Dropping in on our blue gum koalas

HOME GROUND: From left,  Darren Sheldon, Malcolm Tonkin, Emily Silberberg, Australian Koala Foundation liaison officer Rolf Schlagloth,  Zoe Higgins and David Fisken in a blue gum plantation bordered by eucalypts. Picture: Jeremy Bannister
HOME GROUND: From left, Darren Sheldon, Malcolm Tonkin, Emily Silberberg, Australian Koala Foundation liaison officer Rolf Schlagloth, Zoe Higgins and David Fisken in a blue gum plantation bordered by eucalypts. Picture: Jeremy Bannister

A GROUND-breaking trial will track koala droppings in blue gum plantations in a bid to boost conservation efforts for the Aussie icon.
The Australian Koala Foundation and the hardwood plantation industry will join forces on the visionary project to determine whether man-made blue gum forests act as koala corridors and buffer zones in poorly degraded habitat
areas.
A large blue gum site at Mount Clear will be considered for the project, along with sites across the region, and as far as the South Australian border and Gippsland.
Foundation Victorian liaison officer Rolf Schlagloth said demand for blue gum had skyrocketed, with blue gum plantations now a viable alternative to harvesting native forests.
He said koalas in captivity enjoyed blue gum leaves but little was known about koalas in a blue gum plantation structure.
"Our research will further explore the environmental benefits of plantations by testing whether they have the potential to help the little Aussie battler, the koala," Mr Schlagloth said.
"Right now we don't know for certain if koalas are using plantations for any significant length of time - do they avoid plantations, feed at the edges, pass through on their way to somewhere else, or are they spending longer periods
of time in plantations?
"This study will help us answer these questions."
Mr Schlagloth said the study could find that blue gum plantations were making a valuable contribution to koala conservation.
"The koala in Victoria faces a lot of threats and the biggest threat is the loss and the fragmentation of habitat," he said.
"The distance between one patch and the next becomes a barrier."
AKF is backing the research and the blue gum plantation industry has also come to the party.
The project's supporters include Hancock Victorian Plantations, Timbercorp, Integrated Tree Cropping, Hancock Natural Resource Group Australia, Central Victorian Farm Plantation Committee and the Green Triangle
Plantation Forest Company of Australia.