Koalas have made it onto the second Ballina Shire Council meeting agenda for 2022, with new Greens Councillor Simon Chate calling for their habitat to become an immediate priority.
The recent official reclassification of Australia’s Eastern koalas as endangered meant it was ‘critical’ the council did ‘everything’ possible to ensure the species ‘health and longevity’, Cr Chate wrote in his notice of motion for this week’s ordinary council meeting agenda.
Cr Chate quoted scientific projections of NSW koalas’ likely extinction by 2050 and said the council needed ‘to act now – not in five years – not in three’.
The Greens councillor told The Echo he’d heard 30 – 40% of Ballina’s koala population had been lost since the Black Summer bushfires.
‘On the day of the local government election last year a couple of koalas, a mother and a baby, walked through the polling booth area at Rous Public School,’ Cr Chate said, ‘and I thought to myself “I’m gonna try to see what we can do to protect you”’.
‘It’s important that we stop just cutting away habitat,’ Cr Chate continued, ‘deaths by a thousand cuts is still deaths’.
The Greens councillor is calling for the council to declare preservation and protection of the shire’s koala’s population a priority.
But judging by staff notes in response, unless their associated work can be expediated, the urgency Cr Chate wants employed for koalas seems as likely to happen as the government urgency that has countered the region’s declared housing crisis.
Chate calls for 10-15% expansion of Ballina koala habitat by 2024
Cr Chate’s motion as displayed on the council’s website Tuesday morning included six parts.
Cr Chate wants council staff to report on current actual koala habitat in the shire compared to mapping in the council’s most recent koala management plan and for protection and expansion of that land to be prioritised in the council’s biodiversity strategy.
Perhaps the most ambitious part of Cr Chate’s motion is a target for increased koala habitat in the Ballina Shire: Cr Chate has suggested 10-15% ‘within the course of this electoral cycle’.
Given the most recent local government elections were delayed but the 2024 election date hasn’t so far been postponed, the current council term – or ‘electoral cycle’ – is expected to last around two years instead of the usual four.
Cr Chate told The Echohe was looking at the ‘slightly longer picture’ but it was ‘really important’ the council didn’t let habitat shrink.
Another 15 months of bureaucratic work expected before Ballina has a biodiversity strategy
Cr Chate’s target could further be challenged by another motion up for debate in this week’s meeting concerning residential zoning in Alstonville.
As part of the council’s Alstonville Strategic Plan 2017 – 2037, new housing opportunities were named as a goal, leading to a recommendation for certain low density areas to the south-west of the Alstonville commercial centre to be rezoned as medium density.
It’s unclear what, if any, impacts the zoning change would be expected to have on koala populations in Ballina.
One of Cr Chate’s other ideas as listed in his motion is for the council to consider incentives for land holders to set aside land for the expansion of wildlife and especially koala habitat.
Staff have written in response that the idea is already part of the planned biodiversity strategy.
Staff notes on Cr Chate’s motion said they were still in the ‘scoping and background documentation phase’ of the council’s pending biodiversity strategy and that they expected the document to take up to fifteen months to finish.
Cr Chate told The Echoincluding koalas in the biodiversity strategy as a priority was ‘a no-brainer’.
‘Maybe what we can do now is look at what aspects of that priority won’t be impacted by the biodiversity strategy so we don’t have to wait 12-15 months,’ Cr Chate said.
Referring specifically to koalas, staff wrote that while the council already had a koala management plan, a review of koala habitat in the shire could happen but would probably take ‘at least several months’.
The Echo has requested an interview with someone from the council in relation to Cr Chate’s motion.