Farmer fined over mass koala deaths

Some 2.2 million hectares of bush was cleared in Queensland in five years, including koala habitat.

Some 2.2 million hectares of bush was cleared in Queensland in five years, including koala habitat. Photo: TND

An 85-year-old farmer has been handed a $34,000 fine for his role in dozens of koala deaths and serious injuries in Victoria’s southwest.

James Troeth on Friday pleaded guilty in Warrnambool Magistrates Court to four animal cruelty offences over the land clearing incident in Cape Bridgewater.

He had purchased the 62-hectare blue gum plantation in early 2019 with plans to clear the land for livestock farming.

Troeth built a 1.8m-high fence around the site and between December 2019 and January 2020, his hired contractors used bulldozers to knock down the gum trees. 

It was only after repeated concerned calls to Wildlife Victoria and the RSPCA that authorities attended the property in February 2020.

They found dozens of injured and dead koalas, and so few gum trees that the remaining animals would have likely died of starvation. 

In total, eight koalas were found dead and 73 others suffered injuries, malnutrition and dehydration. 

Some 184 koalas were caught alive and able to be released into alternative locations either immediately or after treatment.

Prosecutor Susanna Locke told the court the property’s fence increased the number of fatalities as the koalas had no way of fleeing the destruction. 

Troeth accepted he played a role in the koala deaths even if he didn’t operate any of the bulldozers, his defence barrister Wayne Toohey told the court. 

The 85-year-old farmer did not realise he was endangering koalas by clearing the land and he received a “dreadful shock” when the authorities became involved,  Toohey said.

Troeth otherwise held an unblemished criminal record and had never been cruel to any animal, the lawyer said.

Toohey submitted a good behaviour bond with a donation to a charity or a fine without conviction was within range for the offending.

Locke did not argue against a fine but said a conviction was necessary to deter other land owners from undertaking such large-scale deforestation without any consideration for native wildlife.

Magistrate Gerard Lethbridge accepted Troeth had not been deliberately cruel, but he was criminally responsible for the harm caused by his contractors on his land.

Given his prior good character and advanced age, the magistrate said a $34,000 fine without conviction was an appropriate sentence. 

The companies contracted to carry out the land clearing – Bryant’s Forestry and Earthmoving and DR and KR Hutchinson Rural Contractors – were previously fined $79,000 and $20,000 respectively. 


Topics: koalas
Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.