Conservationists Doubt Government’s Claims To Double Koalas

Koalas are in danger with current logging practices according to conservationists (Jonas Bellchambers)

EVEN before the Federal Government released its State of the Environment report earlier this week, local conservationists were alarmed by recent statements about koalas by NSW National Party Members of Parliament.

“Claims by elected representatives that they are benefiting and even doubling our Koala population are blatantly untrue and green-washing, these claims being totally disproven by scientists appointed by their own government,” said Kath Kelly, the Kalang River Forest Alliance.

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She said the Chief Scientist appointed by the Coalition Government found, in her 2016 review into the decline of the koala, that there had been a “26-per-cent decline . . . over 15-21 years”.

Ms Kelly said that since then, the Black Spring/Summer fires of 2019/2020 have caused detrimental and irreversible loss of koalas and critical koala habitat on the North Coast.

She said the NSW Scientific Committee (also appointed by the Liberal-National Party Government) listed the koalas as endangered less than two months ago, after finding that koalas had totally disappeared from areas affected by canopy fires on the North Coast.

As well, since earlier this year, koalas are now listed as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The State of the Environment report found that loss of habitat, including through logging, is a major factor in Australia having one of the highest rates of species loss of any continent.

Ms Kelly said, “It is clear from all the scientific evidence that our koalas are in dire trouble.”

She said: “Industrial logging harms koalas and drives them closer to extinction.”

The forests surrounding Coffs Harbour (all part of the proposed Great Koala National Park) support one fifth of remaining koalas in NSW.

Ms Kelly said the Alliance was alarmed that the NSW Government was consigning this population to extinction by escalating logging activities of the Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) in known koala ‘hotspots’ (ARKS – Areas of Regional Koala Significance) mapped by the state conservation agency.

She said, “In the Kalang Headwaters, citizen scientists have identified significant healthy breeding koala populations across all areas of native forest currently targeted for industrial-scale logging by Forestry Corporation.

“Despite this, the Forestry Corporation ecologists only identified a single koala feed tree in their ecology surveys, published on Plan Portal,” said Ms Kelly.

“It is time to turn this around and for the government to support the gazettal of the Headwaters Nature Reserve,” Ms Kelly said.

“Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, is promulgating disinformation developed by paid industry shills that koalas actually benefit from industrial logging stating ‘It is factually incorrect that the koala habitat is under threat by the one-hundred-year old timber industry’.”

She went on to say that, in Coffs Harbour, MP Gurmesh Singh said that communities need not worry that harm would be done to koalas and rainforest by FCNSW.

This is despite fines of $285,000 and a current prosecution of FCNSW by the EPA for felling giant 300-500 year-old habitat trees in the same State Forest with maximum penalties approaching $20 million.

Dalian Pugh, from the North East Forest Alliance, said, “It is a tragedy that this was allowed to occur within an area identified as some of the most important koala habitat in Australia, because the NSW and Commonwealth “Governments changed the logging rules in 2018 to remove the need for pre-logging koala surveys and allow koala high-use areas to be logged,” Mr Pugh said.

In a recent taxpayer-funded advertisement, the Member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, said the Government’s goal was to double the number of koalas in New South Wales by 2050.

Ms Kelly said, “This is not realistic or achievable under the current regime of FCNSW harvesting strategies.”

The government has said it has set aside $50.3m to add up to 15,000 hectares of koala habitat to the national park estate and $20.3m to permanently protect 7000 hectares of koala habitat on private land.

Ms Kelly said, “There needs to be enough core habitat set aside to support genetic variability for a species to survive.”

She said there does not appear to be any information about the aspects of forest areas to be set aside such as size, feed trees and availability of water.

“Where is the detail and where is the science to say that this will work?”

By Andrew VIVIAN

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