The koala—saving our national icon
The Federal Senate Enquiry Report – 22 September 2011
To view the final report see the link at the bottom of this article
To view the Senate Enquiry Hansard Report for the Brisbane hearing click here
The following is Lynn’s address to the panel.
KAG Opening Statement Senate Inquiry Public Hearing 3 May 2011
Good morning, my name is Lynn Catherine Roberts and I am vice-president of the Koala Action Group Qld – KAG for short. KAG was formed almost twenty-five years ago. I have an environmental science degree with an interest in population ecology.
My practical experience includes working as an after-hours koala ambulance volunteer (10 years), rearing orphaned koalas and restoring koala habitat as an environmental consultant. Although my personal experience has been within the Koala Coast (south east of Brisbane) and in the Redlands in particular, I believe the problems faced by koalas there to be similar to all the other koala populations found on the coastal areas of Northern NSW and South East Queensland. The Koala Coast has the advantage of being one of the best studied groups of koalas. Populations have been scientifically estimated only since 1996. However, KAG has run phone-in surveys since 1987 which show the same declining numbers in recent years as in the scientific studies.
The Koala Coast population of koalas is very special in that it is the largest concentration of koalas near a capital city – along with Pine Rivers. Another interesting feature is the large numbers of koalas that have lived and continue to live successfully in urban areas.
However, there has been a dramatic decline in numbers in the last 15 years coinciding with a dramatic rise in the human population in the Redlands (92,000 in 1993 to 137,000 in 2008). Modern development methods typically totally flatten sites; place large houses on small lots making it impossible for koalas to traverse the developed site.
An important DERM study in 2009 documents the rapid koala decline. It highlights the importance of conserving urban populations after blaming the decline in the bushland areas on a previous decline in the urban population which meant there were fewer dispersing animals from the urban areas to populate the bushland areas.
So KAG is highly concerned about the lack of protection of habitat in the urban areas which ignores the findings of this report. Individual trees are difficult to assess using satellite technology so they are discounted and consequently not protected. This is highly damaging to urban koala populations that are dependent on being able to access trees in a “stepping stone” fashion. That is, urban koalas typically have a “chain” of trees they visit to feed in. The removal of one tree can remove a link or break the chain making it difficult if not impossible for them to visit the next link. With the multitude of “infill” developments especially in the Redlands, owners sub-divide into smaller lots, this inevitably leads to the loss of vital back-yard trees.
The Queensland State Government has put a lot of effort in protecting koalas in the Koala Coast since the first draft State Planning Policy was presented in 1995 but with a spectacular lack of success as shown by the decline of 64% of the koala population between 1996 and 2008 (DERM 2009).
Under the latest State Planning Regulatory Provisions, protection largely depends on habitat mapping. Outside the urban footprint large areas are excised as Key Resource Areas (for quarrying) and under the SEQ Regional Plan the rest is Rural Production Area. The latter land use allows clearing for farming and livestock. Within the urban footprint, there is little or no protection for individual trees.
Threatening processes apart from habitat loss are also inadequately addressed:
Road traffic has increased exponentially in the last ten years. Some fauna underpasses have been installed but their effectiveness is unproven. It is far more likely that koalas will use overpasses so it is disappointing that none are planned for the Redlands in spite of there being excellent sites at known hot-spots.
The Koala Coast is also exceptional because most koalas killed by dogs in the Redlands are killed in the dog’s back yard. The Redland City Council has brought in local laws requiring dogs to be confined at night in the designated Koala Conservation Areas. But…. most koalas are killed in urban areas. Map illustrates this.
The link between development and disease is clearly shown in one development studied in the Redlands. Pre-development in 1996 70 koalas – 5% showing clinical signs of disease. Post-development 2004 only 15 koalas on site – 25% showing clinical signs of disease.
I firmly believe that the listing of the koala under the EPBC act is the only thing that can prevent the Koala Coast population and all the other similar populations with their separate genetic identities becoming extinct. This loss of genetic variability will lead to the eventual loss of the whole species.