Human Interest

Reforesting with drones, an alternative to save koalas in Australia

Sydney, Australia, Mar 11 (efe-epa).- Planting tree seeds with drones in Australia, where forests were razed by the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, is part of a pilot plan about to begin to restore koala habitats and save the marsupials from extinction.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Australia) project, which aims to plant 100,000 trees in three years, will begin with the launch of a drone in April or May, when the summer rains caused by La Niña end, restoration manager Stuart Blanch told Efe.

Drones can drop up to 40,000 seeds per day, so if successful, it could open the door to accelerate the fulfillment of a more ambitious WWF Australia project: plant and conserve 2 billion trees by 2030.

WWF is still studying whether reforestation should be done by means of capsules containing several seeds mixed with artificial soil and compost, or by scattering them in bulk, weighing both the cost and the chances of germination.

If the drones “work well, it could be possible to spread millions of seeds every year across eastern Australia to help recover from the bushfires and the drought. But we have to demonstrate with the drone seeding company that it works in a trial the first,” Blanch said.

Australia’s reforestation dream was severely affected by the so-called “Black Summer” fires of 2019-20, which killed 34 people, and razed more than 5,000 buildings and 186,000 square kilometers of land, an area similar to Syria and of which 70 percent was forests.

The fires, considered among the longest and most damaging in Australia, also burned or damaged some 7 billion trees and caused injuries, deaths and displacement of 3 billion animals, including 60,000 koalas.

More than a year before the catastrophe, WWF had warned that koalas could disappear before 2050 in the state of New South Wales due to the felling of forests, an activity that is also heavy in the neighboring state of Queensland, where it is considered vulnerable.

To save them, WWF is fighting against time to create safe corridors in the habitats of these marsupials, keeping in mind that it is not enough to plant trees, but that they grow big enough.

For a eucalyptus to become “the best habitat for a koala, it normally has to be 37 centimeters in diameter. That is a big tree, probably 20 or 30 years old,” Blanch said.

But, he has seen “koalas in trees five meters high and only three years old,” although he admitted that “it is not the best habitat because it is not very high and koalas cannot escape from, for example, dogs, and do not have a lot of fresh young leaves.”

The ideal situation would be that forests are allowed to regenerate naturally, the destruction of koala habitats are stopped by law and by putting an end to the felling of trees, as well as incentives for farmers to designate conservation areas.

Blanch also advocated for the promotion of traditional Aboriginal practices such as setting controlled and low intensity fires in forests that have not been affected by the flames as “eucalyptus seeds often germinate after a fire.” EFE-EPA


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