“Given the devasting impact of the recent fires and the likelihood of more threats emerging
during the summer, it is critical that we act now.”
‘The wildlife rescue volunteers need to be in there much, much sooner – that has not happened.’
Lisa Palma, wildlife carer
The plan has recommended that the state government sets up a wildlife advisory group to detail how the “fragmented” volunteer network could be better harnessed and effectively utilised during environmental disasters.
Although the environment department dispatches wildlife officers to fire zones, Mr Meddick has argued the experience of highly trained volunteers was being overlooked, citing examples of professional darters able to sedate injured wildlife that could be saved instead of being euthanised.
“In a fire zone, for instance, you might have a koala up a tree but it’s unsafe to get up there,” he said.
“You don’t know if the tree is safe to climb up there but the animal may need assistance to get them down – in that instance, you might dart them and sedate them, instead of resorting to euthanising them.”
Mr Meddick has been working on the proposal with a number of volunteers, including Lisa Palma, who operates a licensed wildlife shelter in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
Ms Palma also has extensive history working for major banks where she led major incident management teams.
“The wildlife rescue volunteers need to be in there much, much sooner – that has not happened,” Ms Palma said.
“There are fewer people on the ground with the right skills to be able to identify and save animals that need help.
Thousands of volunteers could actually be in there in a collaborative fashion working right next to DELWP officers to prevent animals from dying.”
Wildlife officers who enter fire zones are required to have training, accreditation, registration, and must follow communication and reporting procedures.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government was always “open to refining the approach as needed”.
“Volunteers deployed to wildlife emergencies must be accredited and are required to work within established emergency management structures,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“Assessment teams can only enter fire grounds when it’s safe to do so.”
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.