Request to The Hon Bob Debus MP (DEC), to expedite approval for the NSW Draft Recovery Plan

By Patricia Edwards (CEC)

28th August 2005


Minister for the Environment

Level 36

Governor Macquarie Tower

1 Farrer Place


Dear Mr Debus,

NSW Draft Koala Recovery Plan.

A comprehensive community-based survey was recently undertaken for koala across 9,000ha of rural north-east NSW, Lismore Local Government Area (LGA), instigated by the Southern Cross University (2004). This study has resulted in encouraging data to suggest that the koala population just may be stabilising and in a relative good state of health within this still richly forested and biodiverse NE hinterland.

An earlier study by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (1986-87) found that koala has disappeared from up to 75% of its natural range, while further studies carried out within the Lismore Local Government Area in 1999 supported the perception that koala numbers were on the decline. These latest findings, therefore, could well be significant. Although conducted by a 3rd year student, the survey supports a growing perception that people are now far more aware of koalas in their area than in previous times, and by the survey response there would appear to be overwhelming community support for the animals' continued presence in their shire.

However in the south-east LGA, which includes urban Lismore, the koalas are not in such a good state of health, with chlamydia and associated stress-related illnesses such as leukemia and retrovirus being rife, proving yet again that disturbance and human incursion into koala habitat is detrimental to the ongoing health of a koala population.

The proposed Pacific Highway upgrade is just such a detrimental development, with the potential to impact not only people's quiet rural lifestyle and the flora and fauna diversity of the area, but also the habitat of this stabilised and seemingly healthy koala population. It is also potentially inconsistent with the Draft Recovery Plan (RP) Action 1.13 (p35) which suggests that: "The most important measure which will be recommended to road managers by the NPWS is to avoid the design and construction of roads which will bisect koala habitat."

Not surprisingly, this issue alone is raising grave concerns within the local community. In particular the upgrade proposal is causing anxiety to a large and growing network of groups and volunteers who work to sustain the koala population and its current habitat within the Lismore LGA. This anxiety is being exacerbated by the lack of involvement by the DEC, and the absence of action in approval of the draft Koala Recovery Plan. Community expectation is that the RP will provide a strong guidance for proposed development activities, and in the case of the Highway will serve as a reliable guide to assessment of the suitability of the proposed road alignment. Also there is a broad community expectation across all areas that the RP will serve to fully and effectively safe-guard koala habitat, which is not currently the case under SEPP 44, which is constantly overridden by other considerations.

We therefore call on you to attend to the Recovery Plan as a matter of urgency, while bearing in mind the fact that few koalas are resident in national parks, but are found mostly on private land where they are extremely vulnerable to planning pressure and DIPNR's latest regional planning strategies.

We therefore urge you to recommend that the Recovery Plan enforces -

  1. Councils of all LGA's known to support koala habitat thoroughly investigate and identify core and potential habitat within their jurisdiction, to properly aid decision-making in assessments of development applications, as required by SEPP 44

  2. A tree preference study be conducted within those LGA's, to identify all preferred and secondary individual food trees and food tree species within koala habitat, and that a Tree Protection Order be introduced to fully protect all identified primary koala food trees

  3. That all further proposed roads are designed to avoid koala habitat, or are restricted to utilising already existing roadways and cleared easements

  4. Permanent speed limits be incorporated to protect koalas and other wildlife on roadways through areas of high koala population density

  5. A strong enforcement of local councils to police and penalise owners of any free-roaming domestic dogs and cats in koala populated areas

  6. Funding for volunteer groups to assist education of the public into the true nature of injuries and koala mortality, specifically caused by vehicle accidents and dog attacks

  7. Financial incentives that encourage landowners, individual volunteers and volunteer groups to help form linking koala habitat corridors, to be conserved under voluntary conservation agreements with the NPWS

  8. Financial support for detailed vegetation mapping projects that identify potential and actual habitat and those areas suitable for such linkage corridors

  9. Percentage reimbursement for private veterinary practices that voluntarily provide knowledge and services to assist sick and injured koalas

  10. Complete transparency of information regarding koala habitat and presence of koala in an area proposed for development, by way of ecological services engaged by the National Parks & Wildlife Service, at cost to the proponent

  11. All professional timber workers have at least a minimal qualification in botany, specifically in flora species' recognition, not only of popular timber species

  12. Local councils ensure that all private felling, even for a single tree, requires a licence and involves official consideration, in the same way as burning-off during fire seasons, and planned additions to buildings.

The Draft Recovery Plan finds that disruption to koala's home-ranging patterns as a result of habitat fragmentation and degradation; loss of home-range trees, and creation of barriers to movement may result in disintegration of the social structure within a population, potentially contributing to the decline and eventual extinction of the population (Phillips 2000A - RP p22). Despite ten years of legislated guidance by SEPP 44, there has been no recovery for koala in NSW, and specifically not on the North Coast (hence the need for the RP). Disruption and fragmentation is still occurring at an increasing rate along the east coast, and this is seen to be due, in the main, to the ongoing practice of the development proponent also being the employer of the researching ecologists, with ensuing documented results, including Koala Plans of Management, becoming simply tools to help towards a project's approval. This has been strongly evidenced by all facets of the Shannon Creek dam proposal (now under review by DEH).

Only by immediate action on your part, with incorporation of considerably stronger legislation, might our koala - and all remaining species of native wildlife - be protected in perpetuity.

Yours sincerely,