Snowy 2.0 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it will push carbon emissions up, not down



Luka Cochleae/AAP

Bruce Mountain, Victoria University

The massive Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project is soon expected to be granted environmental approval. I and others have criticised the project on several grounds, including its questionable financial viability and overstated benefits to the electricity system. But Snowy 2.0’s greenhouse gas emissions have barely been discussed.

Both Snowy Hydro and its owner, the federal government, say the project will help expand renewable electricity generation (and by extension, contribute to emissions reduction from the energy sector).

However, closer inspection shows it won’t work that way. For at least the next couple of decades, Snowy 2.0 will store coal-fired electricity, not renewable electricity. In fact, I predict Snowy 2.0 will create additional demand for coal-fired generation and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions for the foreseeable future.

Khancoban Dam, part of the soon-to-be expanded Snowy Hydro scheme.
Snowy Hydro Ltd

The problem explained

The expanded Snowy Hydro scheme in southern New South Wales will involve pumping water uphill to a reservoir, storing it, and then releasing it downhill to generate electricity when demand is high.

The emissions reduction potential of the project rests on what type of electricity is used to pump the water uphill. Snowy Hydro says it will pump the water when a lot of wind and solar energy is being produced (and therefore when wholesale electricity prices are low).

But the crucial point here is that wind and solar farms produce electricity whenever the resource is available. This will happen irrespective of whether Snowy 2.0 is producing or consuming energy.




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When Snowy 2.0 pumps water uphill to its upper reservoir, it adds to demand on the electricity system. The generators that will provide this extra electricity are the ones that would not operate unless Snowy 2.0’s pumping demand was calling them into operation.

These will not be renewable generators since they will be operating anyway. Rather, for the next couple of decades at least, coal-fired electricity generators – the next cheapest form of electricity after renewables – will provide Snowy 2.0’s power.

Snowy Hydro claims Snowy 2.0 will add 2000 megawatts of renewable capacity to the national electricity market. However Snowy 2.0 is a storage device, and its claim to be renewable rests on the source of the electricity that it stores and then reproduces. It is not renewable electricity that Snowy 2.0 will store and reproduce for the foreseeable future.

The Snowy 2.0 scheme will lead to more coal use in the foreseeable future.
Julian Smith/AAP

Why this matters

Ageing coal-fired generaters will account for a smaller share of Australia’s electricity production over time as they become uneconomic and close down. But projections from the Australian Energy Market Operator show coal will make up a significant proportion of electricity production for the next two decades.

It is only when all coal-fired generators have closed (and gas-fired generators have not taken their place) that Snowy 2.0 could claim to be using renewable electricity to power its pumps.

Does this matter? Yes, very much. Using Snowy Hydro’s projections of how much
electricity Snowy 2.0 will pump each year from 2025 to 2047 (the period over which they have developed their projections) I estimate that Snowy 2.0 will, on average, account for 5.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.




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This is clearly a big number – roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Australia’s mineral or chemical industry, and equal to the annual emissions of 2.4 million cars.

If we assume, conservatively, that emissions have a cost of A$20 per tonne of carbon, then Snowy 2.0 will impose an additional annual cost of A$108 million on the Australian community that will need to be countered by emissions reduction somewhere else in the economy.

Over 20 years, Snowy 2.0 will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions than three million cars.
Julian Smith/AAP

The NSW government has adopted a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. But using Snowy Hydro’s projections of pumped energy, average greenhouse gas emissions attributable to Snowy 2.0 over its first decade will increase NSW’s emissions by about 10% of their current levels each year.

This proportion will increase if the government successfully reduces emissions elsewhere.

Of course, emission reduction is not just an issue for the states. The federal
government has been at pains to affirm its commitment to the Paris climate accord. Snowy 2.0 will undermine the achievement of this commitment.

If additional energy storage is needed to stabilise our electricity grid, it can be provided by many alternatives with a much smaller greenhouse gas impact such as demand response, gas or diesel generators, batteries or smaller and more efficient pumped-hydro generators.

Meeting the climate challenge

Emissions associated with storage is given little attention in Australia but is well-researched overseas. Since Australia’s state and federal governments profess a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this is a serious omission.




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Energy storage will increase emissions as long as fossil fuel generators dominate the power system.

In meeting the climate challenge, greenhouse gas emissions must become a more prominent consideration in the planning and approval of all electricity projects, including storage – and especially for Snowy 2.0.


