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How to drive threatened Grey-Headed Flying Foxes Extinct 101

On Monday March 22, 2010 orchardists in Orange began shooting Grey- headed flying foxes in a program sanctioned by NPWS Bathurst office.

Grey –headed flying foxes are a threatened species listed as VULNERABLE TO EXTINCTION in NSW, and in Victoria. They are also listed as VULNERABLE under the federal EPBC Act and are on the IUCN’s international red list as a Threatened Species in decline.

The NPWS Wildlife Atlas shows this threatened species has never been recorded as being present in Orange or the Cabonne Shires, yet the first time they appear in Orange orchardists have demanded through their local member and local tv news to be allowed to shoot them.

NPWS have complied with this demand, and have been signing permits since Monday.

This is despite the NPWS ranger in charge, Steve Woodhall, having no experience or expertise in the Grey-headed Flying Fox, and refusing to insist that alternative non-lethal measures be employed as a first resort.

Yesterday Mr Woodhall said “It is NPWS policy to shoot Grey-headed Flying Foxes,” and that he expected he would receive a reprimand from the Minister directing him to sign permits anyway, so there was no point in refusing the orchardists to kill the bats.

Ranger Woodhall also stated that it took “too long to start a non-lethal program of management”, yet local Bathurst farmers today confirmed the bats have been arriving at in the region for the past two years.

“It is outrageous that NPWS would allow the shooting of a threatened species saying this is first time they have appeared in the region, when landowners have confirmed they’ve arrived in the region for the past two years, ” local ecologist Ray Mjadwesch said.

“A local orchardist appeared on the tv news last week stating he would shoot the flying foxes without a permit. Instead of policing this threat, NPWS condones and facilitates it,” he added.

The Queensland government recently accepted evidence from bat rehabilitator Dave Pinson that shooting bats is unethical and inhumane.

“They banned the shooting of bats after evidence that it can take days for bats to die from non-lethal shots,” Mr Pinson said.

“Then the lactating pups left waiting for their mothers at the camp can take up to 10 days to starve to death.” he added.

On the first day, ecologist Ray Mjadwesch inspected the flying fox camp on the Macquarie River at Bathurst and has found young dead pups hanging in the tree. He also made the observation that with perhaps 100,000 bats in camp, the idea of shooting 600 or so bats to protect apple crops is absurd.

The last survey was done 12 years ago, and an estimated 360,000 GH flying foxes remain in Australia. The trajectory has been downwards ever since, making them more threatened than the koala.

“The decision by an uninformed NPWS ranger to allow the shooting of these animals, without reference to bat ecologists and experts who are experienced in enforcing non-lethal methods of management, is outrageous and should be stopped,” Mr Mjadwesch said

For more information contact Mjadwesch Environmental Services PH: 02 6331 5858 or 02 63315170.

How can this be happening when bats provide such a crucial service to the ecosystem and yet have a highly threatened status? Clearly alternate non-lethal methods of controlling this threatened species is preferable to NPWS issuing permits to orchardists to shoot them.

See http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au (search for 'Best Practice Guidelines + Flying Foxes).

1. ECOSYSTEM SERVICE
Flying foxes act as pollinators and seed dispersers primarily of the genera Eucalyptus, Syncarpia, Angophora, Melaleuca and Banksia, but in some areas they also eat a range of rainforest fruit and consequently influence the reproductive and evolutionary processes of many forest types, including hardwoods. In fact, without bats there would be no rainforests! How critical is that especially considering how fragmented our landscape is becoming due to land clearing? In urban or cleared rural areas, while many bird and insect pollinators are effectively isolated in their fragmented patches of bush, the flying fox is not as they can travel long distances.

2. THREATENED STATUS OF GREY-HEADED FLYING FOXES
Much of our native vegetation has been cleared or disturbed leading to many native plants and animals becoming locally extinct or threatened with extinction. Populations of grey-headed flying fox used to number many millions, but now there are less than 300,000 nationally and on the decline. Since the reproduction of grey- headed flying foxes is a lengthy process starting with 2-3 year old adult, and taking 12 months from conception to independence with a high rate of mortality in the first two years, this makes populations susceptible to decline.

Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species listed as vulnerable to extinction in NSW (TSC Act), and Vic and also listed as vulnerable under the Federal EPBC Act and on the IUCN's international Red List as a Threatened Species in Decline. Clearly these threatened species must be managed carefully to ensure their survival.

