The koala is one of the iconic Australian animals that we are known for around the world. Yet we are failing this animal, and many others, and continuing their drive towards extinction.
Highlighting this issue is the failure of NSW Forestry Corporation to meet the reduced requirements for preserving our unique Australian species both prior to and post the recent Black Summer bushfire catastrophe. The lack of regard for the value of the Australian bush is seen time and again. The reduction in protections of old growth forests under the Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) have made areas previously protected vulnerable to logging. The weakened biodiversity and conservation laws that were implemented in late 2017 by the NSW Liberal-National government that have led to a 1,300 per cent jump in land clearing according to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) report (May 2020).
It is often through the on the ground actions of a variety of groups that the damage and destruction that is being done through frontline action such as the Gumbaynggirr custodians and environmentalists who worked to halt logging in the Nambucca State Forest in June. Or the work of environmentalists like those with the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) who are checking the activities of NSW Forestry Corporation and delivering reports on their failure to meet the legislative requirements in setting aside forest areas for native species in areas like Myrtle State Forest (this area is not included in the suggested park).
Sandy Creek Koala Park
This has led to a call from NEFA for the establishment of the Sandy Creek Koala Park comprised of 7,000 ha of public land south-west of Casino, on the Richmond River lowland.
‘The koalas were increasing as these forests recovered from past logging, with good future prospects as the larger trees preferred by koalas grew,’ said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh last week.
‘The koalas suffered a mortal blow when the Busby’s Flat fire swept through these forests on the night of 8 October 2019, with the apparent loss of 78–89 per cent of koalas, which suggests 270–310 Koalas died as a result of the fires and the surviving population could be as low as 40-80 Koalas.
‘Given the prognosis that koalas are likely to become extinct in the wild by 2050 if we continue “business as usual” , and the devastating impact of the 2019 fires on the Banyabba koala population, protecting known significant habitat to allow koala populations to recover is more important than ever.’
Risk of koala extinction
Supporting the idea is Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) who says that ‘The recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into koala populations and habitat in New South Wales chaired by my Greens colleague, Cate Faehrmann MLC, made it abundantly clear that the protection of koala habitat is of fundamental importance and that the key threat to the survival of koalas in New South Wales is loss of habitat. The inquiry also made explicit what sadly we all know that the summer bushfires of 2019–2020 intensified both species loss and the urgent need to protect remaining koala habitat.
‘I completely support North East Forest Alliance’s proposal for a 7,000 ha Sandy Creek Koala Park on the Richmond River lowlands and recognise their tireless research, activism and advocacy on behalf of threatened species for well over three decades.’
Geoff Provest (Nationals) MP for Tweed was keen to focus his koala activities in the Tweed electorate.
‘In recent times we have provided funding to establish the koala chlamydia research and rehabilitation centre at Pottsville that will work in conjunction with Currumbin Sanctuary (currently the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital treats well over 300 North Coast koalas per annum),’ he told Ecnonetdaily when asked about his support for the Sandy Creek Koala Park proposal.
‘Following the purchase of 100 hectares of koala habitat at Pottsville in 2017, an additional 89 hectares of land at Cudgen Nature Reserve was recently allocated to help protect koala habitat and aid the recovery of the Tweed Koala population. allocated to help protect koala habitat and aid the recovery of the Tweed Koala population.’
Ben Franklin and Kevin Hogan (Nationals) and Janelle Saffin (Labor) didn’t respond to questions submitted by Echonetdaily.
Only 16 per cent of core habitat protected
Over 100,000 ha of core koala habitat has been identified in NSW that needs protection according to the National Trust of Australia in 2019, yet only 16 per cent of this land is protected in the National Parks estate.
‘The Sandy Creek Koala Park is a significant first step towards that protection and the government need to act quickly on the kinds of grass roots solutions being presented to them on a silver platter by conservation groups like NEFA,’ says Ms Smith.
‘On the North Coast, particularly in the Banyabba State Forest, conservationists estimate that 81 per cent of koala habitat has been destroyed from land clearing and last summer’s bushfires. As the threats differ across local populations, so too should conservation approaches, on a population by population basis.
‘Our community is solution focused and getting their hands dirty. It’s time for Minister Kean to put his money where his mouth is.’
Federal minister for Richmond Justine Elliot has highlighted the importance of protecting koalas telling Echonetdaily that, ‘This idea [Sandy Creek Koala Park] has great merit and I encourage the NSW state government to look favourably at it. It’s vitally important that we protect our precious koalas and their habitat.’