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Koala endangered listing must push NSW Government to protect habitat

Today’s announcement that koalas will be finally listed as Endangered under the Biodiversity Conservation Act is a huge wake up call for protecting koala habitat in New South Wales.   

“The devastating endangered listing of koalas comes as no surprise in a state where the government refuses to protect habitat. Koala numbers have been in freefall for years and the NSW Government must act immediately to protect their habitat” Nature Conservation Council Deputy Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said.  

"The reality is koalas are dwindling across New South Wales and we don’t have a proper mechanism to protect their habitat.”  

“If you want to save koalas you have to protect their trees. It is not complex. But koala habitat continues to be destroyed because of weak government policy that prioritises land clearance for grazing, agriculture, urbanisation, timber harvesting and mining.”  

“The recently released NSW Koala Strategy was inadequate for protecting the species and we are seriously lacking a state-wide mechanism to bring this iconic species back to a healthy population. Any party looking to lead NSW into the future needs to have this as a commitment.” 

“We are calling on the NSW Government to immediately:  

  • Ban the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land;  
  • End native forest logging; and   
  • Expand the National Parks estate to protect high quality koala habitat including the proposed Great Koala National Park”   

The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee found: 

“Human activities including deforestation and land clearance for grazing, agriculture, urbanisation, timber harvesting, mining and other activities have resulted in loss, fragmentation and degradation of koala habitats” (page 3) 

“Large areas of forest and woodland within the koala’s range were cleared between 2000 and 2017 (Ward et al. 2019) with clearing for grazing accounting for most of this loss of koala habitat”. “Land clearing continues to impact habitat across the koala’s range” (page 3) 

“Clearing of native vegetation’ is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Act.” (page 4) 

“Modelled climatic suitability from 2010 to 2030 indicates a 38-52% reduction in available habitat for the koala and a 62% reduction in koala habitat by 2070 has been forecast” (page 4) 

“... it is facing a very high risk of extinction in the near future...” (page 5) 


Government fails to rule out burning native forest for electricity

The Nature Conservation Council is deeply disappointed that the NSW Government hasn't done more to plug loopholes and shut down attempts to marketise our native forests in its response to the Sustainability of energy supply and resources in NSW inquiry.  

Jacqui Mumford, Deputy Chief Executive of NCC: “The NSW Government has missed an opportunity to provide additional protections to our increasingly vulnerable native forests, and the wildlife they support.  

“Burning trees for electricity is backwards; it destroys habitat for NSW’s iconic species and is dirty, costly and unnecessary. 

“When the government says that only native forest residues are allowed to be woodchipped and burnt to generate electricity, they don't say that this can include entire trees.i 

“Proposed projects such as the Verdant Biomass Power Station in Singleton, if approved, will create a market for bulldozing smaller and wonky trees that should be left standing in the forest to provide critical habitat to koalas and other species.” 

The Verdant Biomass Power Station in Singleton could burn 850,000 tonnes of biomass per year, sourced within 300km of the Singleton. It could see a massive increase in native forest logging on the north coast of NSW, if the Perrottet government neglects to amend the definition of wood residues. 

“This report comes only a week after the koala was uplisted to endangered, and was a real opportunity to take a step in the right direction. 

“This Inquiry made it clear that the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2009 must be amended to close loopholes that allow native forests to be woodchipped and burnt for electricity. The Government has ignored the advice of experts.” 


Koala endangered listing must compel NSW Government to act

Today’s announcement that koalas will be finally listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is a huge wake up call for protecting koala habitat in New South Wales.  

“The endangered listing of koalas is a devastating reflection of the reality for koalas in Australia. Koala numbers have been in freefall thanks to habitat destruction. The NSW Government should follow suit and list koalas as endangered under the Biodiversity Conservation Act” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“The Commonwealth finally acknowledging that koalas are endangered is good news, and should now prompt NSW to follow suit so that they can be properly managed, starting with protecting habitat” 

“If you want to save koalas you have to protect their trees. It is not complex. But koala habitat continues to be destroyed because of weak government policy at both state and federal levels.” 

“The infamous koala wars of 2020 has now seen the New South Wales Government  sit on its hands while this iconic species has been in decline. It’s time they resolved the impasse on land clearing and private native forestry codes and properly protect habitat” 

“The NSW Koala strategy expired on 30 June last year and we are yet to see a new one. There are many opportunities for the NSW Government to drastically improve how koala habitat is managed in this state’  

“We are calling on the NSW Government to immediately: 

  • Ban the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land; 
  • End native forest logging; and  
  • Expand the National Parks estate to protect high quality koala habitat including the proposed Great Koala National Park”  

Christmas comes early for Port Macquarie koala colony

Koala lovers are celebrating today after almost 200 hectares of prime habitat near Port Macquarie were put beyond the reach of property developers. 

NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean announced this morning the government, with a $3.5 million contribution from Koala Conservation Australia, had bought a 194ha block of forest next to Lake Innes Nature Reserve. 

The purchase follows a long community campaign to conserve one of the best unprotected patches of koala habitat left in the district. 

“This is a great victory for the community and for the region’s koalas,” Nature Conservation Council Acting Chief Executive Jacqui Mumford said. 

“While it is a relatively small patch, it will make a significant addition to the existing nature reserve and improves the chances that koalas will persist in the area for many years to come. 

“Koala Conservation Australia has done an amazing job raising more than $3 million to ensure this land does not end up in the hands of developers who have destroyed huge areas of koala habitat around Port Macquarie. 

“It is a pity the public had to chip in to protect this land when people expect their taxes to be used to ensure the long-term survival of the species.

“But putting that aside, today is a great result for our most loved species.” 

Ms Mumford said many thousands of hectares of koala habitat in NSW were still not protected from logging, land clearing and property development, including Lend Lease’s housing development at Mt Gilead on Sydney’s southwest outskirts. 

“The government has the power to protect koalas for future generations and to honour its pledge to double koala numbers by 2050, but only if it acts swiftly and boldly to protect their habitat across the state,” Ms Mumford said. 

“Koala protections in NSW have been weakened since the National’s threatened to blow up the government because they wanted to let landholders keep bulldozing koala habitat. 

“The government’s new Koala Strategy is now well overdue, and with every month’s delay, the species edges closer to the brink.” 


Sign up to be a Koala Champion!

The koala population in NSW has been plummeting for decades, primarily due to development and deforestation leading to immense habitat loss. 

Koalas don’t have a voice or the deep pockets of developers, they need the voice of human champions to campaign and lobby for their survival. They need community groups around NSW to organise to protect koala habitat. If we work together from the ground up, we can prevent koalas from going extinct by 2050.

If you sign up, we can connect you with other koala champions and groups in your area, or even help you start a group.

Sign up now to become a koala champion and help us save koalas!

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Rural Boundary Clearing Code opens up more bushland for destruction

A new land-clearing code introduced by the NSW Government on Saturday could result in thousands of hectares of previously protected bushland being cleared on the spurious grounds of bushfire risk reduction. [1] 

“The new Rural Boundary Clearing Code could see thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat destroyed without requiring independent assessment of the environmental impacts,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“These codes do nothing practical to protect properties from catastrophic bushfires but they are guaranteed to increase deforestation and habitat fragmentation across large parts of the state.  

“Neither the NSW Bushfire Inquiry nor the Royal Commission recommend land clearing on property boundaries as a valid response to the Black Summer fires, but politicians in the government think they know better. Now we are stuck with a bad law that could do tremendous harm to the environment. 

“If these codes stand, it will be a black mark on the record of Matt Kean who in many respects has been a good minister for the environment. It would be shame if he were remembered for this rather than his more positive contributions.” 

NSW National Party MPs last year used the tragedy of the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires to push their agenda of further weakening of land-clearing controls. 

They proposed letting landholders clear a 25m strip around their boundary even though none of the bushfires inquiries recommended such measures. 

Under the code, if neighbours took up their new rights, 50m-wide strips of clearing would occur across large parts of the state. 

The government passed the Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill to enable the clearing last November but the devil was always going to be in the detail of the codes.  

Late last year, the Nature Conservation Council wrote to key ministers detailing minimum environmental standards any new code must meet, especially excluding areas of koala and other threatened species habitat. 

“The code could mean the difference between survival and extinction for koalas and other threatened species in some parts of the state, so it was vital that the government got this right,” Mr Gambian said.   

References 

[1] Rural Boundary Clearing Tool  

[2] Bush Fire Environmental Assessment Code 


Fresh approach to extinction crisis is welcome

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes the NSW Government’s commitment to a new suite of measures to protect the state’s most threatened species and ecosystems. 

Environment Minister Matt Kean has committed to a target of zero extinctions in national parks and released details of a plan to designate key ecosystems and species as Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) that will be protected through conservation action plans. [1] 

“The target of zero extinctions is exactly the level of ambition the public expects for our national parks,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We would have hoped all species in our national parks —the most protected and valued ecosystems in the state—were already safe from extinction. 

“But this has not always been the case. The sad truth is the number of threatened species in NSW has increased over the past 230 years and the number now stands well above 1000. 

“The existing strategies to reverse the tide for species have clearly not been up to the job so we applaud the government for trying something new.” 

Mr Gambian said the government’s commitment to include natural assets, including species and ecosystems, in Bushfire Management Plans that cover national parks was a positive step and urged the government apply that approach to the whole state.   

“With the increasing severity of bushfires across NSW, it is crucial we identify those ecosystems and species that, once lost, can never be recovered,” he said. 

