THE death of koalas in a State Government burnoff near Wye River have angered wildlife activists.
Department of Sustainability and Environment wildlife officers “humanely euthanased” three koalas and rescued two others injured in the fire.
But Carlisle River Wildlife Shelter’s Ron Anstis said he believed government burnoffs killed “many” koalas.
Mr Anstis said he was concerned his shelter had not received “one call” in the past eight years to rescue animals injured in burnoffs.
But DSE Otway district manager Andrew Morrow said the DSE contacted shelters “when required, for injured animals”.
“The DSE deploys a wildlife officer to monitor planned burn sites and address animal welfare needs,” Mr Morrow said.
“If euthanasia is necessary as a last resort, this is usually carried out by a vet or a DSE wildlife officer who is trained and experienced in this work.
“Five koalas were collected following the Wye River burn; three were humanely euthanased and two were taken to wildlife shelters where they are recovering.”
Mr Morrow said the DSE set up a long-term biodiversity project HawkEye to check the impact of burnoffs and bushfires on the environment.
But Mr Anstis said burnoffs could have a “devastating” impact on animals and the environment.
Mr Anstis said there were varying opinions on fires and he did not believe the government gave animals “enough consideration”.
“It would be bad enough if a fire happened accidentally but it’s devastating when it’s intentional and you know if they don’t get burnt they’ll lose their home,” he said.
“There are so many species where they are doing these burns; there are koalas, possums, kangaroos, wallabies, birds, there may even be quolls.
“Potentially there’s endangered spiders, tiny plants, mosses, lichens.
“The rufous bristlebird is endangered and it can hardly fly; it spends most of its time hopping along the ground,” Mr Anstis said.
“I don’t think we fully understand the effects on wildlife biodiversity as a whole from these burns and I’m not convinced of its value.”
But Mr Morrow defended the burnoffs which he said aimed to reduce the risk of “massive and high-intensity bushfires like what occurred on Black Saturday”.
“DSE considers biodiversity values in conducting planned burning, and may aim to leave patches of unburnt bush, particularly the wetter gully vegetation that provides high-quality habitat,” he said.
“Many of our plants and animals depend on fire for their ongoing survival.
“By returning fire to the landscape, our planned burning program can help the environment regenerate and maintain health,” Mr Morrow said.
“HawkEye will monitor landscapes treated by planned burning and subject to bushfire, including the Otways, Mallee and the foothill forests of Gippsland.”