The 2019/20 bushfires, and a damning report from the 2019 Legislative Council Inquiry into NSW Koala Populations sent the NSW government hurrying to produce a report claiming successes with their earlier Strategy, and deciding on further tactics to prevent Australia from losing a globally renowned species on their watch.
Will this updated Strategy be any better? It comes with funding of $193.3 million, along with 30 actions aimed at doubling NSW koala numbers by 2050. This in itself could be questionable when eventual outcomes are released since koala numbers today are not known, with an estimate of 15,000 to 30,000, giving a ballpark figure of 20,000.
There is also concern that this commitment will not see any marked changes, for a number of reasons. The main one is that although over 280,000 ha of premium and secondary koala habitat is officially identified in north-east NSW State forests alone, with some supporting important koala hubs, there are still no plans to permanently protect these vital habitats from logging.
Another is that instead of basing conservation outcomes on legislative changes and government responsibilities, they once again are to rest on private landowner decisions - to either sell their homes to the government, or take up binding conservation agreements (CAs) attached to their properties' titles. For the first option the government wants 15,000 ha, with some already selected from the Northern Rivers. For the CAs, they plan for just 7,000 ha from across the whole of NSW. This does not generate confidence that many necessary koala corridors will be safely protected.
Also the actual protection value of a CA can often depend on adjoining neighbours, who can legally log their properties, and gradually clear for a number of legitimate reasons, even through koala habitat.
On a more positive note, if this funding can support a dedicated effort to bring our koalas back from the brink, then we might hope to see some level of success, perhaps to a point where a passing tourist in known koala habitat might even be able to see a koala.
- Patricia Edwards
Published in the "Voices for the Earth" column in The Clarence Valley Independent , May 18, 2022.