something in 50 years of firefighting I have never witnessed before on that scale and don't want to again. It was appalling.”

CFS incident controller Scott Turner acknowledged that significant numbers of wildlife and native vegetation was lost.

Animal welfare specialists from DEW and Primary Industries and Resources SA came together at incident headquarters to develop a program to deal with injured wildlife.

Mr Turner said these agencies would also continue to work on re-vegetating and restoring losses including the entire Mount Taylor Conservation Park.

He also paid tribute to Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers’ operational personnel who assisted throughout the fire.

It is understood there could be as many as 50,000 introduced koalas on Kangaroo Island, about half of which live in the blue gum plantations. 

NRKI in upcoming weeks is about to release an updated koala management plan.

Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers meanwhile has acknowledged to shareholders that two of its properties, Stockland and North East River, had been impacted on by the Gosse fire.

These eucalyptus plantations represented 2.5 per cent of its timber assets and early reports are that about half the trees on these plantations have been affected to some degree. 

KIPT has said once it begins harvesting its plantations, it would remove koalas as it goes.

Mr Sergeant said he was proud of his fire management personnel and as a timber company fire risk was something taken very seriously. 

“The main thing is to ensure koalas are treated humanely once harvesting commences,” he said. 

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