In response the points raised in this article, Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would add 2,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable capacity to the national electricity market (NEM).

“In the absence of Snowy 2.0, the NEM will have to fill the capacity need with other power stations, which would inevitably be fossil-fuelled,” the company said in a statement.

“Snowy will sell capacity contracts (tantamount to insurance against NEM price volatility and spikes) to a range of NEM counterparties, as it does now and has done for decades.”

Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would directly draw wind and solar capacity into the NEM, via the contract market.

It said this market, rather than the wholesale market, drives investment and electricity generation.

“Snowy Hydro’s renewable energy procurement program, through which Snowy contracted with 888 MW of wind and solar facilities in 2019, has made the construction of eight new wind and solar projects possible,” Snowy Hydro said.

“In the NEM, what happens subsequently to the spot price is of little interest to the owners of these facilities, because their revenue is guaranteed through their offtake contracts with Snowy.”

The company said the energy produced by wind and solar plants, backed by Snowy’s existing large-scale generation fleet, was “the most cost-effective and reliable way to serve the customers of the NEM in the future.”

Snowy Hydro said Snowy 2.0 would pump water uphill using cheap electricity from wind and solar – often most plentiful when NEM prices are low – rather than expensive electricity from coal.

“The water is released when prices are high – this is one of the four Snowy 2.0 revenue streams,” it said.

“Given that Snowy has the water storage capability to pump when electricity prices are low, and generate when electricity prices are high, why would Snowy choose to buy expensive coal-fired energy to pump water uphill at times of high prices?”The Conversation

Bruce Mountain, Director, Victoria Energy Policy Centre, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Urban owls are losing their homes. So we’re 3D printing them new ones



Nick Bradsworth, Author provided

Dan Parker, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Isaac, Monash University; Kylie Soanes, University of Melbourne; Nick Bradsworth, Deakin University; Stanislav Roudavski, University of Melbourne, and Therésa Jones, University of Melbourne

Native to southeastern Australia, the powerful owl (Ninox strenua) is threatened and facing the prospect of homelessness.

These birds don’t make nests – they use large hollows in old, tall trees. But humans have been removing such trees in the bush and in cities, despite their ecological value.




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Owls are lured into cities by abundant prey, with each bird capturing hundreds of possums per year. But with nowhere to nest, they struggle to breed and their population is at risk of declining even further.

Existing artificial nest designs include nesting boxes and carved logs.
Author provided

Conservationists tried to solve this problem by installing nesting boxes, but to no avail. A 2011 study in Victoria showed a pair of owls once used such a box, but only one of their two chicks survived. This is the only recorded instance of powerful-owl breeding in an artificial structure.

So as a team of designers and ecologists we’re finding a way to make artificial nests in urban areas more appealing to powerful owls. Surprisingly, the answer lies in termite mounds, augmented reality and 3D printing.

Bring in the designers

Nesting boxes aren’t very successful for many species. For example, many boxes installed along expanded highways fail to attract animals such as the squirrel glider, the superb parrot and the brown treecreeper. They also tend to disintegrate and become unusable after only a few years.




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What’s more, flaws in their design can lead to overheating, death from toxic fumes such as marine-plywood vapours, or babies unable to grow.

Designers and architects often use computer modelling to mimic nature in building designs, such as Beijing’s bird’s nest stadium.

But to use these skills to help wildlife, we need to understand what they want in a home. And for powerful owls, this means thinking outside the box.

What powerful owls need

At a minimum, owl nests must provide enough space to support a mother and two chicks, shelter the inhabitants from rain and heat, and have rough internal surfaces for scratching and climbing.

Traditionally, owls would find all such comforts in large, old, hollow-bearing trees, such as swamp or manna gums at least 150 years old. But a picture from Sydney photographer Ofer Levy, which showed an owl nesting in a tree-bound termite mound, made us realise there was another way.

Owls have been observed using termite mounds in trees for nesting.
Blantyre, Author provided

Termite mounds in trees are oddly shaped, but they meet all necessary characteristics for successful breeding. This precedent suggests younger, healthier and more common trees can become potential nesting sites.

A high-tech home

To design and create each termite-inspired nest, we first use lasers to model the shape of the target tree. A computer algorithm generates the structure fitting the owls’ requirements. Then, we divide the structure into interlocking blocks that can be conveniently manufactured.

