Key koala habitat is being impacted by works at the Tyagarah Airfield and a petition, containing 281 signatures, to cease vegetation works at the site will be tabled at the upcoming Byron Shire Council meeting this Thursday.
The Tyagarah Airfield borders on a significant area of koala habitat for the Byron coastal koala population. The council removed 217 trees last May and are planning to prune a further 72 trees and shrubs at the end of November.
‘Before pruning work is undertaken a qualified wildlife ecologist will check the area for threatened species including koalas and occupied nests and drays,’ said Byron Shire Council’s manager open spaces and resource recovery, Michael Matthews.
‘If koalas or young birds and animals are found work will be delayed in that specific area until they have left on their own accord.’
According to local conservationist, Dailan Pugh, it is just the latest threat to the remaining koala population, many as a result of works and approvals by the council.
‘The Byron coastal koala population is estimated to number 240 individuals utilising patches of suitable habitat spread along the coast from Broken Head to the Brunswick River. They are vulnerable to both loss of preferred feed trees and fragmentation of their habitat.
‘The future viability of the Byron coastal koala population has come under sustained pressure in recent years, with: the development of the Bluesfest site; the redevelopment of Elements; the council’s refusal to build a koala underpass when widening the road and building the roundabout on Ewingsdale Road in the middle of the major crossing point; and the approval of West Byron.
Death of a thousand cuts
‘It is the death of a thousands cut as koalas lose their feed trees and their ability to move between habitat patches.
‘Byron Council is now proposing “pruning” 72 trees in addition to the 217 trees they removed around the Tyagarah airstrip last May. This is in one of the principal patches of habitat left, and a key link for the remnant population, yet the council is progressively trashing it without considering their cumulative impacts on the overall population.
‘This is core koala habitat as identified in Council’s Koala Plan of Management (KPoM), thus by their own rules the council should be preparing at a least a Koala Habitat Assessment Report if not a site specific Koala Plan of Management before undertaking any works there. They should be retaining all feed trees over 25cm diameter.
‘Council’s proposal to wait until a koala moves out of a tree before they “prune” it, is a sham as it is the loss of their needed feed trees that has long term effects on koala populations. Similarly their planting of seedlings that will take many decades to grow into suitable feed trees does not compensate for the loss of current feed trees.’
Staff reject cease-work petition
The petition to be tabled at the upcoming council meeting primarily asks for more conditions and agreements with neighbours for its operation. However, a request to cease upgrading the airfield until a full Environmental impact Assessment (EIA) is undertaken and a Development Application is approved was rejected by staff.
Mr Matthews argues that Clause 22 of State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 allows ‘maintenance work that is ancillary to an airport, such as vegetation management, [and] does not require consent in that [land] zone.’
Local residents have also questioned rumours ‘that there are plans to extend the activities at Tyagarah Airfield’ and are concerned that the current work is a prelude to facilitating the extension of activities at the air field.
Byron Shire Council staff further responded to the cease-work petition stating that ‘In relation to upgrading of the airfield, structure planning work is continuing to examine options to optimise future use of the land. In accordance with a previous resolution of Council, these options will be the subject of a workshop with Councillors, to explore future use of the land.’