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December 6, 2022

Dam doesn’t give a damn about koalas

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This koala, killed by a car near the proposed Dunoon dam, was part of a genetically important population in the Dunoon area that may be able to contribute to the strengthening of the general koala population. Koalas face many threats, including cars and dogs and disease, but the worst is habitat loss. Hugh Nicholson.

The proposed Dunoon Dam is still a possibility, though it has been voted against twice by the members of Rous County Council. Now information has emerged which presents another reason to shut down the threat of the dam once and for all.

Nan Nicholson of WATER Northern Rivers says new information has been revealed about the local population of koalas which would be impacted by the proposed 50 GL dam at Dunoon.

‘The Dunoon Dam was taken off the table by Rous County Council in December 2020,’ she said. ‘The councillors who voted down the dam proposal cited the loss of important ecological systems and fauna habitat, as well as the valuable cultural heritage sites of the Widjabul Wia-bal people.

‘It appears that the Dunoon Dam koalas are even more important than first thought as they can help other koala populations to recover robust genetics.’

Unusual genetics

Internationally renowned koala expert Dr Steve Phillips. Photo supplied.

Dr Steve Phillips from Biolink Ecological Consultants says the Dunoon koala population has different genetic origins.

‘These koalas are more robust and outbred than other koala populations to the south and east, which are, in contrast, immunologically compromised and demonstrably inbred,’ he said.

‘The Dunoon koalas thus have lots to offer these other koalas which suffer from high disease levels and associated mortalities, as well as the manifestation of physical traits of inbreeding such as smaller average body sizes and microcephaly,’ said Dr Phillips.

‘As far as we can tell, the genetic affinity/origins of the population imply a link to hinterland koala populations of SE Queensland, loosely referred to as the SEQ genome,’ he said.

Dr Phillips says we have known about the presence of this special koala population for some time, since at least mid-1990s, but ‘we do not yet know such critical things as population size and the full extent of the population’s distribution in the Dunoon area.’

Why is the population so special? 

Dr Phillips says is it because it carries genetic information known to be missing from the coastal populations of Byron, Ballina, and the Richmond River floodplain around Lismore.

‘The progressive or assisted incorporation of genes from the Dunoon koalas into these other populations will increase their overall genetic and immunological fitness and so increase their capacity to resist change.’

Channon Gorge area to be inundated by proposed dam. Photo David Lowe.

Nan Nicholson says the Dunoon Dam would destroy 23 ha of koala habitat according to the Terrestrial Ecology Impact Assessment prepared for Rous County Council in 2013.

‘This does not include forest damaged or fragmented by construction works, or peripheral impacts on koalas living around the edges of the impact zone.

‘The forest consists of key koala feed tree species such as Tallowwood, linked by rainforest and regrowth,’ she said.

‘In addition to habitat loss, Koala corridors linking this population to others would also be negatively impacted.’

Ms Nicholson says mitigation is not an option because koalas need these trees now and cannot wait for a regrown forest. ‘Northern NSW koalas could be extinct in less than 30 years if nothing is done to halt ongoing habitat loss.’

Future water

Revised Future Water Project plan. Rous County Council.

A new Future Water Plan, without the Dunoon Dam, has been prepared by Rous County Council and released for public comment. Submissions close on May 28.

WATER Northern Rivers Alliance represents local groups promoting diverse water options and opposing the Dunoon Dam: https://waternorthernrivers.org/

The organisation is urging people who care about koalas to put in a submission supporting Rous’ new Future Water 2060 plan. This plan has taken the Dunoon Dam off the table.

More information here: https://rous.nsw.gov.au/future-water-for-our-region

More stories about Dunoon Dam:

Missing: evidence that the Dunoon Dam is relevant

Rous County Council (RCC) is responsible for our region’s future water security. Its lack of transparency, inability to communicate complex concepts with the community and its penchant for misusing/misrepresenting scientific and expert information make it unfit for that purpose.


Demand management is key to our future water

Rous County Council’s new Demand Management Plan (RDMP) 2023–26 is extraordinary. Parts of it could have been written by WATER Northern Rivers; the lobby group that advocates for genuinely diverse water options and the permanent shelving of the proposed Dunoon Dam.


Olivia Newton-John and FernGully

Olivia Newton-John was active in many environmental issues in the Northern Rivers region. One in particular was the 12-year battle to save ‘Fern Gully’ in Coorabell from being dammed.


The Valley of the Dammed

Less than 2.5 per cent of water on Earth is fresh, and humans have dammed over half of the rivers around the globe. Dams significantly modify landscapes and have immense ecological and social consequences.


Lismore Council votes on the Future Water Project 2060 – again

Looking at Lismore's the never-ending issue of water – not enough or too much – there was yet another vote about its future on Tuesday evening.


Indigenous Minister pressured over Dunoon Dam consultation

NSW Nationals MLC Ben Franklin was recently pressured over his lack of consultation with Indigenous custodians regarding the contentious Dunoon Dam proposal.


Expert says ‘it’s reasonable to rule the Dunoon Dam option out’

It appears Cr Big Rob cherry-picked Professor Stuart White's comments about the Dunoon Dam and used them out of context which may have not given the other Rous Councillors the full picture of the viability of the project.


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