Better the devil ... Ensuring forestry continues to work in harmony with threatened Tasmanian species

Better the devil ... Ensuring forestry continues to work in harmony with threatened Tasmanian species

Much is being done to manage and protect the biodiversity of Australian forests, but how do we know these measures are working?

A new research project is monitoring the impacts of forestry on a number of iconic at-risk Tasmanian species, to help improve forest management practices.

“The public is concerned about high-profile species such as wedge-tailed eagles, masked owls, giant freshwater crayfish and Tasmanian devils, and members of the forestry industry are as keen as everyone else to make sure their operations don’t have a negative impact,” said Dr Amy Koch, Biodiversity Research Manager at the Forest Practices Authority (FPA).

FPA is responsible for regulating Tasmanian forestry, and is heading up the new FWPA-supported initiative, which has been launched to observe the movements and habitat requirements of each of these species.

The project includes four separate studies, each monitoring one of the four species selected for the research, using a variety of innovative tracking techniques.

Results will be used to improve our understanding of the effectiveness of current protocols that guide forest management practices where these species are known to be found. This knowledge will help determine whether new or adapted approaches could better protect animals, and minimise the impact on forestry operations.

“For Tasmanian devils we need to make sure their difficult-to-find breeding den sites are properly protected during operations, and the impact of those operations on the devils is not negative,” said Koch.

The research will therefore track devils to learn about their behaviours during operations and help ascertain any necessary changes to forest management approaches close to dens, or even take steps to make certain areas more attractive propositions for den establishment.

Wedge-tailed eagles will likewise be tracked, using transmitters to collect data on their behaviour and movements. This data will be used to evaluate current regulations that require a 10-hectare exclusion reserve around nests, and prohibit activity within 500 metres (or a 1km line-of-site) of active nests between June and January/February, when the eagles are breeding.

Dr Koch noted existing restrictions can come at a cost to industry, not only by prohibiting harvesting and other activities in certain areas, but also through the expense of the equipment needed for monitoring. 

“It’s hoped greater knowledge about the species’ habits will allow for the development of more finely-tuned, species-specific management practices that will benefit wildlife and foresters at the same time,” Koch explained.

“In the case of masked owl habitats, for example, it is known that mature forest is key, but there’s little detail available when it comes to their more specific requirements.

“We are unsure of how well current management practices are working for masked owls because we don’t know how selective the species is about its nesting and roosting locations.

“This research will track six owls over six weeks, and look at where nests and roost sites are found, and the conditions and characteristics of those sites. 

“If these insights indicate owls require specific conditions for nesting and roosting, management practices can be reviewed accordingly,” Koch said.

The researchers are also developing a new tool to sample streams for DNA to check for the presence of giant freshwater crayfish. Forest managers may ultimately be able to use this information to determine the size of buffer zones around streams — within which harvesting is prohibited — that are necessary for the protection of the crayfish.

“This work is an important part of our model of continual improvement,” Koch said.

“We want to know what is working, and what can be improved to help manage biodiversity. We also want to make sure management practices are efficient and not unduly onerous or restrictive for the industry.

“Extra benefits include social acceptability of forestry, with the industry able to clearly demonstrate the steps taken to appropriately support species impacted by forestry operations,” Koch concluded.

The research is also important for advancing industry efforts to attain certain sustainability certifications for the products made using harvested timber.

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