Once you have determined your plantation management operations are likely to disturb Koalas, you must apply to the Conservation Regulator for an authorisation.
Applying for an authorisation under the Wildlife Act
To apply for an authorisation under the Wildlife Act to disturb Koalas during plantation management operations, you must fill in the application form available on the Conservation Regulator website(opens in a new window) and submit a Koala Management Plan.
Applications can be submitted to the local contact listed on the application form. Applications can take up to six weeks to process. If the Conservation Regulator requires further information in relation to your application, then additional time will be required to process your application. One application is required per company and covers all sites in Victoria where plantation management activities occur.
Authorisation to disturb Koalas during blue gum plantation operations
The Conservation Regulator assesses each application on its merits. This includes an assessment of the circumstances of the application to ensure that an authorisation is needed and an acceptable Koala Management Plan has been provided. The Conservation Regulator can only issue an authorisation to disturb Koalas during blue gum plantation operations in conjunction with a recognised wildlife management plan. Compliance with both the authorisation and the Koala Management Plan is required.
The authorisation sets out specific steps and minimum standards that a blue gum plantation owner or manager must take to minimise impacts and ensure the welfare of Koalas is protected during plantation management operations. The authorisation holder is responsible for meeting all authorisation conditions.
These requirements include:
- Reporting all Koala checks, observations and incidents to the Conservation Regulator via ProofSafe.
- Engaging appropriately trained Koala spotters to look for and monitor Koalas during harvesting and other plantation management operations.
- Retaining a minimum of nine live trees (or stumps if during coppice management) per Koala spotted to provide sufficient browse and protection for the Koala until it can find its own way out of the area safely.
- Seeking immediate veterinary care if a Koala incident occurs.
- Ensuring at least one person trained in Koala assessment and handling is on site at all times with access to Koala handling and transport equipment.
- Assessing Koala welfare at the end of each day of plantation management operations plus two to three, six to seven and 10 to 11 days following completion of operations on site. This involves checking the operational area for Koalas in trees (using binoculars) and on the ground and assessing their welfare (injuries and behaviour) to determine whether veterinary assessment is required. The range in days is to avoid having to undertake inspections in unfavourable and potentially dangerous conditions such as high winds or total fire bans.
Koala Management Plan
The Koala Management Plan must be prepared by the blue gum plantation owner or manager in consultation with an ecologist and then reviewed and recognised by the Conservation Regulator. A template is available on the Conservation Regulator website(opens in a new window).
The Koala Management Plan must include a risk assessment that identifies potential risks to Koalas from plantation management operations, outlines how the plantation owner or manager will minimise disturbance to Koalas, protect Koala welfare and what actions will be taken if Koala incidents increase.
The assessment criteria for Koala Management Plans includes:
- The plan was developed by a person suitably qualified by training, education and experience to write such a plan.
- Preparation in consultation with a qualified ecologist.
- All sections of the Koala Management Plan template are appropriately completed.
- The plan appropriately addresses how it will minimise impacts to Koalas.
- A clear method to determine the number of spotters, and the harvesting method required (method should give consideration to harvesting sequence that provides for refuge paths for koalas to suitable habitat).
- Appropriate incident response procedure that maximises Koala welfare.
- Consistency with government policies, the Wildlife Act and the POCTA Act.
The Koala Index
The Koala Index is a measure which has been developed (see Appendix 2 Koala Index) to underpin a revised regulatory framework for blue gum plantation companies. The Koala Index provides an indication of the effectiveness of a plantation company’s management measures to identify and protect Koalas across operations.
The Koala Index is calculated by first determining the Koala incident rate. This is a comparison of Koala incidents with Koala observations during the same time period. Authorised blue gum plantation operators must report all Koala incidents and observations whilst undertaking plantation management operations.
A Koala incident is recorded when a Koala is physically impacted during plantation management operations. The impact could be by trees, machinery, chemicals, fire or people. It also includes a Koala falling from a tree in the harvest zone or a juvenile Koala being separated from its mother.
Koala incidents do not include near misses or finding a dead or injured Koala in a plantation where the cause is unable to be determined or clearly not related to plantation operations, although this data must still be recorded and reported to the Conservation Regulator.
Once the Koala incident rate is determined, the Koala Index can be calculated to enable comparisons between the blue gum plantation company and the average Koala Index across the industry (expected Koala Index). In general, a Koala Index of zero or greater indicates that the management measures being implemented are at a level that is equal to or better than the industry average (i.e. management measures are effective in reducing Koala incidents). If a Koala Index is less than zero (i.e. negative), the number of Koala incidents occurring across the blue gum plantation company’s operations is poorer than the industry average.
The industry is expected to focus on continuously improving its performance. Negative Koala Index results indicate a need to explore options for remedial action. This could be in the form of a rectification plan as outlined in the Monitoring compliance section below.
However, if the Koala Index results are consistently poor or severely low, there is a set of quality control indicators that may trigger an investigation by Authorised Officers . The quality control indicators are listed in Appendix 1.
Disturbance of Koalas that is not in accordance with the Koala Management Plan is a breach of a condition of the authorisation and may be subject to enforcement action. For further information on enforcement action where a condition has been breached, see the Monitoring and enforcing compliance section of this document.
Data collection and reporting
Data to support regulatory oversight, and the calculation of the Koala Index, is required to be collected by plantation owners and managers via an interactive application (ProofSafe). ProofSafe enables real time upload and access by the authorisation holder and the Conservation Regulator. The data collected includes plantation details, number of spotters, number of Koalas observed, harvesting method and machinery, weather, any Koala incidents and near misses.
The data collected in ProofSafe is used to calculate the Koala Index, to monitor compliance, and to analyse trends over time. It may also be used for Koala population monitoring.
The Koala Index score for blue gum plantations is calculated monthly and are used to monitor compliance, to chart an indication of Koala management by the blue gum plantation owner or manager over time and to support assessment of appropriate action to minimise their impacts to Koalas.
To provide information on trends in Koala incidents and promote improved practices over time, the Conservation Regulator has introduced requirements for public reporting. Information will be publicly reported quarterly in a scorecard published on the Conservation Regulator’s website. Company names and any ‘commercial in confidence’ information will not be published. Koala Management Plans remain the property of the authors and will not be published or shared by the Conservation Regulator.