Fears held for the future of Redland koalas with Qld govt group policy – RCB

By March 20, 2019News
  • Stacey Whitlock          Local News    APRIL 4 2019 – 5:30PM

A STATE government-appointed conservation group could enact policy changes that would lead to the demise of Redland koalas, says the Koala Action Group.

 VULNERABLE: KAG fears koala conservation could be put second to commercial interests if translocation policy is changed.

KAG president Debbie Pointing said the government’s Koala Advisory Council’s support of changes to policy that could make it easier to translocate koalas risked opening the floodgates for activities that went against koala conservation.

Translocation is currently only allowed for scientific purposes, but new policy will be released with the government’s Koala Conservation Strategy later this year.

Ms Pointing was concerned policy changes would increase the risk of translocation being used to facilitate development. 

Many Redlands koalas could be deemed at risk from dangers associated with living in urban areas and easier translocation could lead to the demise of koala populations. 

Ms Pointing’s comments came after the ABC reported that a translocation project at East Coomera on the Gold Coast had a 42 per cent mortality rate.

University of Queensland researcher Bill Ellis said translocation could be a viable option to aid koala conservation but had been executed poorly in the past.

“We haven’t done a good job because we haven’t understood what the purpose (of translocation) should be,” he said.

“Past translocations have been a (reactive) response to development in (koala habitats).”

In some cases it’s been a convenient but inappropriate solution.

Dr Bill Ellis, University of Queensland

Dr Ellis said translocation could be considered as a last resort for koala conservation. 

“We need to think about why we are relocating them (and how this would) increase the viability of koala populations across Queensland,” he said.

Ms Pointing said she was worried that areas where koalas would be released would not be safe. 

“These so called safe areas are generally patches of bushland that are surrounded by high speed roads and housing developments so the koalas often find themselves in danger,” she said. 

KOALAS: Translocation is currently only permitted for scientific purposes.

An Environment Department spokesperson said a policy being prepared would include criteria to determine the most suitable translocation sites based on risk assessment and advice from experts.

“Risk assessments include spread of disease, inability of a koala to cope with relocation, potential impacts on koala genetics, disruption of resident koalas at the relocation site and risks to koalas at the original site,” the spokesperson said.

“Importantly, it will ensure rehabilitated koalas are not released back into imminent danger.

“The government will ensure that the translocation policy framework is in the best interests of koalas and is not a measure to facilitate development.”

Ms Pointing said the vested economic interests of several Koala Council members was concerning.

“These … changes of the translocation policy will play directly into the hands of those seeking to gain profits from allowing koala habitat destruction,” she said.

Council members include representatives from the development and timber industries as well as environmental advocates and koala experts.

The Environment Department spokesperson said the council’s diverse make-up ensured collaboration and communication pathways between these sectors, and members must disclose conflict of interests in all matters under consideration.

Koalas dying as stakeholders debate Queensland Government’s translocation policy – ABC

By Peter McCutcheon         20 Mar 2019

PHOTO: A joey koala sitting on a eucalyptus perch at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. (ABC News)

RELATED STORY: East Coomera koala population faces further loss of habitat

RELATED STORY: Bush recordings and technology reveal higher koala occupancy rate

RELATED STORY: ‘They’re all starving to death’: Koalas in crisis on overcrowded island

The Queensland Government is being urged to expand the controversial practice of koala translocation, despite previous programs having a high mortality rate.

Key points:

  • The East Coomera translocation project had a 42 per cent mortality rate
  • Gold Coast City Council says the program “a success” as the mortality rate “very similar” to koalas not moved
  • The council said the impact of wild dogs was “higher than anticipated”

Under present Queensland law, koala translocation, which involves relocating the animal to similar bushland, is only permitted if it is part of a scientific research program.

The chair of the state’s Koala Advisory Council, Mark Townend, has told 7.30 it should be made easier to move koalas, whose habitat is under threat, to similar bushland.

“At the moment you can only put a koala back within 5 kilometres of where it came from,” he said.

“Why would you put them back in danger? We need to review that policy.

“You’ve got all these admissions to wildlife hospitals of koalas because they’re not mixing right with people, dogs or cars,” he said.

“So we need to try and review that policy.”

The comments have shocked leading koala researcher Professor Frank Carrick, who is worried a change in policy will encourage further destruction of koala habitats.

He said translocation was highly risky and past programs had failed.

“It’s a zero-sum game. If you have x amount of habitat, you remove half of it, by and large the population in that region will decline by at least half, probably more,” he said.

“Shifting them around is the old classic, shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Dr Michael Pyne said translocation was a useful tool, but only as a last resort.

“Movement of koalas from one area to another in many cases is a necessary evil,” he said.

