Save Victoria’s threatened owls

The Sooty owl is in danger from habitat loss in Victoria.

Three species of owls are in danger of becoming extinct in Victoria, because the Victorian government has failed to protect the forest habitat where the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls live.

The Powerful and Sooty owls are listed as vulnerable and the Masked owl is endangered, according to Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. Management plans for the owls state that the Powerful and Masked owls require at least 100 areas of 500 hectares each, while the Sooty owl needs 131 areas of at least 500 hectares.

The forests of the Gippsland region are the last stronghold for the owls. The age of the trees in the forest makes it an ideal habitat for birds of prey.

Bushfires earlier this year burnt 170,000 hectares of the owls' forest habitat. Legally, the government is required to make sure these owls have enough suitable habitats preserved for them. Yet after the massive destruction of the fires, the government has failed to set aside any more protected forests for the three owl species.

Since European settlement, more than 65% of Victoria's forest has been cleared and only about 5% of freehold land remains forested. This loss of habitat has led to an overall decline in owl numbers and fragmentation of the original continuous population into a series of small residual populations, each of which is in danger of becoming locally extinct. It is estimated that hollows suitable for owls do not form, even in the fastest-growing eucalypts, until they are at least 150-200 years of age.

The Powerful owl is found throughout much of the state, except in the wetter mountain forests, wherever there is suitable habitat of large trees and sufficient prey.

It was listed as a threatened species because its estimated population was less than 500 pairs, and it had no specific habitat protection outside of conservation reserves. With land clearing continuing across most of their range, the species was at risk of extinction.

The Sooty owl is distributed around the Melbourne region, eastern and north-east Victoria and south Gippsland, in rainforests, tall forests and open forests. Their survival is also threatened by logging and clearing of their habitat.

To maintain the species in the wild it is considered that Sooty owls need good habitat for at least 500 breeding pairs. It is estimated that there are about 400 breeding pairs left in Victoria.

The Masked owl is mostly found in the lowland forests and woodlands of East Gippsland and the Otway Ranges. The species has been adversely affected by forest clearing and habitat fragmentation, resulting in the loss of trees with large hollows and the reduction in prey species.

There is no reliable estimate of the number of Masked owls in Victoria.

The government must take immediate action to preserve the remaining forests of the Gippsland region, in order to protect these at risk owls before it is too late. The government must conserve this unique habitat for these endangered owls and other threatened wildlife.

To assist the campaign please sign and share the petition to save the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls.

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.