3. NON-LETHAL ALTERNATIVES TO BAT MANAGEMENT
Here are some simple solutions.

a) EDUCATE PEOPLE TO PLANT MORE NATIVE FOOD TREES FOR BATS so they won't be as likely to eat fruit trees. If people were to encourage flying foxes to their backyard (and councils on council land) by planting native food trees (such as blue gums, blackbutts, turpentines, ironbarks, bloodwoods and angophoras) this would not only minimise bats eating fruit but also help remove flying foxes from the threatened species list. An added advantage would be to give residents low maintenance native gardens with more native birds, butterflies and flying foxes.

b) NET FRUIT TREES with white durable knitted netting 40mm diameter or smaller (not thin nylon monofilament which can injure them) in a way that the net is stretched taut away from the tree and not thrown loosely over trees which entangles and kills them (and also other species like snakes, possums, birds, reptiles). Make sure to check netting regularly for entanglements. Alternatively, drape and peg shade cloth over fruiting trees. Full crop netting is currently the only method proven to be completely effective in deterring
grey-headed flying foxes.

c) GIVE FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO ORCHARDISTS so they can purchase netting/shade cloth to protect their fruit trees. Alternatively, the government could reimburse orchardists for their losses. The government has the responsibility to protect native species and investing money in nets for farmers is a far better practice than of killing/relocating flying foxes.

4. NPWS PERMITS TO SHOOT FLYING FOXES
The Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW (DECC) provides best practice guidance to land managers and private landholders seeking to conserve grey-headed flying foxes. So why is NPWS not applying best practice to conserve this species? Why is NPWS ranger in charge of Orange Shire, Steve Woodall (who has no experience, training or expertise in Grey-Headed Flying Fox management) refusing to insist on non-lethal measures to flying fox control and caving in to orchardists' demands for permits to shoot them? The destruction of grey-headed flying-fox camps is clearly listed as a threatening process under the TSC Act (Schedule 2, Part 1).

Local farmers know that bats have been coming to the area for the last two years so why is Mr Woodall saying that 'it took too long to start a non-lethal plan of management'? And secondly why is NPWS not policing threats of farmers to shoot these protected species? And while affected orchardists are limited to 25 foxes per permit, how can that possibly be policed? And are NPWS officers actually inspecting properties to ascertain damage has occured or handing out permits like lollies?

NPWS rangers should immediately consult with bat ecologists and bat experts on how to enforce NON-lethal management with this colony. Instead they are handing out application forms to orchardists and encouraging them to pass around to their friends!

SHOOTING BATS IS UNETHICAL, INHUMANE AND INEFFECTIVE
The Queensland government recently accepted evidence from a bat rehabilitator, Dave Pinson, that shooting bats is unethical and inhumane. It can take days for bats to die from non-lethal shots and in the meantime lactating pups waiting for their mother at the camp can take 10 days to starve to death. A more enlightened state than NSW has now banned shooting of bats. When will NSW wake up? Now or when it's too late?

Finally, shooting bats makes no sense. if there are an estimated 100,000 bats in the camp, how can shooting 600 bats protect apple crops? Hoping they will just move on when the frost hits is short-sighted as shooting is not an effective method of stopping the bats from eating fruit.

2010 YEAR OF BIODIVERSITY

The U.N. has declared 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity. Every hour of every day we lose between 3-4 species of plant and animal in the world. Australia is party to the Convention on Biodiversity yet we have the worst reputation in the world for species extinctions. HERE IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF WHY. Are we going to continue to stick our head in the sand and take the quick way out i.e. a bullet to our wildlife's collective heads instead of relocation or better still, learn to live with our native species?

Soon it will be wall-to-wall humans with nothing left to kill except each other. And then too late to complain when we have no more rainforests, when the whole balance of nature is irreversibly upset because we have destroyed the very fabric of biodiversity on which human survival depends.

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Comments

I heard that numbers of tiny insectivorous bat populations are in decline as well especially in Victoria. Their wonderful service to humanity- they eat mosquitoes.
Reason for decline in numbers- removal, degradation and fragmentation of habitat. Dr. Lindy Lumsden, local expert was interviewed about this recently on ABC TV.

It is refreshing to hear from an economist, secretary of the Treasury Dr Ken Henry, with the gift of environmental literacy. He condemns the ''massive environmental destruction'' as a consequence of fishing, hunting, forestry and farming practices.
This year is the UN's Year of Biodiversity, but for our one-issue economically-based Governments, it has gone under the radar. Australia is the most megadiverse developed country and supports almost 10 per cent of the biological diversity on earth.

According to Urban Ecology Australia, an ecosystem with high biodiversity may have a greater chance of adapting to environmental change. In other words, the more species comprising an ecosystem, the more stable the ecosystem is likely to be.
According to Professor Richard Kingsford of the University of NSW, "Earth is experiencing its sixth great extinction event and the new report reveals that this threat is advancing on six major fronts."

Indigenous people lived here for thousands of years with a spiritual connection with their environment, and when the First Fleet arrived it was still in pristine condition. However, agriculture has modified or destroyed about 50 percent of woodland and forest ecosystems, and about 70 percent of remaining forests are ecologically degraded from logging.

If even threatened species such as these grey-headed Flying Foxes can be "culled" along with so-called "common species" such as some kangaroos, then it doesn't say much for the strength our EPBC Act.

The loss of species such as the Tasmanian tiger, the tiger quoll or the hairy-nosed wombat may seem inconsequential to our environmentally illiterate leaders in Canberra, but ignoring the loss of any one of these unique species is not only a loss of their intrinsic value, but at our own peril too.