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Gulaptis: Volunteers the answer to flying-fox problem

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis (right) spoke with Clarence Valley’s mayor, Jim Simmons, and announced that Clarence Valley Council will receive $34,000 to help manage flying-foxes in Maclean. The mayor acknowledged that it “is not a lot of money, but everything helps” and empathised with the long-suffering residents: “It’s been going on for a long, long time,” he said. Image: Geoff Helisma
  Volunteers could be used to disperse flying-foxes from the long-established colony near Maclean High School and in the gully adjacent to the intersection of Cameron and Jubilee streets, says Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis. This, he says, would reduce costs significantly, compared to previous relocation attempts. Flying-foxes established the gully colony in October 2007. Prior to that the bats were dispersed from the rainforest reserve at the school and subsequently established colonies at Yamba and Iluka, before returning to Maclean. The Maclean Flying-Fox Management Strategy 2010 states that dispersal efforts from 1999 to 2006 “cost at least $400,000, including over 640 person-hours of effort”. Mr Gulaptis met with the mayor, Jim Simmons, last Thursday, to announce that Clarence Valley Council had been granted $34,000 from the state’s $1million fund to manage flying-fox colonies. “If you empower people to do the job, and trust them to carry out the job … they could disperse them from urban areas under certain protocols … and if they moved to Iluka, the community at Iluka could rally together and disperse them; and if they went to Yamba, the community there could do the same thing,” Mr Gulaptis said. Mr Gulaptis said training volunteers to carry out dispersals would be a good use of the $1million. “You would find more than enough volunteers prepared to come down and disperse the bats under a plan,” he said. “It’s not that difficult, this is not rocket science.” However, that will not be the case at Maclean, at least not in the near future; because the management strategy concludes that dispersal and culling are “non-feasible options”. Mr Gulaptis said the grant would allow the council to create [further] buffers between the flying-fox colony and nearby residences and the school. “Trimming and clearing vegetation at the camp boundary will increase the distance between the flying fox colony and homes, reducing the impact on residents,” Mr Gulaptis said. Specifically, in the gully, more camphor laurel trees will be removed and habitat will be increased in areas away from the school and houses. On the implementation of the management strategy, CVC’s Environment, Planning & Community director, Des Schroder, said that “all of the short term actions and several of the medium term actions have been implemented quite successfully”. Alternate habitat has been partially established near the colony in the Ulmarra Street road reserve and weed controls have been implemented in the rainforest at the school, among other actions. On site at the gully, Mr Gulaptis said he would like to see removal of the flying-foxes’ “habitat and replace it with something more appropriate … a very ascetic and appealing view for anyone entering Maclean”. “It would deter the fling foxes, because it would be the type of vegetation that they wouldn’t be attracted to.” However, this is contrary to the management plan, which states that the gully area has “been positively identified as habitat critical to the survival of the Grey-headed Flying-fox”. In May of 2012, then environment minister Tony Burke invited Qld, NSW, ACT, Victoria and SA to sign conservation agreements. “On flying foxes, if a state is willing to sign … I will put my signature on the document with them that day,” he said in parliament. “I do not want to see the situation … where schools, hospitals and homes end up being infested with bats and living there just becomes a disaster.” The NSW Government did not take up the offer. Dispersal in NSW is a “Level 3 action” in the government’s Flying-fox Camp Management Policy 2015; the creation of buffers and habitat augmentation are Level 1 and 2 actions. The Office of Environment and Heritage warns: “Dispersal approaches are very costly, require ongoing commitment and maintenance; are often not successful and rarely result in desirable outcomes for all stakeholders and … often leads to flying-fox stress, injuries or fatalities, and may lead to increased human health risk, nuisance issues, or human/flying-fox conflict at other sites or in neighbouring local government areas.” The bats that inhabit the Maclean colony – grey headed, little red and black – are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 NSW, and the grey headed flying fox is listed as ‘vulnerable’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999. The management strategy was due to be reviewed in December 2015. Mr Schroder said the strategy “is working and that a “monitoring report on the plan’s outcomes is warranted”. “This will be raised at the next working group meeting,” he said.