Ballina Shire Council voted yesterday to prepare a koala plan of management for the shire, joining a growing number of north coast councils adopting such plans.
The federal government recently declared the koala as a threatened species, with koala populations in NSW, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory listed as vulnerable under national environment law.
Lismore and Tweed councils have recently adopted koala management plans while Byron Shire Council has appointed a project reference group to prepare one.
Yesterday’s decision means Ballina Council will spend up to $50,000 for surveys of the koala populations and habitat mapping in this year’s budget, boosted next year with an extra $30,000 for further work on the plan.
Staff in their report said there was not much information available about koala populations in the Ballina area. They said analyses of mapping and population could take up to nine months, with the plan of management process set to take a further 12 months.
In neighbouring Byron shire, a recent study found there were only around 240 koalas there while in the Tweed, where coastal development is more intense, studies have shown populations there dwindling with around 140 animals.
Local Greens candidate Effie Ablett welcomed the move, saying the plan ‘also means there will be transparent procedures and guidelines for assessing a development ap[plication (DA) in relation to koala populations and habitat, and this will streamline the DA process’.
Dr Ablett told Echonetdaily that when she was the Friends of Koala representative on the Lismore shire committee developing its koala management plan, a ‘myth’ emerged among rural landowners that protecting koala habitat meant they could not develop their land.
She said she worked with developers and planners there over the years to design housing estates and other projects in areas of koala habitat.
‘In some cases we were able to retain all the koala food trees, in others most of the larger trees were retained, by adjusting the position of allotments or building envelopes,’ she said.
‘We also placed roads and buildings where they least interfered with koalas traversing the property.
‘This method of consultation ended up with a koala friendly development and in all cases, the developers and landowners were happy with the result. This is what the provisions of a good koala management plan (like Lismore’s one) will do. It will modify development, not stop it.’