It’s bitter-sweet news for koalas today as they move from being listed as vulnerable to endangered.
The decision means koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian
Capital Territory will now be classified as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) 1999, and recognises the koala is one step further along the pathway to extinction.
But many groups believe that without stronger protections, east coast koalas are at risk of disappearing altogether.
Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the announcements follow a $50 million commitment to Koala conservation and protection, and represent a comprehensive framework to protect the iconic species. ‘We are taking unprecedented action to protect the koala, working with scientists, medical researchers, veterinarians, communities, states, local governments and Traditional Owners.
‘As part of the $200 million bushfire response, I asked the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to consider the status of the Koala.
‘The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years have led to the advice.
‘The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the Act will be considered not only in terms of their local impacts, but with regard to the wider koala population.
That’s all great, but…
Friends of the Koala (FOK) welcome the federal government’s decision to up list koalas but say that koala populations, particularly in NSW, were already in trouble well before the 2019/2020 Black Summer.
President, Aliison Kelly said today that FOK applaud the Committee’s decision. ‘But, the future survival of the species is grave if urgent action is not taken to address the ongoing threats impacting remaining populations.
‘Partners of Friends of the Koala, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF-Australia) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) along with Humane Society International (HSI) submitted strong evidence to the federal government to support the nomination.
‘For over 35 years, Friends of the Koala have been working towards positive outcomes for koalas and their habitat. This up-listing strengthens the groups resolve to protect koala habitat and gives politicians greater powers to stop trees and critical habitat from being cleared. With fire intensity and frequency only set to increase due to climate change, further action is needed to ensure koala populations survive into the future.
Ms Kelly said now more than ever, every koala counts. ‘We will continue to be their voice and call for a mortarium on excessive land clearing and development which makes koalas increasingly vulnerable to disease, dog attacks and vehicle strikes.’
A joint nomination
Today’s announcement follows a joint nomination by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia in March 2020, to the federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
IFAW, HSI and WWF-Australia thanked Minister Ley for listening to the environmental sector and making this much-needed decision based on the science.
The three organisations submitted strong evidence to support the nomination including scientific reports by ecological consultants Biolink, which revealed Queensland’s koala population has crashed by an estimated 50 per cent since 2001, and up to 62 per cent of the NSW koala population has been lost over the same period.
Koalas on a knife-edge
IFAW Wildlife Campaign Manager Josey Sharrad said koalas are an international and
national icon, but were living on a knife-edge before the Black Summer bushfires with numbers in severe decline due to land-clearing, drought, disease, car strikes and dog attacks.
‘This decision is a double-edged sword. We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon. If we can’t protect an iconic species endemic to Australia, what chance do lesser-known but no less important species have?’
‘The bushfires were the final straw. This must be a wake-up call to Australia and the
government to move much faster to protect critical habitat from development and land-clearing and seriously address the impacts of climate change.’
A turning point
WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanch said the endangered listing must be
a turning point for koalas and called on federal and state governments to commit to doubling koala numbers on the east coast by 2050. ‘Koalas have gone from no-listing to vulnerable to endangered within a decade,’ said Dr Blanch. ‘That is a shockingly fast decline. Today’s decision is welcome, but it won’t stop koalas from sliding towards extinction unless it’s accompanied by stronger laws and landholder incentives to protect their forest homes.’
Dr Blanch said koala numbers have halved in the past 20 years. ‘Yet new SLATS data shows land clearing in Queensland remains alarmingly high and the NSW Government is yet to honour its commitment to provide robust protections for koalas in areas of high-value habitat.
‘We must turn this trend around and instead double the number of east coast koalas by 2050. Australia must complete the transition out of deforestation and native forest logging to become a world leader in forest protection and restoration.’
An urgent cue for governments
Senior Campaign Manager for HSI, Alexia Wellbelove, said, the uplisting is an urgent cue
for governments to take a stand against the continued clearing of koala habitat. ‘If “business as usual” continues, extinction is predicted for east coast koalas by 2050. Unless we want to say goodbye for good we can’t afford any more clearing.’
The decision comes just 10 years after koala populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT
were listed Vulnerable under the EPBC Act in May 2012.
‘Since then, koalas have suffered relentless ongoing pressure. Land clearing has ramped up, increasing 13-fold in NSW since the government weakened native vegetation laws in 2016,’ said Ms Alexia Wellbelove. ‘South East Queensland’s koala population is also projected to shrink to fewer than 8,000 by 2032, when the eyes of the world will be fixed on Brisbane as it hosts the Olympic Games.’