“When you’ve got young koalas that are dispersing and moving through urban areas, there’s no choice but to try to find a better spot for them.”

PHOTO: A koala is treated on an operating table at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. (ABC News. )

Policy review announced

The Queensland Government has announced a review of the translocation policy after it was revealed in State Parliament last August that the mortality rate for the project at East Coomera was 42 per cent.

7.30 can now reveal more details about the project, which relocated 180 koalas between 2009 and 2014.

Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show the death rate was blamed on “unforeseen wild dog attacks”.

A scientific permit report from the council to Queensland’s Environment Department in 2014 admitted “the impacts of wild dog predation were higher than anticipated in the early stage of the project”.

But despite the high death rate, the council argued the project was a success, as the mortality rate was “very similar” to the rate for koalas that were not moved.

Under the heading “relocation success”, the report said “at six months after relocation, approximately 80 per cent of koalas had survived and generally appeared to have coped with the initial stress”.

“At the 12-month mark, approximately 70 per cent of koalas in the relocation group had survived and had essentially become residents at the recipient sites,” it said.

The 2014 report also promised to submit “a series of research papers” that were “planned for preparation to scientific journals over the next two to three years”.

A Gold Coast council spokesman told 7.30 that the papers had yet to be submitted.

But the council’s 2014 report was already claiming significant scientific findings.

“Koala relocation is a complex undertaking, but can be achieved with success in many cases where the koala is healthy, in good body condition, is at least 4 to 5 kilograms in weight … and aged from two to around seven years,” the report said.

Critics say program ‘a failure’

PHOTO: The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary says the number of koalas they are treating has risen from 25 per year to 500 over the decade. (ABC News)

Australians for Animals, which obtained the Right to Information documents, said the council was drawing a long bow.

“It’s really important to understand that these Coomera koalas were nationally significant,” Australians for Animals coordinator Sue Arnold said.

“They’re the heartland of koalas in south-east Queensland and the translocations were a failure.”

Koala researcher Frank Carrick also remained sceptical about the council’s claim of translocation success.

“If that’s their idea of success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like,” he said.

“If you accept at face value what we’ve been told, and it’s on the basis of, ‘trust us, we’re politicians’, then it’s a pretty dismal outcome.

“But we can’t judge, because we don’t have the actual data.”

Questions remain about East Coomera program

The Right to Information documents show the sites where the 180 East Coomera koalas were resettled had not be surveyed since late 2014.

However, the Gold Coast Council has confirmed to 7.30 that it commissioned further surveys of the translocation sites in the Lower Beechmont and Wongawallan conservation areas in November and December last year.

“The report detailing the results of these surveys is currently being prepared and is expected to be presented to council in mid-2019,” a council spokesman said.

Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch said she would wait to hear the final report from the Koala Advisory Council before making a decision.

“That’s why we’ve got a koala expert group — a council — an advisory council to provide all of that input to government to make sure we have the right policy that gives us the best practice is this area,” she said.

Watch the story on ABC 7.30 on line.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-20/controversial-koala-relocation-policy-urged-to-expand/10917602


Developers paid $4.6 million in koala offset payment to clear bushland – Brisbane Times

By Tony Moore          March 19, 2019 — 9.50pm

Talking points

  • WWF Australia labels Queensland’s koala offset policy asa licence to clear bushland with 97 per cent of developments needing to clear bushland, deciding to simply pay a fee upfront.
  • No-one has made a submission to tighten the conservation status of Queensland’s koala from vulnerable to endangered, despite numbers sinking since 2012.
  • The Queensland Government formed a new Koala Advisory Council in December 2018 to review the mammals’ future.

More than 95 per cent of developers simply paid a financial penalty upfront to clear koala bushland under Queensland’s controversial offset policy, a Queensland government discussion paper shows.

In 2017-18 alone $4.58 million was received in offset payments for 40 development applications where koala bushland was involved.

Koala offset payments in Queensland where developers choose to pay a financial settlement upfront.

That has increased from $140,000 in offset payments for eight development applications in 2014-15.

The practice has been condemned by WWF-Australia because it allows developers the option of simply paying a sum of money as an offset payment to clear the koala habitat.

 “Such an approach is an incentive to clear bushland, and the relevant acts should be repealed and replaced by legislation that promotes verifiable outcomes consistent with ecologically sustainable development,” WWF-Australia ecologist David Paull said in a recent study into koala’s status.

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said it was now reviewing Queensland’s koala habitat offset policy, introduced in 2006.

“It will include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the current framework in achieving environmental outcomes and the extent to which it aligns with best practice from other jurisdictions,” a spokeswoman said.

The discussion paper Review of the Queensland Environmental Offsets Framework shows 97 per cent of the 156 development applications approved with offset conditions between July 1 and June 30, 2018, were made by a financial settlement, rather than other land protection strategies.