Trees and their surroundings can be scanned by lasers for precise fitting.
Author provided

To assemble the nests, we use augmented-reality headsets, overlaying images of digital models onto physical objects. It sounds like science-fiction, but holographic construction with augmented reality has become an efficient way to create new structures.

So far, we’ve used 3D-printed wood to build one nest at the University of Melbourne’s System Garden. Two more nests made from hemp concrete are on the trees in the city of Knox, near the Dandenong Ranges. And we’re exploring other materials such as earth or fungus.

These materials can be moulded to a unique fit, and as they’re lightweight, we can easily fix them onto trees.

With augmented reality, it is easy to know where to place each block. Right: Views from the augmented reality headset.
Author provided

So is it working?

We are still collecting and analysing the data, but early results are promising. Our nests have important advantages over both traditional nesting boxes and carved logs.

This is, in part, because our artificial nests maintain more stable internal temperatures than nesting boxes and are considerably easier to make and install than carved logs. In other words, our designs already look like a good alternative.




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And while it’s too early to say if they’ll attract owls, our nests have already been visited or occupied by other animals, such as rainbow lorikeets.

Future homes for animal clients

Imagine an ecologist, a park manager or even a local resident who wants to boost local biodiversity. In the not-too-distant future, they might select a target species and a suitable tree from an online database. An algorithm could customise their choice of an artificial-nest design to fit the target tree. Remote machines would manufacture the parts and the end user would put the structure together.

Nests from 3D printed wood are easy to install.
Author provided

Such workflows are already being used in a variety of fields, such as the custom jewellery production and the preparation of dental crowns. It allows informed and automated reuse of scientific and technical knowledge, making advanced designs significantly more accessible.

Our techniques could be used to ease the housing crisis for a wide range of other sites and species, from fire-affected animals to critically endangered wildlife such as the swift parrot or Leadbeater’s possum.The Conversation

Dan Parker, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne; Bronwyn Isaac, Lecturer, Monash University; Kylie Soanes, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne; Nick Bradsworth, PhD Candidate, Deakin University; Stanislav Roudavski, Senior Lecturer in Digital Architectural Design, University of Melbourne, and Therésa Jones, Associate Professor in Evolution and Behaviour, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How fungi’s knack for networking boosts ecological recovery after bushfires



Doug Beckers/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Adam Frew, University of Southern Queensland; Andy Le Brocque, University of Southern Queensland; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University; Eleonora Egidi, Western Sydney University; Jodi Price, Charles Sturt University, and Leanne Greenwood, Charles Sturt University

The unprecedented bushfires that struck the east coast of Australia this summer killed an estimated one billion animals across millions of hectares.

Scorched landscapes and animal corpses brought into sharp relief what climate-driven changes to wildfire mean for Australia’s plants and animals.

Yet the effects of fire go much deeper, quite literally, to a vast and complex underground world that we know stunningly little about, including organisms that might be just as vulnerable to fire, and vital to Australia’s ecological recovery: the fungi.

Fungi play a crucial role in ecosystems around the world. Amanita sp, Geastrum sp and Aseroe sp.
Adam Frew

Plants and fungi: a match made underground

The aftermath of wildfires can make landscapes appear devoid of life. Yet under the ash beds lies a vast living network of fungi.

One group of fungi, called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, form symbiotic relationships with most of the world’s land plants. This means most plants and AM fungi rely on each other to grow and thrive.

Fungi provide access to nutrients such as phosphorus, and plants provide carbon as sugar and fats.
Adam Frew via BioRender

Extensive networks of AM fungal mycelium (a vegetative part of a fungus, akin to plant roots) explore the soil to access nutrients beyond the reach of their plant partners. The mycelium forms a fungal underground highway, transporting the valuable nutrients back to the plants.




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Beyond nutrients, AM fungi can influence all aspects of plant ecology, such as seedling establishment, plant growth, defence against herbivores, and competition between different plant species. In fact, the number of species and abundance of AM fungi determine the success and diversity of plants.

In return for the nutrients they provide, AM fungi receive sugar made by plants through photosynthesis. For many species, this means without a plant host the fungi won’t last.

The responses of plants and AM fungi to fire are therefore deeply intertwined: the recovery of one is dependent on the other. Yet ecologists are only beginning to learn how fire affects fungi and what role they might have in hastening ecosystem recovery following wildfires.

Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonising a plant root.
Adam Frew

Fungi and fire: what do we know?

Studies have shown fungi living near the soil surface are particularly susceptible to fire, often killed by high soil temperatures as the fire passes over. Fungi further below the surface are relatively more protected, and may provide the nuclei for recovery.

