The Human Impact on Our Native Fauna

Land clearing and tree removal within Australia for agricultural and urban developments are currently at all-time highs. Queensland, in particular, is known to have hit 10 year record land clearing levels within the past year (2018) based on recent studies. While land clearing and tree removal are necessary activities for continued economic growth, Australia’s unique and diverse wildlife species are negatively affected by land clearing’s destruction of native habitat.

In fact, land clearing activities have been determined to be the number one threat to Australia’s biodiversity and native wildlife through habitat destruction. The delicately balanced ecological communities that support Australia’s unmatched biodiversity are quickly threatened with the removal of trees and clearing of land.

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As communities and the public come together to further understand the needs of the various wildlife within these ecological communities, conservationism and preservation are becoming more common topics of discussion. Many of those focused on conservation and preservation wish to work with the development planning systems to assist in saving wildlife that would ultimately be displaced due to land clearing activities.

In situations where land clearing and tree lopping are unavoidable, animal rescue and relocation has become an important part of the development planning and conservation processes.

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Animal rescue and relocation is not the most desirable option when dealing with these diverse and delicate ecosystems; however, little is currently required by law when performing large-scale clearing, so every attempt to save species affected by land clearing and tree removal is of some benefit. Land clearing affects an innumerable amount of species, and therefore not every native plant, animal, insect, etc. can be rescued and relocated, as the scale is too great.

Additionally, as previously mentioned there are limited laws or industry guidelines in place which formalize the required and necessary practices for animal rescue and relocation when large-scale tree removal and land clearing is to occur.

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Within more urban landscapes, where smaller scale tree maintenance and pruning are to occur, animal rescue and relocation is a much more manageable option. In either a large or small scale situation, however, the responsibility for animal rescue and relocation typically falls on the land owner’s goodwill and desire to protect animals encountered during tree removal and tree lopping activities.

Though few laws are in place to protect native habitats themselves from land clearing operations, South Australia’s Animal Welfare Act of 1985 does require the humane treatment of all animals encountered within the state, including native wildlife. Therefore, killing or causing suffering to known wildlife during tree removal and tree lopping operations is a punishable offense. While this does little to minimize habitat destruction, the law does put some burden of responsibility on those who are land clearing to make an effort to rescue and relocate encountered wildlife.

When discussing animal rescue and relocation, one’s mind naturally gravitates toward the rescue of tree inhabiting mammals, reptiles, birds, etc., but land clearing and deforestation have a resounding effect on insect populations, and of particular importance, native bee populations.

Australia is home to over 1,600 species of native bee as well as feral European introduced honey bee populations. As with most other species within Australia, the number one threat to native and honeybee populations is habitat destruction through means of deforestation, land clearing, and site development for agricultural and urban development.

Though it may not be readily apparent, these native and honeybee populations are a crucial aspect of Australia’s biodiversity and ecology. Without these bee populations, especially honey bees, cross-pollination of both native plants and agricultural crops is limited and devastating effects on produce production and native flora growth can occur. 

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Destruction of native bee habits, therefore, creates a vicious cycle of further destruction of native flora habitats due to the decreased cross-pollination and plant growth means. Preservation of native and honey bee species is vital to the upholding their critical role in the ecological cycle.

Native bees and the importantly introduced European honey bees have very different nesting preferences, but both have in common the need for a safe habitat free from pesticides and near an abundant food source.

Many bees that are native to Australia are solitary and prefer nests in standing dead trees and undisturbed soil banks, while others, still, prefer nesting in colonies. This is quite different from European honey bees in that these insects live in large colonies and create honeycomb nests.

These honeycomb nests are often tucked away in an unexposed location such as within hollow tree trunks.

Honeybees rarely nest in the open and never in the ground. In either case, both native and honeybee populations nest in wooded areas that are often the scene of logging and land clearing.

Typically when bees are encountered during these operations, little is done to remove them safely and re-introduce them into a new location. However, a revived sense of public interest and effort to preserve these insects has emerged, as education regarding these insects’ importance to their surrounding ecology has encouraged multitudes to seek to ensure native and honey bee safety.