WWF-Australia said the diminishing koala populations on Australia’s east coast showed it was time to toughen the national conservation classification from “vulnerable” to “endangered”.

“Given that koala populations continue to decline to historic lows, koala populations in New South Wales and Queensland would likely qualify for ‘upgrading’ the current ‘vulnerable’ listing to ‘endangered’,” WWF-Australia ecologist David Paull said.

Koala numbers are dropping throughout Australia as urban development clears land including critical koala habitat.

The federal environment minister in 2012 classified the koalas as vulnerable after a recommendation from the Threatened Species Committee.

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said a nomination to the Threatened Species Committee was necessary to tighten the conservation status of the koala.

“Nominations to change the listing status of a species are done through a nomination to the Species Technical Committee who subsequently assess the nomination,” the spokeswoman said.

“Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service is not aware of any current nominations for the koala’s status to be changed in Queensland.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates that by 2018 there could be anywhere from 12,165 to 23,005 koalas remaining in Queensland.

It estimates the koala is extinct in some places and there are now fewer than 20 koalas in some city electorates.

Australia Koala Foundation estimates of koala numbers in federal electorates in 2017 based on their research over two decades.            CREDIT:AUSTRALIA KOALA FOUNDATION.

It estimates koalas are probably already extinct in the north Queensland electorate of Leichhardt.

In Steve Ciobo’s Gold Coast electorate of Moncrieff there might be five to 10 koalas, though there are more in nearby electorates with koala habitat.

The AKF thinks there might be perhaps 40 koalas in Wayne Swan’s suburbanised seat of Lilley in north Brisbane which includes Everton Park, Stafford, Chermside.

Most koalas here would be in the scrubland towards Nudgee and Boondall.

In Terri Butler’s urbanised inner-city Brisbane seat of Griffith, there might be 80 koalas.

In Jane Prentice’s Ryan electorate in western Brisbane, there might be 200 koalas because it includes little bit of koala habitat past Kenmore and Moggill.

Further away from the cities, koalas are in relatively healthy numbers in Queensland.

There may be 8000 koalas in David Littleproud’s western Queensland electorate of Maranoa out past Mitchell.

In Flynn, an estimated 6000 koalas live inland of Bundaberg and Rockhampton.

Australia Koala Foundation estimates of south-east Queensland’s koala numbers in 2017.            CREDIT:AUSTRALIA KOALA FOUNDATION

WWF-Australia called for a moratorium on koala habitat land clearing and a complete review of Queensland’s planning legislation is completed.

“A moratorium should be placed upon clearing of koala habitat until planning and development laws and regulations are amended to effectively conserve koala habitat and populations,” his report says.

“Most importantly, the protection of essential (or critical) habitat under the Vegetation Management Act across all areas of Queensland needs to be strengthened.”

“Especially the urban footprint by removing exemptions to vegetation clearing regulations, particularly under the Planning Regulation 2017.

The report asked for extra powers for the Department of Environment and Science to over-ride planning legislation.

“The State Department of Environment and Science should have concurrence power with respect to all development applications that may impact koala habitat.”

https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/developers-paid-4-6-million-in-koala-offset-payment-to-clear-bushland-20190319-p515ll.html

Environmental offsets review consultation

The Queensland Government is undertaking a comprehensive review of Queensland’s Environmental Offsets Framework.

https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/pollution/management/offsets/review?fbclid=IwAR1lBPVPWIlgyvwyQ4C9honGEoKAgVJUWxC_MhSMa_-0R_AwZUBgdN2_V50

The aim is to ensure Queensland’s biodiversity-rich natural environment is protected through a world-class and internationally recognised approach to offset delivery.

The review explores avenues that will encourage greater investment in activities that counterbalance the unavoidable impacts from development practices. It is focussed on achieving improved conservation outcomes and identifying greater opportunities to provide cultural, social and economic benefits to Queensland.

To inform this review, the government has released the discussion paper Review of the Queensland Environmental Offsets Framework (PDF, 2.91MB).

All stakeholders are invited to have their say on strengths, opportunities and areas for improvement within the framework.

The government will also undertake targeted consultation with business, community, industry, conservation and local government sectors as part of the review.

Once the review is complete, an action plan will be developed to progress the proposed changes.

Making a submission

To provide your feedback on the discussion paper, you can:

  • Email offsetsreview@des.qld.gov.au
  • Post your response to the:
    Environmental Offsets Review team  
    Department of Environment and Science 
    PO BOX 2454
    BRISBANE  QLD  4001

The closing date for submissions is 5pm Monday 15 April 2019.

Please email offsetsreview@des.qld.gov.au if you require further information.