South Australia’s environment minister says the clearing of Kangaroo Island’s Tasmanian blue gum plantations can resume, after work was halted following the release of footage showing koalas being injured.

Susan Close said she had approved a new koala management plan submitted to her by AAG Investment Management (AAGIM), the timber company clearing the plantations on behalf of owners Kiland. 

Dr Close said the footage of koalas being killed and injured in the plantations had shocked the community and required an immediate response from government. 

Under the new plan, AAGIM will increase the number of spotters on the ground as trees are felled and report any incidents to the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) within 24 hours.

The company will need to advise the department of planned harvest activity two weeks before commencement.

It will also implement strategies to manage fatigue in the workers operating the harvesters and improve communication between them and the spotters.

Lisien Loan, DEW’s director of conservation and wildlife, said once the new protocols were in place, AAGIM could resume operations but would be under “intensive monitoring”.

“They’ve also got a requirement to report to the department within 24 hours any incident and to give a monthly summary of any interactions, like near misses or how many koalas the spotters have seen,” she said.

Ms Loan said if too many incidents were reported, more discussions would be held regarding any necessary further actions.

She said the plan also included the establishment of a more formal relationship between AAGIM and the island’s vets and wildlife carers so any inadvertent injury or disturbance of a koala would be managed quickly and effectively.

DEW officers would also make unannounced site visits.

Harvesting to resume soon

Ms Loan said the department and RSPCA were continuing to investigate any potential breaches of the Animal Welfare and National Parks and Wildlife acts.

The department is also continuing to work with the Kangaroo Island Landscape Board to develop a plan to manage the koala numbers on the island as they continue to rise.

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network president Katie Welz said her organisation had only recently received a copy of the new koala management plan and were reading through it.

She said they hoped to continue to work collaboratively with Kiland to ensure best practice and response during harvest for minimal wildlife incidents.

In a statement, AAGIM said it had received an approved copy of its updated koala management plan from the government on Tuesday.

“We’re pleased to have now finalised the plan. Our thanks to the Department of Environment and Water, RSPCA and the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network for their contributions to the updated plan,” it said.

“Following official state government approval, we’re now working with our team to ensure they’re fully briefed, trained and supported to implement the plan.”

The company said it expected to resume harvesting of the fire-damaged blue gum plantations on April 3.

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