Time to act on saving our vulnerable koala habitat

NSW koalas have been listed as vulnerable to extinction under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act and the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. In NSW koala habitat in areas other than State Forests and National Parks is protected through SEPP 44 - State Environmental Policy 44 Koala Habitat Protection.

The decline in koala numbers throughout NSW clearly shows that these current protection mechanisms are not working.

A major reason for declining numbers is habitat loss. The 2008 Recovery Plan for Koalas states, "Many of the areas in which koalas are most abundant are subject to intense and ongoing pressures, in particular clearing for agriculture and urban expansion.”

The NSW Government is currently seeking means of improving koala protection.

This is at odds with its weakening of the native vegetation legislation which, despite the Government's denials, will lead to much more extensive rural native vegetation clearing further endangering koalas and other vulnerable biodiversity.

The first of the Government's positive koala measures has been a review SEPP 44 leading to proposed amendments which it claims will improve protection as well as reducing complexity for developers. Whether these two aims are compatible is certainly open to debate. Over its 21 year history SEPP 44 has failed abysmally in halting the koala's slide towards extinction. What is obviously needed is much stronger regulation which is monitored and enforced by both the State Government and the local councils who have the responsibility for approving developments.

Clarence Valley Council has a poor record in protecting koalas. For a start its Koala Plan of Management (KPOM) covers only Ashby, Woombah and Iluka despite the existence of significant koala populations elsewhere. And the KOPM has failed to stop destruction of core koala habitat for residential development in Ashby. Nor, presumably will it stop clearing of koala habitat in Iluka adjacent to the World Heritage area where there is a proposal for a 159 lot residential development before council. These are just two examples.

Koala survival will only be achieved if there is a genuine and effective combined effort by all levels of government.

- Leonie Blain, Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition

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