Tweed koala campaigners fearing the destruction of the shire’s population of the iconic marsupial are calling on the federal government to protect what’s left of them around the Kings Forest development.
They are urging others to make submissions to the federal environment department, which is assessing Leda Developments’ project for 4,500 homes southwest of Kingscliff, referred to it under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
But they only have till close of business tomorrow, Thursday, to do so after the federal government extended the deadline by five days.
Greens Cr Katie Milne said that with a mere 144 koalas left in the shire, many of them living in or roaming around the Cudgen Nature Reserve that adjoins the massive development, it was crucial the federal government to protect them and their habitat.
Cr Milne has called for a ban on dogs in the housing development and protection of the south-east corner of the 870-hectare property, which has set aside for a golf course and further housing.
Campaigners have been buoyed by recent decisions lifting the status of the marsupial, which has seen a steady decline along Australia’s eastern seaboard for years.
The decline has been blamed on encroaching development on their habitat and associated land clearing, attacks by pets and road kill.
Federal environment minister Tony Bourke recently listed the koala as a vulnerable species in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
The federal government also recently gave $2 million for koala habitat and wildlife corridor protection in the Tweed-Byron area, while Tweed Shire Council last month called on the state government to list the Tweed koala as an endangered population and has committed funding for a shire-wide koala management plan.
But Team Koala president Jenny Hayes has warned that if the Kings Forest koala colony died off, it would be ‘all over’ for the shire’s koalas.
Ms Hayes said the new federal listing offered an eleventh-hour chance to help the marsupial survive along the Tweed Coast.
The Kings Forest development has, since the former government approved the concept plan in 2010, come under fire over its predicted impacts on adjoining koala habitat.
Last year, the state environment department began an investigation into the illegal clearing by bulldozers of a 300m strip of vegetation beside Blacks Creek along the nature reserve.
But the investigation appears to have stalled and the department has been tight-lipped about it, telling media for more than six months that ‘it is still continuing’.
Authorities implicated Leda Developments, owned by billionaire Bob Ell, in the alleged clearing, but the company claims workmen bulldozed trees and other vegetation inside the protected area by accident.
NSW environment minister Robyn Parker said National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) only learnt about the environmental destruction in a remote part of the reserve after Leda dobbed itself in.
Meanwhile, the Australian Greens Party also recently released a bill to increase protection for koalas, making it unlawful to kill or harm koalas, and makes it an offence to destroy their habitat in areas where the koala is listed as threatened.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown says the bill is similar to a 1940 United States law that gave extra protection to the American bald eagle and brought it back from the brink of extinction.
Mr Brown yesterday again emphasised the plight of the koalas when he addressed the National Press Club in Canberra.
He said the number of koalas left today was less than those killed just in 1927, mostly for the fur trade, which sparked moves to protect them in Australia by US wildlife authorities.
To make a submission on the Kings Forest referral, visit http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/epbc/epbc_ap.pl?name=referral_detail&proposal_id=6328.