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Byron Shire
May 25, 2024

Koalas in highway’s path ‘dying anyway’, says RMS

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Koalas are known to have been killed by being thrown out of trees during highway clearing. Photo Friends of Ironbark Forests
Koalas are known to have been killed by being thrown out of trees during highway clearing as happened on work for the T2E upgrade. Photo Friends of Ironbark Forests

Chris Dobney

NSW Roads and Maritime Services has released its long awaited koala plan of management for the remainder of the colony it plans to route the Pacific Highway through south of Ballina.

The plan has drawn the ire of supporters of the endangered marsupial, who say that it is a recipe for managing the local colony into extinction.

They add the authority has ignored an opportunity to reroute the highway through flatter, existing farmland that would have left the colony intact.

But, in a startling irony, the RMS argues that as the colony is already in decline its plan to fence in the sections adjoining the new freeway and provide a series overpasses to prevent total isolation of the animals will benefit them, despite swathes of their range being clear-felled.

Pacific Highway general manager Bob Higgins said the Ballina Koala Plan and Population Viability Analysis (PVA) prepared for the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade has been endorsed by the Koala Expert Advisory Committee and submitted to federal environment minister Greg Hunt for approval.

Mitigation measures

‘The PVA found extra mitigation measures on existing roads near the project would offset any impact of the upgrade on the local koala population and further proposed mitigation could improve the situation for koalas based on current predictions,’ Mr Higgins said.

‘The study found the Ballina koala population will decline with or without the upgraded highway due to disease, predators and koala deaths on roads other than the highway,’ he added.

‘The upgrade would be fully fenced to prevent animals from entering the road corridor and koala grids would be installed on interchange ramps to stop animal strikes from occurring.’

Mr Higgins said that additional fencing would also be provided ‘on key sections of Wardell Road near the new highway and the existing Pacific Highway north of Wardell and Coolgardie where the risk of koala strikes is higher. ‘

‘About 26 wildlife crossings would also be installed as part of the upgrade, substantially increasing safe crossing points and about 130 hectares of koala feed trees will be planted to provide additional habitat.

‘The koala feed trees will be planted early so there can be good growth before the highway opens in 2020,’ Mr Higgins said.

Dramatic decline

But koala support groups have repudiated the authority’s claims that fencing, wildlife bridges and tree planting will be sufficient to avert the catastrophic collapse of the north coast’s last un-fragmented breeding colony.

In a joint statement, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Friends of the Koala and Save Ballina’s Koalas said the government should be ‘putting in strong measures to either maintain or improve this significant population of koala which is the standard measurement for other conservation issues.’

‘Analysis of mortality data from Friends of the Koala dating back 26 years proves that the population is already in dramatic decline, thanks to vehicle strike and domestic dog attacks,’ the groups said.

‘Yet, the RMS seems to be intent on going ahead without any changes to its proposed route. This is despite previous data indicating that the current Section 10, Pacific Highway upgrade would exacerbate and increase the rate of decline towards a potential localised extinction of the Ballina 200 [the estimated remaining population of the colony].’

Friends of the Koala president Lorraine Vass said the plan’s sole purpose was to ‘enable RMS to realise its decade-long investment in a route that’s in the wrong place.’

‘You only have to look at the scale of destruction, fragmentation and loss that’s already occurred at Halfway Creek and in other upgraded sections to know that Ballina’s koalas are doomed. You can’t mitigate against extinction – it’s forever,’ Mrs Vass said.

IFAW native wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad said the fate of the Ballina 200 had ‘garnered world-wide attention ‘and there were ‘lots of people watching the process closely’.

‘Over the next few weeks all the stakeholders will be working together to closely review the plan with a view to passing on our input to the minister,’ Ms Sharrad said.

Save Ballina’s Koalas spokesperson Jeff Johnson said it was ‘madness’ that the RMS ‘won’t even consider an alternative route that protects our critical koala populations and irreplaceable Aboriginal sites.’

To see the plan go to www.rms.nsw.gov.au/koala

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  1. If the endangered koalas were a high income earner for a business, what’s the betting that a new route would be found? Shame on the policy makers who are happy to help yet another species on the path to extinction.

    Animals are the helpless victims of greed, corruption, ignorance, selfishness and savage cruelty.~IL …The way in which Australia treat animals says a lot about who they are as a people and as a nation.

  3. How Orwellian of Mr Higgins and the RMS to suggest that an already declining koala population can somehow be maintained or even “saved” by clearing lots of primary koala habitat, building a thumping great concrete freeway right through the middle of the population and fragmenting and isolating the largest remaining patches of bushland in Ballina Shire.

    If the population is already declining what must happen to prevent extinction is to stop threats, pressures and stresses. What this entails is:
    1. Clearing no koala habitat
    2. Replanting and reconnecting koala habitat
    3. Better managing or avoiding the existing pressures of dogs and roads.
    The local community is already committed to doing this.

    Building a highway magnifies and mutliplies the existing pressures and threats and will hasten the extinction of the koala population.

  4. There is so much cleared land in the lower Richmond Valley that there is simply no excuse for building a highway that will result in the clearance of bushland.

  5. Every australian would prefer to save the koalas instead of having yet another highway which will take us one step closer to koala and other precious species extinction. Please stop!

  6. Where are the local indigenous people? This would be a perfect opportunity to stop some of the degradation that they have been talking about and really do something that would help reconciliation. Working with the other groups trying to save this population. This is THEIR land and the animals are supposed to help link them to the land. Pew Environment has indigenous rangers working in the outback helping animals and with land protection.
    This could be an opportunity for aboriginal people to manage this habitat and have tours highlighting the koala and their culture, They could have a traditional camp set up to show off how they used to live and tell visitors their stories. WIN-WIN for the locals and the koala. Also the government would probably take more notice of the traditional owners if they are interested.
    Just sayin’

    • The Ngunya-Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is right next door to the proposed freeway and will be completely enclosed with a wall of concrete if the highway is built. Furthermore, one of the greatest concentrations of Aboriginal cultural heritage in the lower Richmond Valley (including irreplaceable scar trees) will be destroyed and their context disturbed.

      The Ngunya-Jargoon IPA and adjoining freehold land slated for destruction by the highway is habitat for the only remaining viable population of the nationally Vulnerable long-nosed potoroo in the coastal parts of the Northern Rivers. This population will become completely isolated if the highway is built and its habitat will be subjected to a fundamentally altered hydrology, increased risk or predation by dogs, cats and foxes, changes in fire regime and the degradation by weed invasion that inevitably accompany upgrades highway upgrades.

      I understand that the local Aboriginal community does not want the highway.

  7. what an over populated shit hole Australia is becoming, we are losing all our native bush for human greed , and with no native habitat we lose all our native animals, Australia is more worried about bloody gay marriage than trying to protect the Real Australians, our animals, i’m glad i won’t be here in 50 years time when all our native animals will be extinct, there will be suburbs from Melbourne to Cairns, Sydney to Perth, Adelaide to Darwin, it’s called a human squalor pit, man is a bloody cancer on the Earth, the Real old Australia is gone


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