Long-standing major Northern Rivers koala conservation groups met last week with Tweed State Member of Parliament, Geoff Provest, to seek effective representation on koala issues to the NSW government. A delegation of combined groups; Friends of the Koala (FoK), Friends of Cudgen Nature Reserve (FCNR) and Caldera Environment Centre (CEC) have sought to deliver a clear set of concerns and solutions for koala protection and recovery in the Tweed Shire to Mr Provest.
Together these groups represent many decades of achievements in koala care, habitat conservation, policy reform, and community education making them very well qualified to address the issues and solutions around koalas both in this region and the state.
Standout issues raised for urgent attention included: The dire consequences for koalas had the discredited Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020 (LLS Bill) become law; the need to move quickly on an effective new koala protection policy (koala SEPP) and immediate State government approval for the Tweed Coast Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) – noting that this plan has already been operating for the past six years!
Chlamydia, a highly infectious bacterial disease, is the most significant disease in koala populations. The disease weakens koalas, making them more vulnerable to death from other causes, particularly dog attack and severe weather conditions according to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/koala). Speaking to Mr Provest Lorraine Vass of FoK discussed the urgent need for government funding and implementation of a proposed koala conservation and recovery plan for the far north coast region and clarification around the participation of Northern Rivers’ koalas in local anti-chlamydia vaccine trials.
The koala has now been listed as vulnerable in NSW, Queensland and the ACT and a key threat to their survival is loss, modification, and fragmentation of their habitat. Without intervention, scientists have predicted that koalas will be extinct in NSW by 2050. Rhonda James, an active rescuer for FoK and representing FCNR, gave detailed suggestions to Mr Provest regarding the strategic extension of Tweeds’ National Parks estate. This would help to reinforce koala habitat corridors and fill in the habitat gaps that force koalas to traverse areas that make them vulnerable to horrific dog attacks and vehicle strike.
Dailan Pugh from North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) also demanded urgent adoption of the Tweed KPoM. He considered it reprehensible that NSW has refused to approve this plan for the past six years, because they wanted it weakened, even though two government agencies helped to draft it.
Koala killing bill
Equally reprehensible to NEFA was the intent of the LLS Bill to approve logging operations and ‘self-assessed’ land-clearing activities throughout NSW that would have overridden protections under local Council Environmental zonings.
This would have taken away oversight from Tweed Shire Council of areas they had protected for years. It would have removed their role as monitor of private logging operations and other land clearing across the shire. Mr Pugh pointed out that Mr Provest had voted to approve the discredited LLS Bill in spite of these consequences. It was only stopped because Catherine Cusack crossed the floor in the Upper House – sending the bill back for review.
Both delegations received a good hearing from Mr Provest. NEFA and the Koala Coalition of groups were both assured that action would be forthcoming on the Tweed KPoM – which most of the community agree is long overdue.
Mr Provest agreed to investigate details of upcoming chlamydia trials and a proposed Regional Koala Recovery Plan. However, he did not commit to making representation to NSW government to prevent the worst aspects of the LLS Bill when it returns in another version this year, in spite of potentially devastating impacts on some of the Tweed’s most important remnant habitats. Though he did offer to consider funding for much needed koala habitat surveys west of the Pacific Highway.
Dailan called on Geoff Provest to stand up for his community and ensure hard-won protections are not removed for koala habitat around Cudgen, Mt Nullum, Mt Warning and elsewhere in the Shire. The Koala Coalition intend to follow up with Mr Provest in coming months on the issues discussed and actions that were recommended.
♣ Community-based group Friends of the Koala Inc, established in 1986, is the specialist provider of koala rescue, rehabilitation and release in the Northern Rivers and last year became licensed to operate a regional koala hospital. They helped shape koala protection plans for Tweed, Byron, Ballina and Lismore councils and have been an on-ground force for much of their implementation.
♣ For over 20 years Friends of Cudgen Nature Reserve Inc has been the major koala habitat restoration group on the Tweed Coast. Volunteers from this group have planted over 8,500 koala food trees in Cudgen NR and directly assisted in planting 7,000 more across the Northern Rivers and in the land recently dedicated to koalas at Pottsville.
♣ Caldera Environment Centre Inc has been in operation for over 35 years. This group of volunteers fought off development on environmentally sensitive lands at Mt Nullum, Forest Hill and Pottsville Wetlands. They have ensured the preservation of these significant areas by bringing them into Council and NPWS control for the benefit of all to enjoy.
Marion Riordan is a member of the Caldera Environment Centre and FoK and has worked with and financially supported koala groups in the Northern Rivers for more than a decade. She joined a delegation of combined groups; Friends of the Koala, Friends of Cudgen Nature Reserve, and Caldera Environment Centre to deliver a clear set of concerns and solutions for koala protection and recovery in the Tweed Shire.