There could be a win-win solution for the current controversy over the nationally significant colony of Flying Foxes along the Mitchell River, say local environment groups.
A failure if the council proceeds with habitat destruction could cost ratepayers over a million dollars going by other documented failures and the lessons learned. The second stage of habitat removal and dispersal is planned to begin in the next week or two.
Both the Gippsland Environment Group and Environment East Gippsland believe there are a number of ways to avoid the council’s plan failing and the high costs involved.
“When 23 years of dispersal actions were reviewed, it showed that most colonies only moved less than 600m away”, said Jill Redwood from EEG. “This could mean the school or hospital gardens, or worse - people’s home gardens could be their new roost sites. It also showed conflict was often not resolved. In 71% of cases problems were still being reported either at the original site or within the local area years after the initial dispersal actions.”
John Hermans from GEG suggests it would be more economic in the long term to engage an independent economic analyst to investigate options.
“As tourism is growing three times faster in Australia than the rest of the economy, we should be looking at the potential benefits of promoting this Nationally Significant colony”, he said. “Visitors and travellers love to experience wildlife away from cages or zoos.”
The groups suggest encouraging the community to visit, understand and appreciate this fascinating but often misunderstood and maligned mammal. It says this could be part of a win-win solution for the community and this remarkable, but endangered, key pollinating species.
“There could also be some innovative solutions to overcome the problems that a small number of locals experience who remain fearful of the colony. This could include a covered walkway or assistance with netting or sheltering areas of their garden”, said John Hermans.
In the 2014 forum in Bairnsdale, CSIRO scientist and Flying Fox expert Dr David Westcott, explained the history of unsuccessful habitat removals and relocation attempts. He warned of the likely outcomes as a result of tree removal.
The groups have written to the councillors and CEO pointing out the historic failures and massive costs involved. They say that without understanding Flying Fox needs and behaviours, the removal of all roosting trees in such a short time frame might only placate insistent locals. However in the longer term it’s likely to create far more costly and problematic situations for the shire and affect many more community members.
The groups say only those poplars that can be shown to be a serious threat could be removed. However entire habitat removal they say is very likely to back-fire and cost a million or more if the situation worsens.
“On the other hand, Bairnsdale is sitting on an economic golden egg here. With a relatively small cost to promote the fruit bats, provide a covered walkway and produce educational material, we are perfectly situated to profit from the growing trend in nature based tourism”, said Jill Redwood.
A very large number of locals enjoy the Grey-headed Flying Foxes so close to town and see them as a fascinating attraction. They are conveniently situated along a pleasant river walk near to the town’s main commercial centre.
“We hope the council may consider delaying this next demolition phase until it has properly considered the economic advantages that are waiting for the town, against the higher cost of further action if the removal fails”.
The groups are urging the council to more slowly remove the most dangerous trees and replace them with suitable native species over a longer term.
“It would be a crime to have the council spend hundreds of thousands on a failed attempt to destroy a natural asset that could instead generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for the town’s businesses while providing tourism jobs”, said Jill Redwood.