But, as with animals, surviving fire is only half the battle. When fire removes vegetation, it suddenly halts sugar and fats plants produce, delivered to the fungi below-ground.




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Another challenge is the ways fire influences the underground world, such as changes in soil acidity, soil carbon, nutrient dynamics, and soil water. For instance, soils with more acidity tend to have less diversity of AM fungi.

How exactly fungi and fire interact remains an ecological mystery. Coprinus sp.
Adam Frew

The combination of high temperatures and changed conditions appear to take a toll on fungi: a 2017 meta-analysis of 29 studies found fire reduces the number of fungal species by about 28%. And given the severity of last summer’s bushfires, we can expect that many fungal communities below the surface have been lost, too.

Lose fungi, lose function

When fire hits, the community of AM fungi may lose less resistant species. This is important because studies show different species of AM fungi are better at supporting their plant partners in different ways. Some are better at providing nutrients, while others are more helpful with defending plants from disease and herbivores.

Changes in the number and types of AM fungal species can strongly determine how well plants recover, and can influence the whole ecosystem after fire. For example, plants could be left more vulnerable to disease if fungi supporting native plant chemical or physical defences are reduced by fire.

Amanita muscaria (Fly agaric)
Adam Frew

Since we know fungi are particularly important to plants in times of ecological stress, their role may be paramount in harsh post-fire landscapes. But while firefighters and wildlife carers have gone to inspiring lengths to protect plants and animals, we know little about how to help AM fungi recovery from the bushfires, or if help is even necessary.

Helping fungi help ecosystems

Research from last year showed reintroducing AM fungal communities (usually as an inoculant or biofertiliser) to degraded and disturbed landscapes can increase plant diversity by around 70%, encourage recovery of native plants, and suppress invasive weeds.

Fire tends to change what species of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are present in the soil as ecosystems recovery.
Adam Frew via BioRender

Taking a similar approach and actively putting fungi back into fire-affected environments could ensure more rapid or more complete recovery of native vegetation, including the survival of endangered plant species threatened by the fires.

However, it’s important to consider which AM fungi are reintroduced. They should be species normally present in the local area, and suited to support recovering plant communities.




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So as climate change leads to more frequent and intense bushfires, could fungi form a fundamental component of fire recovery efforts? Maybe.

But there is so much we’re yet to learn about these ancient and complex relationships. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface.The Conversation

Adam Frew, Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland; Andy Le Brocque, Associate Professor, University of Southern Queensland; Dale Nimmo, Associate Professor in Ecology, Charles Sturt University; Eleonora Egidi, Researcher, Western Sydney University; Jodi Price, Senior Lecturer in Vegetation Ecology, Charles Sturt University, and Leanne Greenwood, PhD candidate, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria quietly lifted its gas exploration pause but banned fracking for good. It’s bad news for the climate


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

Amid coronavirus chaos, the Victorian government announced its decision earlier this week to lift the ban on onshore gas exploration, but also to make the temporary state-wide ban on fracking permanent.

This decision was made three years after an investigation found gas reserves in the state could be extracted without any environmental impacts, and new laws will be introduced to parliament for drilling to start in July next year.




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The state government first introduced the moratorium (temporary ban) on onshore conventional and unconventional gas production in 2017, enshrined in the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990. It effectively made it an offence to either conduct coal seam gas exploration or hydraulic fracturing (fracking) until June 2020.

The ban was originally imposed amid strong concerns about the environmental, climate and social impacts of onshore gas expansion. But lifting the ban to allow conventional gas exploration while banning fracking and unconventional gas (coal seam gas), doesn’t remove these concerns.

The fracking ban isn’t so permanent

The new laws seek to do two things: lift the ban on conventional onshore gas production, and to entrench a ban on fracking and coal seam gas exploration into the state constitution.

The government has stated it wants to make it difficult for future governments to remove the fracking ban. But this is highly unlikely to be legally effective. Unlike the federal constitution, the Victorian constitution is an ordinary act, and so it can be amended by another legal act.

The only way entrenching an amendment in the state constitution so that it is permanent and unchangeable is if it relates to the operation and procedure of parliament. And fracking does not do this.

This raises the spectre of a future government removing the fracking ban in line with an accelerating onshore gas framework.

Conventional vs unconventional gas

The main difference between conventional gas and unconventional gas (coal seam gas) lies in their geology.

