The Echonetdaily article ‘Row over Tweed koalas extinction claim’ today regarding the listing of the Tweed and Brunswick koala population as endangered demands a response.
Tweed Shire Council and the Tweed Coast Koala Advisory Group prepared the nomination for this listing and welcome the final determination of the Scientific Committee. This determination recognises the severity of the decline faced by the Tweed and Brunswick koala populations and highlights the need to continue to address threats such as wildfire, vehicle strikes and habitat loss.
For the Threatened Species Conservation Society to form and state an opinion as to whether council’s management actions have ‘worked’ in the short period between publication of the Tweed Coast Habitat Study in 2011 displays a distinct lack of ecological expertise. Threatened species recovery is a long-term commitment and requires a whole of community response.
Further, for this society to make such unfounded and premature claims is entirely disrespectful to the hundreds of staff, volunteers, landholders, contractors and members of peak conservation organisations such as Friends of the Koala and Team Koala who have displayed the vision, long term commitment and determination to help save Tweed Coast koalas.
During this time, council has acted strategically and with purpose to ensure an effective response. This has included the preparation, adoption and implementation of the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management and securing more than $2 million dollars in funding for the Tweed Byron Koala Connections project.
Both of these programs have been successfully implemented resulting in planting more than 70,000 trees on over 100 high priority sites. These programs have been recognised by peers and experts at a national level through awards programs that are independently assessed and evaluated.
However, perhaps the best independent evaluation has been koalas using planted trees at many sites. This provides a genuine indication that the range of actions underway will contribute positively to the recovery of koalas on the Tweed Coast.
Contrary to claims made by the Threatened Species Conservation Society, Tweed Shire Council has never claimed that the population was stable. The 2015 habitat study identified the Pottsville – Black Rocks population as having a stable activity level using the same methods applied by Biolink in 2011. This is a positive sign for this area but highlights ongoing declines, and need for action throughout the Tweed Coast. From this perspective, the ongoing, uncritical focus on Black Rocks is very disappointing given that the listing of the Tweed Coast koalas as an endangered population applies to the Tweed Coast as a whole.
It is also worth noting that the Black Rocks sport field is in its current location to specifically avoid impact on koala habitat. When the Black Rocks by the Sea development was approved 20 years ago, the current location of the sports field was a grazed paddock. By locating the field in its current location, existing koala habitat was protected and an additional 102 hectares of land dedicated for additional habitat. Council now actively manages this area for the benefit of koalas and other wildlife.
The article also incorrectly states that council staff are investigating the relocation of the sports field to the Dunloe Park urban release area. Council resolved at its April meeting to retain the Black Rocks sports field, to improve the entrance arrangements and to prepare an operational plan to ensure that the sports field is managed to ensure the significant threatened species habitat is protected and valued.
The provisions of the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management require the proposed development at Dunloe Park to include major east-west corridors to link the coastal population with the hinterland. This will provide a highly significant outcome for koalas. The poorly thought-through proposal of the Threatened Species Conservation Society to recommend additional sport fields in this area may actually jeopardise the establishment of extensive koala corridors over the Dunloe Park area, resulting in a far worse outcome than managing the existing situation at Black Rocks.
The statement that there would be minimal costs associated with this proposal is also grossly incorrect. All land on the Tweed Coast is of high value and the costs associated with securing additional land at an alternative site have been estimated at approaching $10 million. If we had that sort of money my staff assure me that they could do a whole lot more for koalas than rehabilitate four hectares at Black Rocks!
It appears that The Threatened Species Conservation Society’s most recent position to substitute a much-required corridor in Dunloe Park for revegetation of a sports field is more aligned to the neighbourhood amenity of one of its members than the need to conserve the Tweed Coast koala population.
Tweed Shire Council has and will continue to work strategically and positively to reverse the decline of the coastal koala population.
Troy Green, general manager, Tweed Shire Council
In response to the above letter, below is a scenario for relocation of the Black Rocks sports field to Dunloe Park which was presented to Dr Steve Phillips for his opinion (see response below). After Dr Phillips gave his wholehearted support for the idea, a meeting was held with Council staff, the Acting Mayor and the association to which the above letter refers to discuss this idea. They provided with maps, photos and Dr Phillips’ opinion. A Council staff member agreed to consult with the developer of Dunloe Park in relation to this matter. At the end of this comment is a copy of the association’s objects.
DR STEVE PHILLIPS RESPONSE (received 21/3/2016):
As you are aware – one of the strong arguments for revegetation the Black Rocks Sports Field goes to issues of habitat fragmentation, patch size and the associated edge to area ratio. More specifically, the current location of the sports field puts it within a regenerating habitat block, the importance of which is readily apparent as a connectivity hub through which koala recruitment/dispersal to the south-east, southwest and north can theoretically occur. Yet despite its importance the sports field (including the road reserve) offers an edge of approximately 1600 m that is exposed to ongoing disturbance events and the depredations of domestic dogs. The small koala population that now survives in the habitat surrounding the sports field certainly does not need more disturbance, it needs to be left in peace, nurtured and allowed (or even assisted) to recover to more sustainable levels. Revegetating the sports field will remove that 1600 m edge and create an ecologically important habitat block that will make a meaningful contribution to the recovery needs of the Tweed Coast koala population.
