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NSW government's $10m koala plan a recipe for extinction

By Sue Arnold - posted Friday, 6 January 2017


In December, 2016, the NSW Chief Scientist, Mary O'Kane, proudly announced the NSW government's $10m bid to save koalas with the publication of an "independent review of the decline of Koala populations in key areas of NSW ".

In fact, the so-called "independent review committee" is dominated by NSW bureaucrats ( including the leading destroyers of koala habitat, the Forestry Corporation and Roads and Maritime Services) together with the Australian Museum, a Queensland scientist who is a consultant to Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) , and Profesor Kathy Belov of Sydney University.

There are no koala community or NGO organisations represented. Qualified Koala experts with relevant field experience have been completely excluded.

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The review completely fails to address the primary cause of catastrophic Koala decline in the state: government mismanagement and a failure of legislation and enforcement to properly protect a state and federally listed vulnerable species.

Apart from the Pilliga Koalas, which appear to be headed for early extinction, the review fails to examine key populations in northern NSW that are in substantial decline and provide case studies of Government mismanagement. These are some of the highest carrying capacity areas in the State and critical to overall Koala survival. For example, the NSW Scientific Committee Report, published in May this year, which declared Koalas from Tweed Heads to Brunswick River to be endangered, has been dismissed by Government and ignored by the "independent review."

The NSW Scientific Committee Report is an important document. The findings of this Committee, which unfortunately provide no legal injunction for mandatory changes in policy, provide an example of the perfect storm which Koalas are enduring throughout the state.

The estimated number of Koalas remaining in the area is approximately 144 individuals. The report details a smorgasbord of threats with the most significant being habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban development. In 2006, Tweed local government area contained around 83,000 residents. In 2025, the estimated population will exceed 120,000. The report concludes that TheTweed/Brunswick population is facing a very high risk of extinction in New South Wales in the near future joining other populations which are now considered extinct as a result of habitat loss.

The NSW independent review population estimate of koala populations can only be described as dodgy. Unless koalas are breeding like rabbits, the estimates are contradicted by the Federal government's data.

According to the review:-

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Current estimates suggest there are now approximately 36,000 koalas in NSW, representing a 26% decline over the past three koala generations (15-21 years).

However, the Federal Department of the Environment in their Species Profile and Threats Database (SPRAT), the most current information available on EPBC listed species, states that the decline in NSW is 33 per cent with an estimated population of 21,000 as at 2010.

It would be biologically impossible for the one and only identified increasing population in the review to have enlarged the state population by l5,000 animals. In the years since 2010, habitat destruction, logging, road kills and disease have escalated not declined.

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About the Author

Sue Arnold is the co-ordinator for Australians for Animals International, an International Whaling Commission NGO, working internationally on marine issues, particularly whales and dolphins. She is a former Fairfax investigative journalist who regularly lobbies the US government in Washington DC, as well as the European Parliament and Commission on whale issues. She can be contacted at suearnold25@icloud.com.

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