Conventional gas can generally be extracted without the need to frack, as gas can move to the surface through gas wells. To release unconventional gas, particularly shale gas, fracking is always required.




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Fracking technologies risk water quality from ground disturbances, spills, the release of chemicals and other fluids, and the underground migration of gases and chemicals.

So lifting the conventional onshore gas ban while keeping the fracking ban will mean less risk to the environment. But extracting conventional gas is still risky.

Greenhouse gas leaks

Extracting conventional gas risks fugitive emissions. This refers to greenhouse gases, such as methane, that can escape into the atmosphere during mining fossil fuels, such as from equipment leaks, deliberate or accidental venting, or from gas flaring.

Precise measurements of the fugitive emissions from onshore conventional gas production are difficult to predict, but their effect on climate change is alarming.

The latest estimates indicate fugitive emissions account for approximately 6% of Australia’s national greenhouse gas emissions. Fugitive emissions also have about 27 times the greenhouse harming potential of carbon dioxide.

In 2017, the Australian Gas Industry argued well managed sites produce little fugitive emissions, and poorly managed sites were responsible for 75% of fugitive emissions.

This means any expansion of onshore conventional gas must be accompanied by strict management and regulation. But there’s no industry-wide code of practice in Victoria focused on reducing this emissions risk.

Increasing annual emissions

Even in the unlikely scenario of zero or limited fugitive emissions, expanding conventional gas exploration will still add to Victoria’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposed laws follow the conclusions of a three-year study that reviewed the climate, environmental, economic and social impacts of gas exploration in Victoria.

The report suggested a slight increase in absolute annualised greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, Victoria’s annual greenhouse gas emissions would be proportionately increased by lifting the ban.

It also suggested expanding gas development would contribute between only 0.1% and 0.2% of Victoria’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, and that this wouldn’t affect Victoria’s 2050 net-zero target.

But 0.1% to 0.2% still amounts to releasing an additional 122,000 to 329,000 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent into the atmosphere.

What’s more, this assessment completely ignores emissions released through increased gas usage within the community. Globally, CO₂ emissions from natural gas use rose almost 200 million metric tons in 2019 and were responsible for two-thirds of the global emissions increase.

What it means for the community

The report predicts 242 jobs, A$312 million in gross regional product and A$43 million in royalties for Victoria. But overall, gas prices in the east coast market won’t change.




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The additional 128-830 petajoules (a joule is a measure of thermal energy and a petajoule is a million billion joules) that is potentially capable of being produced by lifting the moratorium will not be enough to address the forecast shortfall.

For the communities around the gas exploration sites, the report indicates the social impact of lifting the moratorium would be manageable.

The report indicates that 80% of the south-west and Gippsland communities – from more than 800 engagements with industry, farmers, local school students, and environmental community groups – either supported or tolerated onshore conventional gas development if noise or disturbances were appropriately addressed through regulation. But industry wide codes of behaviour are yet to be implemented.




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At what cost?

Lifting the ban on onshore conventional gas in Victoria comes at a time when the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is profoundly important.

Climate change is accelerating. While gas may be an important resource as we transition to renewable energy, accelerating its production, particularly in the absence of stringent regulatory controls, comes at a very high price.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scientists find burnt, starving koalas weeks after the bushfires



david Mariuz/AAP

Romane H. Cristescu, University of the Sunshine Coast and Celine Frere, University of the Sunshine Coast

The plight of koalas during the recent bushfire crisis made headlines here and abroad. But the emergency for our wildlife is not over. Koalas that survived the flames are now dying from starvation, dehydration, smoke inhalation and other hazards.

Over the past three weeks in one wildlife conservation property alone, our rescue team found koalas recently crushed under fire-damaged trees, and koalas with burnt paws after descending to the smouldering ground after the inferno had passed, hoping to change trees and find food. One of our most recent rescues was an orphaned, emaciated koala with all four paws burnt.

Koalas are also at risk of dying from infections associated with these injuries, or from the ongoing effects of smoke inhalation. Even uninjured koalas are struggling to find food in their burnt habitat and may soon starve.

There is still time to act to avoid losing more koalas. But we need the public’s help.

Romane Cristescu with a koala that survived the bushfires, but died afterwards.
Detection Dogs for Conservation

A critically urgent task

The fires in Australia’s southeast destroyed huge swathes of koala habitat in areas where they were already vulnerable – dehydrated and malnourished due to prolonged drought, climate change and land-clearing.

