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

By Sue Arnold - posted Friday, 6 January 2017


Only four case studies have been selected by the NSW review panel and the colonies with the highest densities on the North coast have been ignored.

According to the SPRAT data, koala populations in the North East are down to 7,500 with higher densities in forests available for logging by the Forestry Corporation.

The nine populations estimated to be in decline are not listed in the NSW Review. Of particular concern is the plight of the Ballina Koala colony which is recognized as a nationally significant population. It is unacceptable for the RMS to be included in the review panel given the looming extinction of the Ballina sub-population as a result of the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade.

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In the Koala Plan for the Ballina section of the Upgrade, protection strategies for koalas, are presented by the RMS as "…a comprehensive approach to protecting, mitigating and rehabilitating" koala habitat.

But in direct contradiction of these protection strategies, the review states :

...a population viability analysis for Ballina koalas indicates that irrespective of the upgrade to the Pacific Highway, the Ballina koala population will decline over the next 50 years due to a high mortality rate and low fecundity.

Yet one of the experts cited in the review, Professor Clive McAlpine, writes in a published research paper that:

The implementation of policy to conserve remaining koala habitat and restore degraded habitat is critical to the success of koala conservation strategies." Apparently, the RMS believes that a highway construction through the middle of important koala habitat is the solution for a successful koala conservation strategy.

As the upgrade is designated as a State Significant Infrastructure any legal challenges are disallowed under state and federal legislation.

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David Milledge, an experienced local ecologist, has authored a review of the RMS's koala plans for the Ballina upgrade. He says:

This section of the Upgrade will destroy Koala habitat, bisect the population and cause its early demise. So called mitigation measures are untested and likely to accelerate the destruction. With curious logic, the construction is heralded by the RMS as beneficial to Koalas, claiming the road- works "will slow the rate of eventual extinction."

David Milledge's review concludes that Ballina's koala eastern sub-population will suffer a combination of impacts caused by the construction. This sub-population will be isolated by the upgrade, placing the animals on an extinction trajectory from which the population is unlikely to recover.

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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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