In the latest demonstration of indifference to nature conservation that has infected Coalition governments, the NSW Environment Minister, Gabrielle Upton, has described the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) Great Koala National Park proposal as a ‘political gimmick’[1].

The Minister’s comments come at a time when land clearing laws are being wound back on private land, and the NSW government is developing new logging laws that will see a dramatic intensification of logging on public land[2]. NPA CEO, Kevin Evans, says the refusal of the government to protect habitat on public land is misguided and the Minister’s comments insulting:

“The Minister’s contempt for those who would see us do better in regards koala conservation is breathtaking.

“Far from being a ‘political gimmick’, the Great Koala National Park proposal was developed by community groups. These groups funded ecologists to identify the boundaries of koala populations and developed a reserve proposal that incorporated these boundaries and linked koala habitat on a landscape-scale.

“The Minister’s own department has described those parts of the Great Koala National Park in the Coffs Harbour area as ‘koala habitats of national significance’[3], while Department of Primary Industries recently released modelling[4] that also shows the best koala habitat in NSW as overlapping with the Great Koala National Park proposal.

“Unfortunately, much of this habitat is currently in state forest. Far from taking steps to protect it and reverse declines in koalas, the government is proposing to change logging laws to allow it to be even more heavily logged.

“Another arm of government, the Environment Protection Authority, has found that koalas prefer large trees and mature forests[5]. Well, the Great Koala National Park would remove logging from 175,000ha of public land, making sure that in future large trees and mature forests are exactly what koalas would get.

“The Minister keeps trotting out dollar values, but these aren’t plans. Koalas don’t deal in dollars, their currency is habitat. What’s the plan to protect their homes? Why is public land exempt from consideration?

“The $10 million being heralded to acquire private land is peanuts. High value coastal land, where koala protection is most urgent, can cost up to $100,000 per hectare. In contrast, the Great Koala National Park is 100% public land, meaning it’s economical to create.

“Is the Minister saying the best her government can do is to buy around 100 hectares of koala habitat? Really?

“The real political gimmick here is throwing a few dollars around to pretend to take action. If this is the way the government treats “icon species”, heaven help the other one thousand threatened species this Minister is tasked with protecting.”

Ends. Media contact: Oisín Sweeney 0431 251 194

[1]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-04/climate-change-putting-australias-koalas-at-risk/8586538

[2]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-03/secret-cabinet-document-shows-aussie-animals-at-risk/8583672

[3]See page 18 of A Preliminary Map of the Liklihood of Koala Occurrence in NSW: comparison of preliminary baseline liklihood of occurrence mapping with koala habitat mapping on the NSW north coast. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/epa/140868KoalaMapSubProj.pdf

[4]A predictive habitat model for Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in north-east New South Wales: Assessment and field validation. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/forestagreements/predictive-habitat-model-koala.pdf

[5]See pages 60-62 and 75-76 in Koala Habitat Mapping Pilot. NSW State Forests. http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/forestagreements/koala-habitat-mapping-pilot-160038.pdf