For the preceding reasons I can do no more than wholeheartedly support your idea. I encourage you to pursue your envisaged scenario because it appears to provide one of those win-win scenarios so often missing in terms of demonstrable, long-term sustainable planning outcomes.
SCENARIO TO RELOCATE BLACK ROCKS SPORTS FIELD TO DUNLOE PARK (sent to Dr Phillips on 14 March 2016)
It is estimated that about 40 to 44 hectares of the 241 hectares of land in the proposed Dunloe Park urban development west of the Black Rocks sports field is within a Koala Activity Precinct (KAP). The remainder is in a Koala Linkage Precinct (KLP).
Under the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management 2015, 10% of land in a KAP is to be set aside (possibly revegetated) as koala habitat. This equates to approximately 4 to 5 ha to be set aside for koala habitat within the Dunloe Park urban development. The Black Rocks sports field and access road is 4.67 ha. [NOTE: A thin line of vegetation to connect corridors is the minimum requirement for a KLP.]
If the 4 to 5 ha of land that is to be set aside for koala habitat (possibly revegetated) in Dunloe Park could be instead used as a sports field in a location that would have minimal impact on the koala corridor, there would be no loss of sporting infrastructure, just a relocation of it from Black Rocks to Dunloe Park.
There would be no need to buy land for relocation of the sports field, and the developer could put the costs needed to be outlayed to revegetate the 4 to 5 ha in Dunloe Park into revegetation of the Black Rocks sports field instead.
A WIN FOR THE KOALAS AND THE DEVELOPER WOULD GAIN ANOTHER SPORTS FIELD. The Black Rocks community would not lose their sports field and could access the relocated sports field via Kellehers Road.
If its relocation in Dunloe Park has no impact on koalas, it could be a high order facility including night sport. This is a much better option than Black Rocks, which at this point in time does not permit night sports. A WIN FOR THE COMMUNITY.
The relocation of the Black Rocks sports field to Dunloe Park would be in addition to other sporting infrastructure required of the developer to service the new population.
The current Black Rocks sports field cost $1 million to build, so it would probably cost about the same to build at the relocated field. There was/is still $746,000 available which council was to use for embellishment of the Black Rocks sports field. This $746,000 could be spent on the relocated field at Dunloe Park. A WIN FOR THE DEVELOPER.
Revegetation of the Black Rocks sports field would create a massive habitat block (approximately 850m wide with 4 ha of primary food trees planted in the middle to strengthen up the existing corridor in all directions, especially to the south). A WIN FOR THE KOALAS.
OBJECTS OF THE ASSOCIATION:
The objects of the Association shall be:
(a) To conserve, propagate, protect and care for all threatened species of wildlife whether vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered including, without limitation, wildlife indigenous to Australia.
(b) To create, participate in, organize and engage in campaigns, events and other activities to create public awareness of the plight of threatened species of wildlife and the underlying causes or possible underlying causes for their plight.
(c) To create, participate in, organize and engage in campaigns, events and other activities to raise funds for the purpose of achieving all or any one or more of the objects specified in this Rule 3.
(d) To create, participate in, organize and engage in educational programs relating to the conservation, propagation, protection and care of threatened species of wildlife.
(e) To undertake all actions (including, without limitation, campaigns and legal actions in our courts) as may seem appropriate to ensure the conservation, propagation, protection and care of all threatened species of wildlife whether vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
(f) To assist and work with other reputable organisations to help in the conservation, propagation, protection or care of threatened species.
(g) To do all such things as are similar, incidental or conducive to the attainment of the objects set out in this Rule 3.
I find Troy Green’s comments outrageous.
1. He insinuates that TSCS motivation is not for the koalas and only for selfish motives.
2. He might as well say that national koala expert Dr Steve Phillips comment that council’s Koala Plan of Management lacked bold assertive actions needed was insulting. It was not. It was simply the truth.
3. He along with council staff continue to insist that human disturbance at Black Rocks is not a serious impact on the koalas in spite of the proof that 6 Black Rocks koalas have died from stress-induced chlamydia.
4. Council staff continue to ignore studies relating human disturbance and chlamydia in koalas.
5. While the sports field at the time may have averted impacts on koalas elsewhere things have changed. Now it is primary koala habitat and the sports field needs to be relocated. Can’t council get their heads around the fact that a different response from burying their heads in the sand is required?
6. It is untrue that council manages this land for koalas. Its twice-weekly mowing and slashing right by koala habitat is anything but in the koala’s interests (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNKlzbWkmPY&feature=youtu.be to get an idea of how noisy this is). Council does not send rangers out when posted signs warning No Dogs, No Motorbikes, No Golf are reported by locals. No monitoring whatsoever.
7. Dr Phillips states that the sports field at Black Rocks is a critically important corridor for koala movement N-SW and SE. Council appears to have a different view to 4 ecologists who call for revegetation for this reason.
Sorry, Troy, planting trees is not enough to save our koalas, especially when you are not planting them where they are most desperately needed ie. the sports field at Black Rocks.
Where is the precautionary approach at work here? What if your lovely KPoM will never be enough to save our coastal koalas?
You have to wonder why council will not let go of this land ….. a development agenda perhaps?