By Tony Moore
August 30, 2020 — 9.15am
The Queensland government on Saturday finally released its five-year conservation strategy for the threatened koala.
It reveals last summer’s bushfires affected 44,141 hectares of core koala habitat and 13,989 hectares of locally refined koala habitat areas in Queensland.
Queensland has released its five-year strategy to protect koalas across the state.CREDIT:FILE
Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the strategy, which can be found here, included feedback from 5000 people after the draft paper was released in December 2019.
At that time, many local councils argued large areas of koala habitat that were previously protected were removed under the draft state government plan.
In December 2019, Redlands mayor Karen Williams was one of several outspoken mayors who said the “plan needed to go back to the drawing board”.
By February 2020, koala habitat mapping was updated and changes were made to the draft plan.
- setting targets for “stabilising” the shocking decline in koala numbers;
- achieving a net gain in core koala habitat area;
- commencing work to restore 10,000 hectares of koala habitat.
And for the first time, the conservation strategy sets out some koala conservation timelines.
- It will establish a set policy for koala translocation – i.e. moving them from development threats – by 2021.
- It will develop a policy with councils to control the impact of dogs on koalas in suburbs near koala habitat, also by 2021.
- South-east Queensland’s network of wildlife hospitals will identify threat hotspots to be worked into dog and road impacts by 2022.
- Councils will work on public relations campaigns to alert drivers to koalas on 10 south-east Queensland roads during breeding season to reduce the shocking incidence of koalas being killed by cars.
The new mapping identifies koala priority areas [in blue hatches], core koala habitat areas [dark green], locally defined koala habitat areas [light green], and koala habitat restoration areas [yellow].
The blue-hatched areas show critical koala habitat north of Brisbane in August 2020.CREDIT:SOUTH-EAST QUEENSLAND’S KOALA CONSERVATION STRATEGY 2020-2025
Theoretically, the Queensland government’s new strategy restricts the clearing of koala habitat.
“It prohibits the clearing of koala habitat areas within a koala priority area. It also regulates development in koala habitat areas outside a koala priority area, unless the activity is allowed under a strict set of exemptions that ensure safety and appropriate land management,” it says.
However, as this case study in koala habitat at Springfield last week shows, more than 66 hectares of koala habitat in this project alone were exempt from the plan.
Queensland’s Conservation Council said the clearing of that habitat by Springfield developers, without public comment, highlighted loopholes in the new protections.
Blue-hatched areas show critical koala habitat south of Brisbane in August 2020.
“It is a classic example of where, for one reason or another, we are going to lose yet another large parcel of land of koala habitat,” QCC chief executive Louise Matthiesson said.
“It is death by a thousand cuts – that is what these exemptions allow,” she said.
Dr Anita Cosgrove of Queensland’s Wildlife Preservation Society agrees that developers still have too many exemptions, but said the new strategy was “a significant improvement” on the draft.
Sixty-six hectares of SEQ koala habitat could be cleared under scheme
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Dr Cosgrove welcomed the shift from “no net loss” of koala habitat towards an “overall gain in koala habitat”, a clearer process for the community nominating habitat to be protected and for annual reports to track the strategy’s achievements.
She said many conservation groups were disappointed that more changes were not made to Queensland’s planning legislation.
“We had some concerns at the time that there were some exemptions in there that allowed koala habitat to be bulldozed,” Dr Cosgrove said. “And we would have liked for the government to have closed some of those loopholes.
“But, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
Koala populations have declined by 50 per cent across much of the state, and in some Redlands areas, the numbers are down by 80 per cent.