Koala populations have fallen by 71 per cent in some areas of NSW following the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season.
A new WWF-Australia report released on Sunday reveals the losses at six fire grounds on the state’s north coast.
In the Kiwarrak area south of Taree, researchers could not find evidence that any koalas survived following the Hillville Rd fire.
Four out of five koalas were killed by the same blaze at the nearby Khappinghat Nature Reserve.
Further north, 72 per cent of koalas at Royal Camp State Forest fell victim to the Busby’s Flat fire.
And barely a third of the population at Wardell, south of Ballina, survived the Northern Rivers blaze.
Report co-author Dr Stephen Phillips has called for surviving koalas to be wrapped in “cotton wool”.
“We’ve got to identify where the remaining koala populations are located in each fire affected area, the size of each population, and focus our conservation efforts on those populations which remain viable,” he said.
“The capacity of koala populations to recover will depend on the severity of the fire in their area, the original population size, management actions taken to assist populations to rebuild, and whether there is sufficient recovery time before the next fire event.”
The report found that some preferred koala food trees outside of the bushfire areas should be retained to help koalas move across a landscape because fire damage has isolated koala populations.
Koalas were five times more likely to survive in areas where forest canopies were unburnt or partially burnt compared to fully burnt, according to the report.
WWF Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said a 71 per cent decline from pre-fire population levels was “massive”.
“Koala numbers may not recover before another blaze sweeps through the east coast causing localised extinctions,” he said.
“It’s so important that national environment laws are strengthened to protect koalas and all threatened species.”
Ecological consultancy Biolink surveyed 123 sites at the six fire grounds searching for scats below large koala food trees.
Finding unburnt scats confirmed that at least some koalas had lived through the fires.
The report was commissioned for Nature Australia.