September is Save the Koala month. But NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman seems determined to spin the government’s efforts to save koalas without doing anything meaningful says the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA).
On Friday 25th September, a media release from Mark Speakman’s office outlined the NSW government’s efforts to save our national icon by radio collaring 20 animals to track their movements in the southern highlands.
If this is the best we can do we can kiss koalas goodbye now.
In 2012, when listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the federal government, koala populations had declined by 34% in NSW. Since then we know the Pilliga and Gunnedah populations have crashed and that multiple coastal populations are in dire trouble between Port Stephens and Coffs Harbour. The Pacific Highway threatens to bisect koala populations in the north of the state. Habitat loss for urban development continues on the coastal lowlands.
The future looks bleak for koalas. If current declines continue, koalas will be extinct in NSW by 2055. But instead of taking decisive action Minister Speakman is piggybacking on local government efforts in an attempt to show action.
Wingecarribee Shire Council deserves praise for being proactive about koala conservation: the council has an environment levy, and the results of the tracking will be used to prioritise levy investment. This is smart thinking.
But the state government can and should look at a bigger picture. It should not use others’ projects as a smokescreen to hide inaction.
“We know that protecting habitat is the only way to protect threatened species” said NPA CEO Kevin Evans.
“That’s why we have researched and proposed the Great Koala National Park which would protect 20% of NSW’s wild koalas.”
“Conspicuously lacking from the Minister’s media release was any commitment to protect koala habitat. Instead he appears to pass the buck to council to make ‘informed land use decisions’ as a result of the radio tracking,”
“This is a shocking abdication of duty and continues the well-established pattern of state government effectively vacating the space of koala conservation.”
NPA Science Officer, Dr Oisín Sweeney said that some of the stated goals of the project as outlined by the Minister’s release were odd:
“We know what species of gum trees koalas eat. We know that they are at risk from dogs and cars because they have to move between fragments of habitat, and disease because they are stressed”
“This is pretty basic stuff and we need more decisive action than just monitoring them to extinction.”
“The NSW state recovery plan has expired. The minister says that OEH has reviewed the plan to evaluate success. We believe the public deserve to see this review before the $100 million for Saving Our Species is allocated”
“It seems to us that the plan is failing, because koala populations are not recovering. We believe we need to urgently protect habitat to save the species. Does the government review say otherwise?”