Corunna Residents photograph rare Masked Owl, just ahead of loggers
Following the night camera capture of a an endangered Masked Owl inside the harvesting compartment of Corunna Forest over the long weekend, harvest operators Forestry Corp have the closed the entire forest to all public access.
- Photo supplied
- Photo supplied
While formalised human exclusion signs have not been seen, residents are aware that Forestry Corp is not enjoying the exposure, via social media, photos and actions that are building a raft of evidence to raise serious questions over compliance and interpretation of the Threatened Species License. In the latest round absolute evidence of a Masked Owl has been established and proved to the EPA who have been asked to initiate an immediate action to cease logging however it is understood that the response to the photographic evidence is that the bird was photographed in a 50m exclusion zone and was therefor not under threat. Forestry have also selected an alternative interpretation of their operating terms which allows the Masked Owl to be ignored, instead of applying the 300 hectare exclusion zone. Residents are in total disbelief of this viewpoint when there is no evidence at all that the roosting and nesting tree of the owl is not in the area being logged and that the feeding area is also not in the logged area. "The EPA are once again powerless to act. The harvest is continuing under cover of darkness and night lights, trucks come and go after 10pm, and the harvest was still going after dark even on the public holiday,” a Corunna Forest Protection Group member told The Beagle. Local resident Elizabeth Walton, told the Beagle “The community has notified the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) and advised them that they have a role to play to ensure compliance of the various Acts are met by Forestry Corp workers. Having identified the owl and formally reported the sighting, the EPA have now been requested to urgently intervene and allow for a thorough search to be done involving night cameras and audio recordings. Instead they say there is nothing they can do.” The Corunna Forest Protection Group cites the THE THREATENED SPECIES LICENSE GOVERNING THE LOGGING OF CORUNNA FOREST which says: “Where there is a record of Powerful Owl, Masked Owl or Barking Owl within a compartment or within two kilometres outside the boundary of the compartment, the following must apply: a) A two kilometres radius (or 1200 hectare) planning area must be identified. This planning area must be centred on the record or records of the same species of owl. The radius of the planning area must be measured from the record. Where there is more than one record of the same species of owl, the radius of the planning area must be measured from a point located equidistant from the majority of records, where possible. b) Where the two kilometre radius planning area encompasses private land the boundary of the planning may be modified to include the nearest 1200 hectares of public land. c) Within this planning area an exclusion zone, or exclusion zones, of a total of 300 hectares must be implemented." The Corunna Forest Protection Group have stated in their social media feed that: "The only possible suitable owl habitat on forested public land within a 2 km radius of the record is that part of Eurobodalla National Park just south of the lake on the coast and the adjoining Council campground – less than 30ha. So Forestry Corp NSW would have to allocate the rest of the 300ha in Corunna SF itself." According to the official NSW BioNet which is the repository for biodiversity data products managed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) there has not been a record of a Masked Owl in Corunna State Forest before, although one was recorded in Narooma 17 years ago. 20 years ago there were only 1500 breeding pairs left. Those numbers are vastly diminished now, and the owls do not ready relocated to other nests. Once their nest is lost, the owl usually dies.
Above: The deep pool where the owl was found - Photo supplied The Masked Owl presents special problems for researchers and forest managers. They are difficult to study because they are nocturnal, wide ranging and naturally uncommon throughout their distributions. They are considered sensitive to logging and other forms of habitat disturbance since they are among the top order carnivores in the forest ecosystems of eastern Australia and many of their main prey species and nesting requirements depend on elements of old-growth forest. NSW Greens MP Dawn Walker, has reached out to Corunna Forest to ask what needs to be done to save the Masked Owl. In the meantime the community are continuing to ask "Where is Andrew Constance MP and is there anything Labor candidate for Bega, Leanne Atkinson can do. Ms Atkinson organised a meeting this week at Bermagui to find out what local environmental groups need and the meeting was attended by Penny Sharpe who came all the way down to the Nature Coast to hear for herself what is happening on the forest floor."
Above: Andrew Constance receiving a petition from Corunna residents with thousands of signatures asking for the forest to be saved
The burning question for Forestry Corp, is why they have taken this approach to the owl, and where is the 300 hectare reserve they have set aside for the Masked Owl?