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Keith Naylor - Native Bee Rescue

Is Our Dedicated Bee Rescue Partner

Since there are over 1600 species of native bee within Australia, much is still to be learned and discovered regarding each species including how they interact and serve their surrounding ecological communities.

Many individual beekeepers and ecological research groups within Australia seek to voluntarily remove and relocate encountered native bee hives and colonies when areas are planned to be cleared. Many times, these colonies are not found until clearing begins, as the vibrations of equipment and chainsaws cause them to swarm and attack. In these cases, a cooperating tree lopping or land clearing firm should cease their operations and contact those individuals who wish to voluntarily remove the colony from its imminent destruction.

Once rescued, the native bees can be boxed for study or re-introduced into a nearby habitat to continue contributing to the surrounding ecology.

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How does one rescue and relocate native and European honey bees when encountered? Native bees vary greatly in their nesting habits and colony sizes; however, in general, the removal process for any native bee is very similar, especially if found nesting within a standing tree that is to be removed.

Within Queensland, in particular, the often encountered species are the Trigona carbonaria, Austroplebia australis, and Trigona hockingsi. These three predominately found species are black in color and typically nest within hollow standing trees.

They do not sting but do bite when they sense their colony is in danger and will quickly swarm a would-be tree lopper with a chainsaw. If encountered and one wishes to save them without the assistance from professional beekeeper or researchers, the process is quite simple of containing them and relocating them.

First, one must locate the entrance to the colony. This can be quickly identified by the surrounding honey and tunnel cavity created by the colony. It also goes without saying bees will likely be seen entering and exiting this area. Once located, carefully cut above and below the entrance, approximately 60 to 75 cm to either side.

Once the log is cut, be sure to handle the colony and log very gently and allow some time for any agitated bees that may have left the colony to return home before removing it from its original location. Seal both exposed ends of the log with a plywood “cap” to keep ants and other insects from infiltrating the log and be sure to store the log in the original orientation in which the colony was found in the wild.

Store the log with colony inside in a safe location with preferable morning sun and afternoon shade. When transporting the log, be sure to cover the entrance with mesh tape or cloth and once a new home is determined, uncover the entrance to allow the bees to begin adjusting to the new location.

Many times, if native bees are encountered, a call to the Australian Native Bee Research Centre can be a helpful resource to assist in the proper relocation practices for any particular native bee encountered.

Feral European honey bees require slightly different approach when looking to remove and relocate colonies found during tree removal operations. It is important to note that when encountering honey bees in the wild, they may be found in a swarm or hanging in a cluster, which means that they are currently in the process of relocating to a new home.

If this is the case, the honey bees will likely not be remaining in the location in which you found them. They may relocate in as little as 15 minutes or a day or two. Swarms of honey bees are also not aggressive, as they have no home to defend against. If a colony is found within an established home, or comb, inside a tree that is to be removed, the bees can be removed via trapping and cut-out removal.

Honey bees are stinging bees, and therefore, any removal requires proper protective clothing. Additionally, introducing smoke to the hive can help calm the bees and make them less likely to sting. Once the hive is located, it can be removed in a large log section and capped similar to the process noted for native bees.

Once removed, the hive and bees can be relocated to a new home or domesticated to produce your own honey! There is a significant amount of literature available on the domestication of honey bees and the harvest of their honey for your own use. Feral European honey bees, though not native to Australia, have become highly important pollinators.

They travel longer distances than Australian native bees and, therefore, have more pollination capability across larger areas. They are, however, susceptible to the Varroa mite, which kills honey bees and destroys their hive populations.

Since honey bees are under attack from the Varroa mite and habitat destruction, their pollination duties must be picked up by native Australian bees.

This is all the more reason to ensure proper rescue and relocation of both native and feral bees when encountered in the wild during tree lopping, tree removal, and land clearing operations.

Keith Naylor - Native Bee Rescue

Is Our Dedicated Bee Rescue Partner

Native bees and feral honeybees make up only a very small fraction of the biologically diverse Australian wildlife that is affected by tree removal operations.

