Rezoning owls to extinction?

Being our ‘eagles of the night’, owls are rarely seen. Our most mysterious owls are those that live in forests, and even more cryptic are those that can only thrive in old growth forests. They are becoming increasingly endangered.

Our state government is currently reviewing owl protection zones (June 2012), but they are using out of date information. It looks like owls will be given just 10-20% of the minimum area they need to survive, let alone recover and thrive.

All of our large forest owls need thousands of hectares of intact mature forest per pair to feed, breed and flourish, at the very least. They are top order predators and rely on gliders and other hollow-dependent fauna as their food source. Where an owl is protected in its prime habitat, it will protect hundreds of other species below it.

But the Baillieu government is now planning to narrow down their protected habitat to 10-35% of what is the minimum area needed for survival. Baillieu, manipulated by the logging industry and VicForests, is currently writing our owls’ death warrant in the form of a ‘review’ of their protection zones.

These owl protection zones have always been pitifully inadequate. They are called Powerful Owl Management Areas (POMAs), Sooty Owl Management Areas (SOMAs) and the even more endangered Masked Owl Management Areas (MOMAs).

Previous protection plans from over 10 years ago were based on extremely limited understanding and research – basically assumptions and guesses. They were inadequate then and are totally obsolete now. But the review appears to be reducing their protection, not increasing it.

The Act that oversees their protection (FFGA) states that the Minister must review the protection measures (in documents called Action Statements) every five years or as new information is obtained.

The new measures proposed look like an owl annihilation scheme dressed up as improved protection.
They ignore the following:
• The government’s legal obligation to review owl protection under the law every five years or when new information and research comes to light
• The 3 million ha of forested owl habitat that was burnt in eastern Victoria in the last decade
• The need to protect East Gippsland’s owl populations so they can disperse into the burnt forests and re-build populations
• No surveys have been done to understand how many owls might now survive statewide
• The number of Sooties and Powerfuls across Victoria could be as low as 200-400, but an absolute minimum of 500 pairs are needed to ensure survival
• The extra large home ranges needed for male owls
• Different owl species can’t share the same small patch of forest, as they compete for the same prey species (it’s effectively halving their home territory and resources)
• Both long and short term home ranges for owls are different, as they need to move on after hunting out their prey species
• There are no hollows in regrowth forests, so there are no gliders and possums, which are the owls preferred prey
• Old growth Special Protection Zones were delisted and given over to logging recently, before proving that owls no longer existed in these forests
• Powerful Owls were to be given a very tight and inadequate 800 ha in previous protection measures, but now that’s even been reduced to 500 ha. But they could need ten times that area. This is like moving a family from their kitchen to the washhouse, to share with another family,
• Owls’ roosting sites in rich owl habitat are ignored, while owls detected in low value forests are protected
• The owl protection measures in the EG Forest Management Plan states that “regrowth forest must be avoided”, and
• Current protection measures are out of date and ineffective. Instead of their protection being drastically improved to ensure being strengthened, their protection appears to be deliberately weakened.

Scientists say that 1,000 individuals are the minimum needed to ensure genetic variability in a species. It’s likely that some of the rare owl populations in Victoria are in the low hundreds. Sadly their existence and survival is being traded off against and insanely insatiable demands of VicForests. The last of the ancient forests that pre-date European’s arrival, are being wiped off the map, and with them, every species that has evolved with these forests that are thousands of years old.

Read the EEG submission to the review of owl protection zones.

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