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Byron Shire
January 18, 2022

Nearly 25 years after calling for council koala plans, NSW govt has approved 6 – sort of

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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.

NSW Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann speaking at a rally in the Braemar state forest in September. Photo David Lowe

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.

Last week’s bushfire near Busby’s Flat has burnt thousands of hectares of state forest. photo Westpac Helicopter.

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.

Dailan Pugh in the Braemar Forest. PHOTO: David Lowe

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.

A forest protector offers water to 74-year-old Alan Roberts locked on to logging equipment in February in an effort to halt the destruction of koala habitat. Photo NEFA

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.

Bangalow Koalas’ Linda Sparrow reported this dead koala recently found on Hinterland Way near the subject site. Photo supplied

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’.

Environmentalist Dailan Pugh says Councillor Cate Coorey, pictured, tried ‘in vain’ to hava a koala underpass included in the Bayshore Drive roundabout. Photo David Hancock

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.

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  1. This article incorrectly states that the koalas in Bangalow are endangered, with some scientists saying the population is functionally extinct. This is certainly not the case – koalas in NSW are listed as vulnerable with certain populations like the Tweed koalas listed as endangered.
    This sort of misinformation is unhelpful and sloppy journalism.
    The koalas in Bangalow are breeding and there has been an increase in koala sightings in the area and surrounds. Whether this is from a more aware community or actual increase is unknown. What I can say in the last couple of years I personally am sighting more koalas and what is more important healthier koalas.
    One of my landholder who has lived on her property for 20 years only stated to me last week she has seen more koalas in the last 2 years then the whole time she has lived there.
    Bangalow Koalas is actively planting more trees – to date we have planted over 19,000 trees in 21 months on 18 properties. We are determined to make a difference and are seeing the results of an engaged community wanting to make a difference.

    • While your parochial naivety is quite endearing,
      Koalas are definitly endangered “the Australian Koala Foundation announced they believe “there are no more than 80,000 koalas in Australia”, making the species “functionally extinct”. … Once a koala population falls below a critical point it can no longer produce the next generation, leading to extinction.May 16, 2019″.

      You don’t have to be Einstein to realise that Gladis’s new regime, of uncontroled land clearing is devastating to the chances of all native species survival and everything will soon go the way of the Murray/Darling sewer.and the Not so Great Barrier Reef.
      I am heartened to hear you are planting Eucalypts, but I wonder will there be any Bears around to eat them and suspect the trees are destined for paper pulp.
      Still, keep smiling and ” whistling in the dark” has always proved helpful……
      Cheers G”)

      • I agree wholeheartedly with you Ken 🙁 Well Said, although extremely frustrating to know this Government is doing NOTHING to improve the situation!

        Can’t believe Gladys got re-elected! She is a Menace and a HUGE Threat to ALL Animals

    • Linda ~ On what research do you base your Information? To me it would appear that Most, if not ALL Colonies of Koalas are endangered ~ If not on the Brink of Extinction.

      Whilst the Government does NOTHING to assist their Plight.

  2. This is a NSW Legislative Council inquiry, ie, a parliamentary inquiry. It is not a “government inquiry”. It is amazing how many journalists these days cannot distinguish between a parliament and a government.

  3. Thanks Linda, the information came from Australian Koala Foundation, I see there has been some dispute over their claims though. Interestingly I have also been told the Tweed koala population is critically endangered. I wonder if state versus national classifications are a factor. It would be great to get a sort of blog post going where people can share photos of the koalas they see around the place, whether in their backyards or their friends. I might start something on the Facebook page. Would love to see some of the Bangalow koalas you and your contacts are seeing. Of course, they’re notriously shy and hard to get a photo of! The most recent time I saw a koala was probably five years ago on Stradbroke Island. It had a burnt bum from bushfires 🙁 I saw too that Jimeoin’s fundraiser comedy gig for the Bangalow koalas sold out. I missed out on tickets 🙁 There seems to be heaps of passion to help Bangalow koalas. – Mia


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