A new koala state planning policy has been criticised.
A new koala state planning policy has been criticised.

Koala habitat protection changes slammed

NEW laws to protect koala habitat have been slammed by sections of the timber industry, who warn they will cripple agriculture and private forestry in NSW.

The State Government’s new Koala State Environmental Planning Policy, which came into effect last week is designed to aid in the lodgement of development applications and the creation of koala plans of management by making the process of identifying core koala habitat easier.

The new SEPP also updates the definition of ‘core koala habitat’ and increases the number of koala feed tree species from 10 to 123, a change criticised by Timber NSW director Steve Dobbyns, who said measures go too far.

He said the draft Koala Habitat Protection Guideline – released just a day before the laws came into effect – was worse than they had anticipated.

Irrespective of whether local councils already had a koala plan of management in place, Mr Dobbyns said the impact of the SEPP and draft guideline were “clear and immediate”.

“This is a game-changer and has been introduced by this government under the guise of saving and protecting koalas,” he said.

Mr Dobbyns said environmental concerns that the previous SEPP 44 made it too difficult to declare areas ‘core koala habitat’ had been “flipped”, creating a situation where it would become too difficult and costly to prove an area wasn’t core koala habitat.

A key concern was the use of the online mapping system which covered vast amounts of land across the region.

“Councils are encouraged to use the maps to create KPoMs rather than undertake expensive surveys, as mapping core koala habitat can be a desktop job,” he said.

“The onus is no longer about proving an area is core koala habitat, it’s about proving it’s not and incurring huge costs to do so.”

A spokesman for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the maps were underpinned by the latest statewide scientific study of koala habitat undertaken by the environment, energy and science division.

“As such, the maps will greatly reduce the policy’s reliance on individual interpretation and actions,” the spokesperson said.

“Landholders are able to engage a suitably qualified and experienced person to conduct a survey for core koala habitat in accordance with the guideline or allow council to attend the site if they wish to dispute council’s proposed mapping.”

The DPIE spokesperson said the new SEPP also introduced consultation requirements for councils preparing KPoMs to ensure landholders could have input into their creation.

“Consultation requirements include a minimum 28 day public exhibition of the draft KPoM during which time submissions can be made. Councils will be required to write to or email all landholders in areas of proposed core koala habitat.

“All submissions from landholders, including objections, must be detailed in a submissions report by the council. This report, along with the KPoM, must be submitted to the Department during the KPoM approval process.”

The draft Koala Habitat Protection Guideline is on exhibition until March 30 and DPIE wants feedback from stakeholders. Access it through www.planning.nsw.gov.au – search for Koala Habitat Protection SEPP

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