In Australia as a whole, forest cover has been reduced by half due to the excessive land clearing. In particular, eucalyptus forests have been reduced to covering less than 10 percent of Australia’s land area, but they have been known to provide habitat for nearly 50 percent of Australia’s wildlife.

Hollowed trees are a favorite home to species such as the yellow-bellied glider, the greater glider, the brush-tailed phascogale, and the lead beater’s possum.

These species along with countless other mammal species depend upon these forests as a safe haven. Even one of Australia’s most well-known and world-renowned species, the koala bear, is endangered due to the uninhibited tree felling of Australian blue gums (eucalyptus).

 

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Astonishingly, tree removal can also lead to compounding sequences of events which allow unwelcomed predators into the realm of a once healthy ecological habitat.

For example, it has been found that increased light penetration through logged forests has allowed growth of toxic plants preferred by the predator bird called a bell miner, which feeds on the insects found within these toxic plants.

Aggressive bell miners have driven out other species of birds, thereby increasing the number of insects which feed on the eucalyptus leaves, which thereby affects the food source of koala’s and other animals which rely on eucalyptus to survive.

This dizzying cycle is an example of the delicate, yet intricate nature of a balanced habitat that is thrown into chaos due to excessive tree removal.

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While animal rescue and relocation is an important part of the tree removal and tree lopping process, no amount of removal and rescue can fully make up for the effects large-scale clearing can have on the surrounding ecology. The details and impact of the trickle-down effect created on any one species, even humans, is difficult to ascertain immediately after such habitats are destroyed and the symbiosis and thrown into chaos.

As with the Australian native and honey bees, for example, it would take some time before one might notice or even determine the effect their reduced cross-pollination activity may have on native flora growth and agricultural yields.

The effects are not limited to ecological, either. In the same example, reduced agricultural yields can and will have a profound subsequent effect on the Australian economy, Australian’s nourishment, and health, etc. The list could go on and on with anyone scenario of which there is a countless number.

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Regulatory requirements for land clearing and tree removal are few. Those regulations that do exist vary across the Australian states and territories and further, they do not directly address how to handle encountered wildlife. Most regulations do note the damaging effects large land clearing operations have on these animals but fail to properly address the intricacies of limiting harm to these species whether that be from further ecological study or removal and relocation programs.

As previously stated, the scale of land clearing, in Queensland alone, lends itself to question the viability of animal rescue and relocation operations. An estimated 296,000 hectares of wooded forest area has been estimated to have been cleared and turned into pasture within a single year’s time in Queensland.

This has been estimated to equate to the killing of nearly 50 million species in a single year of birds, mammals, and reptiles. This scale is too great to manage effectively and a multi-pronged approach much be implemented in order to achieve a successful outcome. Combined efforts of animal rescue and relocation, regulatory action, and public education are necessary to combat the problem.

Animal rescue and relocation will aide in serving near extinct species from reaching full extinction and bolster thinning populations of critical species while regulatory change will assist in limiting unwarranted large-scale land clearing and tree removal operations in highly diverse and necessary ecological areas. Regulation can also work to define the proper initial studies and surveys necessary to better understand how the proposed land clearing may impact a particular area’s environmental and ecology.

Furthered public education should assist in resetting the public’s views on the usefulness and benefits of land clearing weighed with the negative effects such actions can have on the environment. Many of these approaches to combat the known problems associated large-scale tree removal have already been put into motion, but further teamwork from all sides is necessary to mitigate the issues and even to begin reversing some of the already seen negative effects.

In short, animals will always be encountered when tree lopping and removing trees.

Some may be seen, some may not be seen.

It is the scale of these operations that dictates whether animal removal and rescue is a viable and preferred approach.

If performed on a small scale, animal rescue and relocation is highly viable and important to do to play a small part in the preservation of Australia’s wildlife.

The removal and relocation are especially impactful when encountering native bees and honey bees, as they have a direct ecological effect on the lives of countless Australians and Australian wildlife.

 

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