When was the last time you saw a koala ‘in the wild’? Alive?
A NSW state inquiry on koala populations is underway, with a public hearing happening this Friday from 9.30am at the Ballina RSL.
The government committee overseeing the inquiry is headed by a Greens member – Cate Faehrmann – with the assistance of an Animal Justice Party (AJP) member, Mark Pearson, with both parties known to advocate for wildlife.
Northern Rivers-based Members of the Legislative Council (MLC) Ben Franklin (Nationals) and Catherine Cusack (Liberal Party) are also on the committee, along with another Liberal Party member, Shayne Mallard and another AJP member, Mark Buttigieg.
Government koala reports and plans but still little hope for koalas
But it’s easy to be fatalistic, or at least cynical, about the future of koalas in New South Wales.
More than two years ago the government’s chief scientist at the time, Mary O’Kane, authored a depressing report on the state of the koalas, with comparisons to other koala populations in the country.
The summary consistently referred to troubles reporting data because the data didn’t exist, something that outraged environmentalists on the north coast at the time, who said community and not-for-profit groups had been collecting and recording data on koala populations for years.
The government seemed interested only in data generated by its own sources, which, unfortunately, apparently, were not funded for the purpose.
Since then, the re-elected government has announced a state koala plan but environmentalists say it’s defeated by increased concessions to the logging industry.
Bushfires could be a 5thmajor problem for koalas
Meanwhile, the four main factors leading to koala population decreases continue to wreak havoc with no obvious solutions in sight.
‘We have urban problems such as subdivision… we have problems with dogs and car strikes,’ says acclaimed Northern Rivers-based environmentalist Dailan Pugh.
The fourth biggest problem is Chlamydia, something researches on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast are trying to develop a vaccine for.
But bushfires are fast presenting as a fifth problem and something that, unlike the other four, can wipe out entire populations in less than a day.
Mr Pugh says up to 700 could have died in last week’s Rappville fire when the wind suddenly changed direction on the Tuesday night.
Wildlife rescuers and volunteers weren’t allowed into the fire-impacted area immediately, unlike RFS volunteers and rangers who were allowed in to check for people and property.
Calls for official wildlife disaster emergency service and local koala plans
Some residents were able to save their pets and farm animals and take them to special evacuation centres set up in Casino.
But there were no emergency services for wildlife and Mr Pugh told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week he was calling for an official system as part of his submission to the government inquiry.
He is also calling for the government to approve and support council koala management plans across the state.
Councils were first asked to create plans nearly 25 years ago.
But since 1995, Mr Pugh says only six council plans have been approved, including plans in Ballina and Lismore City Shires.
Logging and development killing koalas
Only two councils have had plans approved to cover their whole shires: Ballina and Coffs Harbour, says Mr Pugh.
But in Coffs Harbour, home to what environmentalists say is a ‘key’ koala population – that means whole families of breeding koalas – the government has approved logging in the same spot, with the effect of undermining the council’s koala plan.
The Byron Shire Council’s plan was knocked back and then reduced in scope to only cover a coastal section of the region.
But the government has yet to approve the coastal koala management plan.
Mr Pugh says the ‘council went to a lot of time and expense’ to create the plan and is calling on the government to speed up an approval.
Koalas in Bangalow are already endangered, with some scientists saying the population is functionally extinct.
Pugh accuses Byron council of not giving ‘a stuff’ about koalas
With male koalas needing huge areas to roam and all koalas needing a variety of feed trees, as well as suitable tree-lined corridors to get around, development is having a huge negative impact on populations.
How many people do you know with gum trees in their backyards?
Roads, with the increased risk of cars hitting koalas, only add to the problem.
Mr Pugh says the lack of an underpass for koalas at the Bayshore Drive roundabout on Ewingsdale Road is ‘a problem’.
He says Councillor Cate Coorey tried ‘in vain’ to have inclusions for an underpass put into the roundabout plans but the ‘council just refused to do it’.
When asked if the council’s decision was due to costs, Mr Pugh said ‘I think basically they don’t give a stuff, really’ and that ‘there are no ecology experts working at the council’.
Mayor Simon Richardson has been asked for comment and whether or not the council has also made a submission to the koala inquiry.
To hear the full interview with Dailan Pugh, go to Community Newsroom at Bay FM.