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Issue #1665      November 19, 2014

Save Victoria’s threatened Owl’s

Three species of owls are in danger of becoming extinct in Victoria because the Victorian government has failed to protect the forest habitat where these threatened owls, the Sooty, Masked and Powerful Owls live.

Powerful Owl.

The Powerful and Sooty Owls are listed as vulnerable and the Masked Owl as endangered, according to Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. Management plans for the owls state that the Powerful and Masked Owls require at least 100 areas of 500 hectares each, while the Sooty Owl needs 131 areas of at least 500 hectares.

The forests of the Gippsland region are a stronghold for the owls because the age of the trees in the forest means it is an ideal habitat for such birds of prey. Bushfires earlier this year burnt 170,000 hectares of forest habitat of the owls. Legally, the government is required to make sure these owls have enough suitable habitats preserved for them. Yet after the massive destruction of the fires, the government has failed to set aside more protected forests for the three owl species.

Since European settlement, over 65% of Victoria’s forest cover has been cleared. And only about five percent of freehold land remains forested. This past loss of habitat has most likely led to an overall decline in owl numbers and fragmentation of the original continuous population into a series of small residual populations, each of which is in danger of becoming locally extinct. It is estimated that hollows suitable for owls do not form, even in the fastest-growing eucalypts, until they are at least 150-200 years of age.

The Powerful Owl is found throughout much of the state, except for the northeast and wetter mountain forests, wherever there is suitable habitat of large trees and sufficient prey. When the Powerful Owl was listed as a threatened species it was because the estimated population was less than 500 pairs, with no specific habitat protection outside of conservation reserves. And with the land clearing processes continuing across most of their range, the species was at risk of extinction.

Over much of its range, the lack of suitably large hollows for Powerful Owls is considered to be a limiting factor to successful breeding and population recovery. The Powerful Owl is, therefore, vulnerable to land management practices that reduce the availability of these tree hollows now or in the future. The loss of hollow-bearing trees has been listed as a potentially threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (SAC 1991). In addition, prey density may be an important determinant in their territory size and breeding successes.

The Sooty Owl is distributed around the Melbourne region, eastern and northeast Victoria and there is a small population in south Gippsland. They are found in rainforests, tall forests and some open forest. Their survival is also threatened by clearance and logging of habitat. To retain the species in the wild it is considered that Sooty Owls need good habitat for at least 500 breeding pairs. It is roughly estimated there could be 400-900 breeding pairs left in Victoria, although it is thought the most realistic figure is less than 500 breeding pairs.

The Masked Owl is mostly found in the lowland forests and woodlands of East Gippsland and the Otway Ranges, but also in the Central Highlands, Midlands and around the Portland region. The species has been adversely affected by land clearance and habitat fragmentation, resulting in the loss of trees with large hollows and the reduction in prey species. As yet there is no reliable estimate of the numbers of Masked Owls in Victoria.

The government must take immediate action to preserve the remaining forests of the Gippsland region, in order to protect these at risk owls before it’s too late. We have to convince the government to conserve this unique habitat for these endangered owls and other threatened wildlife. We should do what we can to help save these vulnerable native animals. To assist the campaign please sign and share the petition to save the Sooty, Masked and Powerful Owl.

Next article – APEC pursuing integrated Asia-Pacific

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