What does it mean to be an icon in NSW? Not much apparently. Unless the Baird government has a complete rethink of its environment policy the iconic koala faces a bleak future says the National Parks Association of NSW.
Koalas are one of just six of the 1000-odd threatened species put on an ‘iconic’ pedestal in the NSW government’s Saving our Species (SOS) programme. According to the government, “iconic species are important socially, culturally and economically, and the community expects them to be effectively managed and protected”. 1
Yet between opening up land clearing and the ever-increasing intensity of native forest logging, the Baird government’s current environment policies couldn’t be designed to be less effective in managing and protecting koalas—as an article in The Guardian reported today. 2
Unsurprisingly, a 2015 study showed that almost every koala population was in decline across the state. 3
WWF estimates that 2.2 million hectares of koala habitat could be lost across NSW on private land if Mike Baird’s land clearing laws are implemented. 4 And that doesn’t count the millions of paddock trees that could go—also important habitat features for koalas. 5
Incredibly, koalas do not have a current recovery plan at either a state of federal level are we’re still awaiting the release of the SOS koala strategy in NSW.
NPA CEO Kevin Evans said: “The government’s fall-back response to criticism on land clearing is to cite their investment in SOS. But against the background of land clearing and logging, the paltry $3 million invested over five years through SOS will be no more than tinkering round the edges and is doomed to fail.
“The government seems paralysed to act. We need new protected areas and we need them fast. And that means removing logging and buying land.
“A dramatic increase in land clearing is precisely the opposite of what koalas need at this crucial moment in their existence.
“We know there are radical elements in the National Party who oppose national parks and want open slather on land clearing. These people are bossing Mike Baird around on environment policy at the expense of everyone else in NSW who want koalas to be protected.
“It’s time to listen to those the community trusts to protect koalas and admit you got it wrong on land clearing Premier.”
NPA Senior Ecologist, Dr Oisín Sweeney added: “Mike Baird just doesn’t get it. He’s not an ecologist, he’s a banker, so you can excuse him for not grasping the link between habitat and species. But you can’t excuse him for not listening to those voices that do understand.
“One of the most fundamental tenets of ecology is that the distribution of animals is determined by availability of habitat. So if koala habitat goes, the koalas go. It’s pretty simple.
“The EPA has found that the ever-increasing intensity of native forest logging is making more and more areas of our public forests unsuitable for koalas because they prefer larger trees and mature forest 6.
“Logging results in exactly the opposite: smaller tree sizes and younger forests.
“We often hear industry spin about logging in NSW being ‘world’s best practice’. Yet the EPA is clearly in no doubt as to the impacts of logging on koalas. So the question is, what do they propose to do to regulate an industry that is profoundly altering the values of public forests?
“Large multinationals are profiting from the timber that is cut from our public forests. And the reward for the people of NSW is to see their favourite species dwindle towards extinction.
“Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple. Identify priority state forests for reservation and gazette them as national parks. This wouldn’t even cost any money as it’s public land already.
“Environment groups, including NPA, have done the government’s job for them in regards identifying priority reservations for koalas. So why are they still sitting on their hands and watching koalas drift towards extinction in NSW?”
3 McAlpine et. al. 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.09.020
5 Crowther et. al. 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00413.x