FIRE REFUGEE: A masked owl found emaciated and lifeless near a water trough in the Darkwood area west of Bellingen. They're not normally found in that region.
FIRE REFUGEE: A masked owl found emaciated and lifeless near a water trough in the Darkwood area west of Bellingen. They're not normally found in that region.

Species under threat as fires bear down on pristine valleys

Distressing images of animals impacted by bushfires are becoming all too common.

As fires merge and threaten to destroy vast tracts of previously unburnt country west of Bellingen, there are fears entire species could be lost forever.

Mark Graham, who owns conservation blocks in the Darkwood region, has spent decades working as an ecologist within government, industry and non-government sectors.

While some welcome rain, combined with the mammoth efforts of firefighters, is providing some reprieve, there are grave concerns the massive fire cluster in the region could spread into areas Mr Graham describes as a "mountain top island of permanent moisture".

"These areas have been permanently moist back to the time when Australia was still connected to South America and Antarctica."

He says these forests are home to massive 'cleanskin' trees like the 80m tall Tallowood pictured below. It is estimated to be 370 to 400-years-old, which have never experienced large bushfires.

 

This 80m tall Tallowwood is estimated to be 370 to 400-years-old and is a 'cleanskin' meaning it has never experienced fire.
This 80m tall Tallowwood is estimated to be 370 to 400-years-old and is a 'cleanskin' meaning it has never experienced fire.

With massive blazes also burning in the Grafton region and further south around Kempsey these remaining forests are proving to be a refuge for species not normally seen there.

Over the weekend he found an emaciated masked owl, dead near a water trough on a nearby farm. It is listed by the NSW Government as a vulnerable species.

"It generally occupies much more open and drier country than the rainforest country where we are," Mr Graham said.

"I fear for the future of all owls because of the loss of millions of hollow-bearing trees."

With the Guyra Road fire at Ebor joining with Carrai East and Kian Road, firefighters are keeping a close eye on a number of 'pinchpoints' where the fire could breach and potentially sweep into the Kalang and Thora valleys putting those townships at risk.

RFS Mid North Coast - Community liaison officer John Allen addressed a community meeting at the Kalang Hall last week and outlined the situation.

"What we need to alleviate this situation is 160-200mm of rainfall. And that's not predicted for the next few months," he told the gathering.

The RFS Mid North Coast team has prepared customised emergency warnings to be used if the fire reaches certain trigger points in that region.

The first trigger point is on the Horseshoe Rd, which will prompt a 'leave now' message.

The second trigger points, located about halfway between the Horseshoe and Kalang/Darkwood, will prompt the 'too late to leave' message.


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