A community watchdog group in the Tweed has asked for state government intervention to stop the extinction of Tweed Coast koalas, saying the local council was not doing enough to protect their habitat in the Pottsville wetlands area.
The request by the Northern Rivers Guardians (NRG) follows a warning by a koala expert at a recent public meeting that the dwindling Tweed Coast population had been decimated by a bushfire in the Pottsville area last Christmas and their numbers were now down to around 100-110 animals.
Just three years ago, koala population on the Tweed Coast was estimated at around 144, and the environmental group says that ’at this rate of decline it is predicted that they will be extinct by 2025-2030’.
The group sent environment minister Rob Stokes a letter this week saying he should urgently intervene because Tweed Shire Council lacked the ‘political will’ to protect the koalas around the Black Rocks/Pottsville area and were not taking ‘necessary actions’ to stop localised koala extinction.
NRG president Scott Sledge gave the minister a long list of recent council decisions which were leading the koalas down ‘the same path to extinction’ as those at Barrenjoy Peninsula in Sydney which by 2003 had disappeared and their loss blamed on fire, dogs, road strike, ‘bureaucratic ineptness and a whole bunch of apathy’.
Mr Sledge told the minister that world-renowned koala expert Dr Steve Phillips told the recent koala information meeting at Pottsville how the Christmas Day 2014 bush fire affected the Pottsville Wetlands-Black Rocks koala source population.
‘In 2011 there were an estimated 35 koalas in this area. He (Dr Phillips) expects that between 30-60 per cent of this population may have perished as a result of the fire, which leaves the surviving koalas well below what is considered to be a viable population size,’ Mr Sledge said.
Dr Phillips, he said, had told the meeting that ’as the Black Rocks sports field site and surrounding areas of koala habitat were unaffected by the fire, they are now the last stronghold for the Pottsville Wetlands-Black Rocks koala population cell, which is where re-colonisation of the existing habitat areas (once they regenerate) is going to occur’.
‘We are dealing with very small numbers here and strong assertive action is the only hope of turning this decline around,’ Dr Phillips had said.
Mr Sledge said that a former council ecologist had described the Pottsville Wetlands/Black Rocks koala sub-population as ‘critical to the survival of the koala on the Tweed Coast’ .
He has told Mr Stokes that in October 2014 the NSW Scientific Committee made a Preliminary Determination in support of a proposal for the threatened status of the Tweed Coast koalas to be upgraded to ‘endangered’.
‘According to the Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Study 2011 there has been a 50 per cent koala population decline on the Tweed Coast over the last decade,’ Mr Sledge said.
The NRG letter continued:
‘We believe that the decisions being made by the Tweed Shire Council and their management are directing the Tweed Coast koalas down the same path to extinction as the Barrenjoey Peninsula koalas because:
• Councillors voted to leave a koala/dog-proof gate at the entry to the Black Rocks sports field open during the day, even though council’s Koala Advisory Committee recommended that it be locked at all times except during sporting events. This is of particular concern considering that there has been evidence of on-ground daytime koala activity (including breeding) in the area.
• Only four months after its installation, council resolved to replace the koala protection gates with a koala grid, which will give easy access to hooning, dogs transported by vehicle and other koala-impactive activities both day and night. More than ever before, koala protection needs to be increased, not removed.
• Council has prepared a development application on behalf of the Pottsville and District Men’s Shed to construct and operate a men’s shed on the Black Rocks sports field, which we understand is to be presented at the 16 April 2015 Council meeting. We believe it is inappropriate for something which is akin to a light industrial facility to be located in the middle of a koala corridor. According to Dr Phillips, ‘increasing development pressure being placed on the (Black Rocks) sports field locality is paramount to an abrogation of Council’s responsibilities to koala conservation in the Tweed’.
• The Tweed Shire Council Sports Fields Strategy was endorsed at the 19 March 2015 Council meeting, with no apparent consideration or assessment of the ecological values present as required by its consultancy brief. It has recommended that the Black Rocks sports field be considered for use for all year cricket, AFL and soccer and that it is also suitable for rugby league and rugby union. We do not believe that these sporting activities are compatible with the highly sensitive surrounding endangered ecological communities which are home to 3 threatened species, the koala, bush stone-curlew and osprey.
• Council officers have been unable to regulate prohibited activities, ie ‘no dogs’, ‘no motor cycles’ and ‘no golf’ on the sports field site, and have not enforced the ‘limited dog’ and ‘no cat’ rule in the adjacent residential estate. They have also refused to ban the flying of model aeroplanes, which are crashing in and being retrieved from the surrounding koala habitat. This is putting koalas at risk of dog attack, motor vehicle strike and stress-related disease.
• The recently endorsed Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management does not apply to the Black Rocks koala source population, which falls under a 10-year old independent koala plan of management (IKPoM) which does not reflect current koala usage and quality of habitat and has never been fully implemented. The CKPoM contains no mandatory requirement or timeline for a review and update of the Black Rocks by the Sea IKPoM, even though several submissions brought this matter to the attention of Council during the CKPoM public exhibition period.
As a matter of urgency could you please take the following actions:
• Based on Dr Steve Phillips’ recommendation, we call upon the OEH to intervene and direct the Tweed Shire Council to abandon the development application for a Men’s Shed at the Black Rocks sports field and replace it with approval of a more suitable location.
• OR: The study which is to be undertaken by Council, with the assistance of the OEH, shouldbe expanded to include a Species Impact Statement on the three threatened species (koala, bush stone-curlew and osprey) which reside and breed in the bushland surrounding the Black Rocks sports field site under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 in relation to the development application for a men’s shed at the Black Rocks sports field.
• The OEH should exercise the intervention provisions in the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 as we believe that the above actions/inactions by the Tweed Shire Council are likely to result in harm to the koalas, resulting in the extinction of the Black Rocks/Pottsville Wetlands/Tweed Coast koala population, and also causing harm to the endangered ecological communities which support the koala, bush stone-curlew and osprey.
• The OEH should give approval to a review and update of the Black Rocks by the Sea Independent Koala Plan of Management (IKPoM) in order reflect the current koala usage and quality of habitat of the bushland adjacent to the Black Rocks sports field site and residential development, and to bring it into line with the provisions of the Tweed Coast Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management.
• We call on the OEH to impose a moratorium on the development and future use of the Black Rocks sports field site until the critical Black Rocks-Pottsville Wetlands population cell recovers to more sustainable levels, as advocated by Dr Steve Phillips.’