Campaigners are accusing the NSW government of rubber-stamping the extinction of Ballina shire’s koala population by approving a section of the Pacific Highway upgrade south of Ballina.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has joined with Ballina’s Friends of the Koala in calling on Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt and newly appointed threatened species commissioner Gregory Andrews to intervene.
They say the proposed stage 10 upgrade would effectively bisect one of two key koala populations living in the area.
They argue that the population of around 200 inhabiting the Blackwell Ranges and associated lowland areas to the south of Ballina was known to be a linchpin colony that was vital to the survival of koalas in the Lismore area to the west, and coastal lowland areas of Byron.
Ballina’s Friends of the Koala has worked for ten years trying to have the route reconsidered and believe time is quickly running out.
President Lorraine Vass said a population analysis by koala ecologist Dr Stephen Phillip indicated there was a strong probability that the population might become extinct in the next 20 to 25 years if the upgrade proceeds on the route recommended by the NSW government.
‘This wildlife hotspot is also home to another 30 threatened or endangered species.’
A survey by Dr Phillips identified the Meechaum Vale population as ‘a key source population for breeding and dispersal’ which ‘needs to be listed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act’.
IFAW native wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad said it was not too late to act. ‘Simply go to our website and sign the IFAW petition and make your voice count to help save Australia’s most iconic mammal,’ she said.
The petition already has attracted more than 40,000 signatures.
However, many residents of Wardell believe moving the highway towards Wardell or east of the town will ruin the town’s character and pose safety issues.
At last month’s Ballina Shire council meeting a majority of councillors echoed that concern and voted to write to state and federal ministers supporting the Wardell community and their commitment for the current preferred highway option.
Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson, who has been campaigning for the route between Broadwater and Ballina to be reconsidered, said the selection process had ignored wider community concerns for over 10 years.