Adding to the pressures, an estimated 5,000 koalas died as a result of the recent fires in New South Wales alone – potentially two out of every three.

Our team at Detection Dogs for Conservation rescues, trains and deploys dogs to find wildlife that needs help.

Since November last year, we’ve deployed our dogs to fire grounds in NSW and Queensland almost every week, urgently searching for surviving koalas. One of our detection dogs, Bear, is trained to find the koala itself – not just koala scats, as our other dogs are.




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The International Fund for Animal Welfare (https://www.ifaw.org/uk/projects/koala-habitat-protection-with-detection-dogs-australia) helps coordinate our activities with local wildlife rescue groups and other koala conservationists.

After bushfires, a koala’s territory is often no longer able to sustain them due to lack of food – which for koalas also provides water – or lack of shelter. Without canopy cover, koalas simply overheat.

Finding koalas can be difficult. They camouflage well, they are quiet, and usually sit still. But dogs can smell what we can’t see, including koalas. These dogs, together with our drone equipped with a thermal camera, greatly increase koala detection rates.

Without canopy cover, koalas easily overheat in hot weather.
Ben Beaden/AAP

What we found

We believe most koalas that died in the fires were reduced to ashes, and so could not be counted among the dead. But since November, in 39 days of searches, we’ve found more than 40 injured, sick, dehydrated or starving koalas and, sadly, six dead ones.

We’ve also observed koalas returning to their favourite trees in their home ranges, only to find the canopies completely burnt. Others survived in a small unburnt patch but are now isolated and surrounded by vast tracts of inhospitable habitat.

Romane Cristescu with detection dog Bear. The program makes wildlife detection far more efficient.
Detection Dogs for Conservation

When we find live koalas in the fire grounds, we attempt to catch them and transport them to a local wildlife triage centre or koala “hospital” to be urgently assessed by veterinarians. Burns are obvious, but smoke inhalation is less so. Koalas in poor condition must stay in care until they’ve fully recovered.

In the past three weeks, we’ve made particularly tragic discoveries. In the Snowy Mountains, two koalas that survived the inferno had been crushed and killed under fire-damaged trees. We sighted one of these koalas three days in a row. The first two days, he was in trees he could not be safely rescued from. The third day, he was fatally crushed.

As recently as last week we found koalas suffering burns, predominantly on their paws. These animals would have continued to suffer severe pain trying to climb trees had we not rescued them. One of our last rescues was an 2kg orphaned koala with four burnt paws and the lowest possible body condition on the scale – emaciated.

We did expect to find koalas killed by the fires. But it was especially heartbreaking to find those that died afterwards. It’s hard then to not think, perhaps with more detection dogs and a bigger team, we might have saved them.




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We can do more

A full search-and-rescue team comprises Bear and his handler, a drone pilot and a koala-catching crew. These missions cost money. To date, our deployments have been entirely funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

We’ve established an online fundraiser to help pay for further rescue work. We are also learning from this year’s deployment how to be more efficient next year – including having the equipment, team and budget secured prior to the fire season, which we hope this fundraiser helps us achieve.

After the devastating fire season, rescuing and rehabilitating surviving koalas is critical. Koalas reproduce slowly. The more rescued and able to breed this year, the quicker the population will increase. And every koala we rescue comes with a specific genetic make-up; the genetic diversity we can preserve now will help the species cope with future challenges.The Conversation

Romane H. Cristescu, Posdoc in Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast and Celine Frere, Senior lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Air-dropping poisoned meat to kill bush predators hasn’t worked in the past, and it’s unlikely to help now



Shutterstock

Justine M. Philip, Museums Victoria

After the summer’s devastating bushfires, the New South Wales government announced a plan to airdrop one million poisoned baits in the state’s most vulnerable regions over the next year. The plan is aimed at protecting surviving native animals from foxes, feral cats and wild dogs.

This isn’t the first time aerial baiting has been used in NSW recently. As the fire season got underway in September last year, the government’s biannual aerial baiting program scattered baits over nearly 8 million hectares in the Western Division alone – dispensing 43,442 aerial baits and 115,162 ground-laid baits over the drought-stricken region.

Biosecurity officers drying meat baits for the Autumn baiting program in Broken Hill last year.
NSW Government, Local Land Services, Western Region

In a study published this week, I explore Australia’s history as pioneers of this technology. The review raises serious concerns about the ethics and poor results of baiting programs, and the high uptake of baits by non-target species such as marsupials.

