The proposed destruction of takayna rainforests and Masked Owl breeding territory public comment ends today and the clock starts ticking for Federal Environment Minister Plibersek’s decision to protect the contentious forests. Bob Brown Foundation has gathered thousands of supporters’ submissions in opposition to the proposed destruction and will now turn to preparing to occupy the forests if MMG is allowed to proceed.
Meanwhile, Bob Brown Foundation’s science team along with two recognised Tas wildlife ecologists has had a scientific article published in a peer-reviewed journal specialised in Australian Ornithology, Corella.
“This published science is an alarm bell to Minister Plibersek, your no new extinctions commitment must mean no destruction of habitat for rare and threatened species. This study of Tasmanian Masked Owls is unprecedented and has proven for the first time that Masked Owls do breed in rainforests. It is proven that the forests threatened by MMG in takayna / Tarkine’s McKimmie Creek are critical territory for the vulnerable to extinction Tasmanian masked owl. The Foundation’s science team are now expanding the study to monitor the impact of native forest logging on this species,” Jenny Weber, Bob Brown Foundation’s Campaigns Manager said.
Taking place at the location where mining company MMG intends to build a tailings dam, in takayna / Tarkine, the study was carried out during winter and spring. Snow fell in the rainforests while the scientists were in the field. The initial and grossly inefficient impact assessment by MMG’s consultants, North Barker Ecosystem Services, recorded the species on only 2 instances and concluded that the proposed tailings dam won’t impact the species. Bob Brown Foundation scientists used a novel technique to survey masked owls, using a set of acoustic recorders, collecting data across the McKimmie forest every night for five months. After analysing the data, they found the owl calling in 472 instances, which constitutes the largest dataset ever collected for this species in a single location.
In their recently published article, the scientists analysed the calling behaviour of the owls, looking at the timing and frequency of their unelicited vocalisation. They concluded that the breeding territory of the resident pair overlaps with the footprint of the proposed tailings dam and that a roost or a nest is very likely located in this forest.
“Masked owls have been overlooked by previous impact assessments all around Tasmania. Highly cryptic and known to be one of the most difficult of the large forest owls to detect, they were simply assumed to be absent by the company’s consultants. As a result, their breeding habitat was being removed unnoticed, which made them vulnerable to extinction. In this study, we present a simple method that proved to detect owls in places where we previously thought they were not. We hope that consultants will stop acting blindly when it comes to masked owls,” Charley Gros, Bob Brown Foundation’s Campaign Scientist said.
“North Barker failed to properly assess the presence of masked owls at McKimmie Creek. With only 2 detections compared to the 472 we found, it is concerning for our threatened species that this consulting company is mandated to assess the impacts of so many projects across the state,” Charley Gros said.
“Since this initial study in takayna, we have replicated our method in more than 50 locations across Tasmania, all threatened by logging. We are finding owls in locations where they were not suspected. This year, we initiated a long-term monitoring program for masked owls, and we will be looking at the impact of native forest logging on this species. We will keep sharing our results with the rest of the scientific community in order to improve the protection of this species and its habitat,” Jenny Weber said.