The Coastal IFOA research and evaluation program provides the monitoring program the opportunity to respond to changes to environmental conditions, policy, knowledge or technology and provide a program to investigate best practice forest management and monitoring.

Research program

The proposed suite of research projects will highlight risks and find better ways the conditions and protocols of the Coastal IFOA can achieve their outcomes. The initial research questions the program seeks to answer are:

  • How are koalas responding to conditions, including changes in tree retention rates, species, distribution and size?
  • Can technology improve the probability of detection for a range of species and habitats in forestry operations?
  • What are the implications of changing fire intensity and regimes on the achievement of the Coastal IFOA’s objectives and outcomes?

Project: Reviewing the use of temporary log crossings in NSW coastal state forests

Under the Coastal IFOA, the Steering Committee undertakes annual ‘health checks’ with FCNSW, EPA and DPI to consider the results of the monitoring program and further opportunities to improve the evidence base to inform forest management. At the 2021 health check, parties agreed to initiate work on the effectiveness of temporary log crossings in state forests.

The Steering Committee engaged Jacobs to review temporary log crossings in NSW coastal hardwood state forests and the effectiveness of the current conditions for their design and rehabilitation in reducing their impacts on waterways.

A final report is expected in October 2022.

What are temporary log crossings?

Buffers along drainage lines and drainage control structures along forest roads and tracks are key to limiting sediment delivery to forest waterways. However, in some situations temporary snig tracks will cross a drainage line without a buffer in place, creating a direct pathway for sediment and nutrient delivery that may impact waterway health.

One commonly used type of crossing is a ‘temporary log crossing’, where logs are placed in a drainage feature to enable the short-term passage of a machine or vehicle. While these crossings are widely used, there are knowledge gaps around how well their potential impacts on waterways are being managed.

The approach

Jacobs will:

  • conduct a desktop study of peer-reviewed and other relevant literature concerning the use of temporary log crossings in Australia and internationally
  • undertake field visits to observe temporary log crossings used in state forests
  • advise on impacts from the use of temporary log crossings under the Coastal IFOA when compared with traditional bed-level causeway crossings
  • advise on any improvements on the implementation of temporary log crossings that could be considered as part of the Coastal IFOA adaptive management and improvement process
  • advise on any further research or monitoring, if and where required.

Project: Koala response to harvesting

Since 2019, researchers at the Australian National University, Western Sydney University and the Forest Science Unit at the NSW Department of Primary Industries have investigated how koalas, and their habitat responded to harvesting in state forests on the NSW North Coast.

The Commission has released as report synthesising the research findings. Overall, the research found the nutritional quality of trees is critical for koala survival and selective harvesting did not have an adverse impact upon koala numbers on surveyed north coast state forests.

More information on the program and the final report can found on the Koala Research page.

Project: Novel techniques to detect and monitor Hastings River Mouse

The Commission is partnering with the NSW Saving our Species program to test and compare the detectability of the Hastings River mouse using a range of novel survey methods and technologies. This will include testing the use of detection dogs and camera traps (with specific set-up for small mammals) against traditional trapping methods.

The use of detection dogs has been identified as a highly effective means of locating threatened, cryptic species, especially when traditional methods are unable to detect low‐density mammal populations. The Saving Our Species program is currently using detection dogs for small mammals such as the smoky mouse.

The first step in this project is to train a detection dog, as this will take up to 12 months before the research project can commence.

Miki, a six-month-old working cocker spaniel, started his training in April 2021 to become a Hasting River mouse detection dog. Miki is learning to recognise Hasting River mouse odour through the use of scats and bedding material collected from traps set by field ecologists from Saving Our Species and Forestry Corporation for NSW. Miki is also learning to discriminate between the odour of Hasting River mouse and other small mammals that he will encounter in the environment.

Video - Miki training to become a Hasting River mouse detection dog

Project: Drones to detect cryptic species

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment are investigating the use of drones to improve detection for the cryptic koala and greater glider. Drones will be fitted with thermal imaging cameras and flown over Kalanteenee State Forest to provide information on the population density and distribution of koalas. These results will be compared to acoustic detection surveys being undertaken in the same area.

Working with Forestry Corporation for NSW, thermal imaging cameras will also be used in areas subject to spotlight surveys for the greater glider, with comparison of density estimates using the two techniques and ground validation in real time.

Surveys will be undertaken in winter 2022, when thermal differentials and the likelihood of detections are highest.

Project: Implications of changing fire intensity and regimes on Coastal IFOA objectives and outcomes

The Coastal IFOA monitoring program committed to investigate the risks to achieving Coastal IFOA outcomes under changing fire regimes. The Commission engaged researchers at the NSW Bushfire Risk Management hub, University of Wollongong to provide independent research on the matter.

The research team evaluated:

  • the specific risks to achieving the Coastal IFOA objectives and outcomes as result of the legacy landscape scale impacts of the NSW 2019/20 wildfire season
  • the broad implications of predicted changing fire regimes on the achievement of the Coastal IFOA’s objectives and outcomes options to mitigate risks.

The researchers found:

  • The 2019/20 fires impacted about 3.6 million hectares of forests across all tenures within the mapped Coastal IFOA region.
  • Around 60 percent of the total state forest and national park area within this region was burnt, almost half of which was subject to high or extreme fire severity.
  • Previous timber harvesting did not increase the fire extent or severity of the 2019/20 fires. However, there is potential for cumulative impacts in harvested landscapes that are subject to fire.
  • The 2019/20 fires mean now only 10 percent of forested areas are currently within their recommended fire frequency thresholds.
  • Half of state forest and national park area is now classified as ‘vulnerable’, meaning the 2019/20 fires effectively doubled the extent of vulnerable forested vegetation on these tenures.
  • Under the climate change scenario of hotter temperatures and little change in rainfall, of the 24 assessed threatened species, seven species are predicted to have their habitat reduced by over 75% by 2070.

The University of Wollongong report is available here.

The data used in the analysis is available on the NSW SEED portal.

Independent evaluation of forestry practices

The proposed suite of evaluations will determine the effectiveness of the practices used in coastal native hardwood state forest in NSW.

Project: Drainage feature crossings and roading

The program will adapt existing methods for assessing the effectiveness of road networks in forestry operations as, for example, outlined in Croke and Mockler (2001). This method uses remote imagery and surveys to assess the hydrological connectivity of the road and stream networks. Alluvium and the NSW Soil Conservation Services have been engaged to assist the Commission with this evaluation.

Project: Pre- and post-harvest burning

The program will evaluate the effectiveness of the burn plan approval conditions, such as, seasonal timing, fire return interval, control lines, burn prescriptions, in maintaining environmentally significant areas, habitat clumps and retained hollow-bearing trees so they continue to provide short-term refuge to forest-dependent fauna species.

Project: Species and habitat survey and modelling conditions and practices

The program has engaged a team lead by Dr Sarah Munks, a leading ecologist and adjunct senior researcher at the University of Tasmania and Dr Phil Bell of Biodiversity Maintenance Australia. They will evaluate the effectiveness of species and habitat survey and modelling conditions and practices used in the Coastal IFOA. Specifically, this evaluation will determine the effectiveness of practices used in the coastal native hardwood state forest in NSW to identify and protect species and habitat of importance.