D-day for dingoes

Aerial baiting has been Australia’s foremost weapon against pest species for the past 74 years. The initial target was the dingo, to protect unguarded livestock from being killed.




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It started on Remembrance Day in 1946. Around 367,000 dry meat baits were airdropped across Queensland, each containing enough strychnine to kill an adult dingo. The campaign was considered a victory, despite only recovering one dingo carcass during the initial operation. Livestock predation apparently decreased; tracks in the sand vanished.

The following year, 1.5 million baits were distributed. Then in 1948 the quantity increased to 2.5 million baits across remote regions of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Livestock predation decreased after airdropping baits, but at what cost?
CSIRO Science Image, CC BY

Thousands of baits to kill one dingo

The strychnine tablets took up to 12 tortuous hours for the poison to deliver its lethal kill. The baits used in research trials were still toxic after 14 weeks.

There was huge public criticism of the project at the time – much of it from graziers. They claimed ants and valuable pest-eating birds – magpies, small hawks, butcher birds, crows, ibis and curlew – were eating the baits.

In response, the Queensland government set up the first monitored trials. The 1954 report from the Chief Vermin Control Officer recorded:

In the dry season campaigns, the baits are dropped on water-holes, soaks, junctions of dried water courses, gorges in hills and all places where dogs must travel or gather in their search for water and game and in their movements with pups from the breeding areas.

The data recorded an average 14,941 baits dispensed for every dingo carcass recovered. Anecdotal evidence suggests the program was considered a success.

CSIRO research worker with young dingo, 1970.
National Archives of Australia

Then in 1968 – 21 years after aerial campaigns began – a four-year CSIRO study tested the effectiveness of aerial baiting. It found the 1954 report was far from conclusive – the dingoes may just have moved elsewhere. And it concluded: “clearly aerial baiting was not effective”.

But there was an important caveat:

It is important to emphasise that, though this aerial baiting campaign was a failure, such a conclusion does not necessarily apply to any other campaign.

On the strength of that, aerial baiting programs continued.

Not much has changed

Despite millions of baits applied annually to the environment since the 1940s, Australia’s biodiversity has plummeted.

What’s more, developments in the technology haven’t come far. Raw meat baits eventually replaced dry baits in some areas. Strychnine was superseded by 1080, a less harmful poison to non-target native species, and less persistent in the environment.

Trials in the 1980s brought the bait-to-kill rate down to 750 to 1 (baits per dingo carcass recovered). This was considered a cost-effective and successful outcome.

Soon after, aerial baiting found a new market, becoming the frontline defence against Australia’s plummeting biodiversity from invasive predators.

Baits are not benign to marsupials

In 2008, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority imposed a limit of ten baits per kilometre to reduce risk to non-target species.

Pest control agencies need four times that amount of poison to achieve a successful kill rate. Yet planes have been dispensing baits at this lower and ineffective rate since 2008.

Why? It seems a balance between wildlife safety and effective canine or predator eradication isn’t possible with this technology.




Read more:
Dingoes found in New South Wales, but we’re killing them as ‘wild dogs’


In fact, it has been impossible to accurately trace the fate of baits thrown from aeroplanes into remote terrain. Even ground baiting trials have proved difficult to monitor. A 2018 trial found non-target species consumed more than 71% of ground-laid meat baits, including ravens, crows, goannas, monitor lizards, marsupials and ants.

Four young dingoes died during this trial, representing only a 1.25% uptake by target. Despite monitoring with cameras and sand traps, 599 baits out of 961 in the trial disappeared without a trace.

These baits are not benign. Repeat doses can kill marsupials; non-lethal doses can kill pouch young. Secondary poisoning can also be lethal. Applying this outdated technology to vulnerable bushfire regions is from a historical viewpoint, potentially hazardous.

Surely there’s another way

There are new technologies available to help protect and repair Australia’s fragile and broken ecosystems. Remote surveillance, drones, AI, heat sensing equipment, and more could locate populations and dispatch dangerous animals.




Read more:
Guardian dogs, fencing, and ‘fladry’ protect livestock from carnivores


If aerial baiting continues, aerial surveillance could at least follow the fate of the one million baits and tell us what and who is eating them – who lives and who dies in the stripped-bare landscape.

One thing is for certain: halting the program would prevent hundreds of thousands of these poisoned meat baits ending up in the stomachs of our treasured native animals.The Conversation

Justine M. Philip, Doctor of Philosophy, Ecosystem Management, Museums Victoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the humble dung beetle engineers better ecosystems in Australia


Paul Weston, Charles Sturt University and Theo Evans, University of Western Australia

Dung beetles play an important role helping clear up all the dung left by other animals in an environment.

In Australia there are approximately 475 native species of dung beetle.

But there’s a problem. Most of them are adapted to deal with marsupial dung. When British colonisers brought livestock down under, they introduced an entirely new type of dung that the native dung beetles were ill-equipped to handle.




Read more:
French beetles flown in to clean up Australia’s cattle dung


Not touching that dung

Cattle dung is wet and bulky. It is very unlike marsupial dung – which is typically small, dry pellets – and so the native dung beetles largely left it alone. As a result, large deposits of cattle dung accumulated in the Australian agricultural landscape.

Besides fouling the land, the dung was an excellent breeding site for bush flies and other nuisance insects, as well as internal parasites that plague the digestive tracts of livestock.

So CSIRO embarked on an ambitious plan to introduce into Australia many dung beetles that were adapted to livestock dung. Starting in 1966, it imported and released 43 species of dung beetles over 25 years.

The beetles came from places such as South Africa, France, Spain and Turkey. The chosen beetles had similar climate requirements and were adapted to wild and domestic livestock, so they could live in Australia and process livestock dung.

What do dung beetles do?

When people think of dung beetles, the popular image that comes to mind is that of an industrious beetle labouring to roll a large ball of dung across the landscape.

These little engineers are actually trying to find a suitable spot to situate the ball, on which they will lay an egg. Their offspring will have food and a safe place to grow up, and generate more dung beetles.

Most species of dung beetles actually tunnel beneath piles of dung and drag bits of it into subterranean chambers, where they then lay their eggs.

The larvae develop over the following weeks to months, eventually emerging as adults and crawling to the surface in search of a mate and another pile of dung to colonise.

The introduced dung beetles

Of the 43 species introduced to Australia by CSIRO, 23 have become established and many are having a positive impact.

The activities of dung beetles helped remove dung from pastures and with it, the breeding site for nuisance flies and internal parasites.

They also improved pasture fertility. They increased the permeability of pasture soils to rainwater which decreased runoff of rainwater laden with nutrients that can pollute waterways.

But it is not known just how widely each of the introduced species has spread. There might be geographical and seasonal gaps in dung beetle activity that could be filled by other species yet to be introduced to Australia.

Working with farming

Dung beetles have been around for tens of millions of years, but their ability to survive in modern agricultural environments may be jeopardised by some farming practices.

Tilling paddocks used in cropping and livestock rotation systems may destroy the developing dung beetle larvae.

Some deworming agents, used by livestock producers to control intestinal parasites, may pass through the livestock and out in their faeces, and might poison the dung beetles colonising the dung.

It should be possible to manage tillage and deworming to minimise harm to the dung beetles, and so maximise their positive impact on the land.




Read more:
Five things dung beetles do with a piece of poo


That’s where Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers (DBEE) comes in.

In this project, a group of research institutions, producer groups, land management groups and dung beetle entrepreneurs are working together.

The project, now in its second year, is supported by Meat and Livestock Australia and funded by the Rural Research and Development for Profit Program of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Charles Sturt University leads the project, with cooperators at CSIRO, University of Western Australia, University of New England, Mingenew-Irwin Group, Warren Catchment Council, Dung Beetle Solutions International, and LandCare Research NZ.

Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers aims to:

  1. understand the distribution of dung beetle species previously introduced to Australia, and predict their ultimate spread

  2. evaluate new species of dung beetle for importation and release into Australia

  3. estimate the economic impact of dung beetles on farming systems

  4. develop a database of information on dung beetles in Australasia and educational materials for use by a range of users

  5. work with farming and land management groups to engage landholders in detecting dung beetles and modifying agricultural practices to enhance the success of dung beetles.

At the end of the DBEE project, we will have a better understanding of the role of dung beetles as a farming tool, helping farmers choose agricultural practices that will improve their bottom line.

New dung beetle species will be ready to work for Australia and New Zealand, and a distribution network will enhance their spread to new geographic areas.

DBEE aims bring economic and ecological benefits to the agricultural sector and wider Australian and New Zealand community.The Conversation

Paul Weston, Senior Research Fellow / EH Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University and Theo Evans, Associate Professor , University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.