“We believe all Bushfire Management Plans across the whole state should identify areas of outstanding biodiversity, not just those plans that cover the national parks estate.  

“In other words, this approach should be tenure blind, applying equally to public and private land. 

“There is already potentially a mechanism to target such places through the process used to identify Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value. 

“We look forward to working with the government to making that a reality.” 

[1] Zero extinction target for NSW national parks welcomed by environment groups, The Guardian, 7-9-21 


Funding for on-farm habitat restoration in the Central West is welcome

The Federal Government’s new Enhancing Remnant Vegetation Pilot project will provide much-needed investment in habitat restoration in the heavily cleared Central West region of NSW. 

The project, announced today by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, will also hopefully advance our understanding of the most effective habitat restoration techniques, which can then be rolled out across the region. [1] 

“With almost 90% of the native vegetation in the Central West cleared for crops and livestock over the past 230 years, we must urgently find ways to protect whatever remnants are left,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“In some districts less than 5% of the pre-European vegetation cover remains, much of it in poor condition, and the amount of bushland continues to decline due to land clearing. 

“Relatively little of this immense region is protected in national parks or travelling stock routes and opportunities to add to the parks estate are very limited. 

“Now much of the best unprotect remnant habitat in the Central West is on private land.  

“That means farmers are out last line of defence in the fight to protect our unique natural heritage and to ensure we pass it on to future generations. 

“While most acknowledge their duty in this regard, some can’t afford to do what’s required. This project recognises this bind and sees to address it in a very practical way.” 

Funding under the Enhancing Remnant Vegetation Pilot project will be available for on-farm projects conserving high-quality patches of remnant native vegetation range in size from 5ha and 220ha. The project pilot will run for 10 years.  

References 


150 hectares of habitat lost each day in NSW

Latest land clearing data shows 150 hectares of wildlife habitat is bulldozed or logged every day in NSW, almost twice the average annual rate recorded before the Coalition overhauled nature laws in 2016. [1] 

The annual Statewide Land and Tree Study (SLATS) data shows 54,500 hectares of native forest were destroyed for farming, forestry and development in 2019. 

“This astounding rate of deforestation is a disaster for wildlife and the climate. We call on the government to take urgent action to reverse the trend,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.   

“In just one year we have lost an area of forest four times the size of Royal National Park. It is simply unsustainable. 

“Using widely accepted data on wildlife population densities, clearing on that scale would have killed up to 9 million animals - mammals, birds and reptiles – in just 12 months. [2] 

“After the government weakened land clearing laws in 2016, deforestation rates doubled and have remained at these dangerously high levels ever since. 

“The Coalition promised its new laws would enhance protections for bushland and wildlife.  

“These figures, and the rising number of threatened species, shows the laws completely fail to deliver on that promise. 

“More than 1,020 plants and animals are now threatened with extinction in NSW, about 20 more than when the scheme was introduced. 

“The 74% of clearing is designated as ‘unexplained’ in this report shows the government has lost control of deforestation in NSW.  

“We welcomed the government establishing new national parks over the past year, but the national parks system covers less than 10% of the state.

“The government must stop uncontrolled deforestation on private land and in state forests if it is going to tackle the extinction crisis.” 

[1] Land cover change reporting, DPIE, June 2021  


Rallies across NSW on World Environment Day demand action to save koalas

People have rallied across the state today, calling on the NSW Government to strengthen protections for koalas and their habitat. 

More than 500 people gathered in Hyde Park, Sydney, and were addressed by a range of speakers, including:  

  • Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian, 
  • Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson, 
  • Greens MLC David Shoebridge,
  • Muruwari and Budjiti man Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth, and
  • Bob Brown Foundation Campaign Organiser Doro Babeck. 

Rallies were also held at Lismore, Bowral, Coolongolook (Port Stephens), Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai Chase and Tahmoor.   

Mr Gambian said: “Koalas in NSW are on death row. Business as usual is simply no longer an option – this is an emergency that requires drastic action. Their numbers were plummeting before the Black Summer bushfires killed thousands of koalas and incinerated millions of hectares of forest. We need a step-change in our conservation efforts or koalas will join the Tasmanian Tiger as an emblem of our failure as ecological stewards.  

“Any credible strategy for the species’ long-term future must include a strict ban on the destruction of koala forests and significant investment in new nature reserves, habitat restoration and ecological research. This issue is above politics – it is now time all parties worked together to implement the solutions we need.” 

Doro Babeck from Bob Brown Foundation said: “We must do all to protect this iconic species from extinction. The world is looking at us and what we do to protect them. We must stop logging their habitat, whether it is on private land or public. If we can’t even stop koalas from becoming extinct, what hope do we have?   

“People love koalas all over the world, yet, here, we have a government that sits on its hands and does nothing to protect them. Koalas are dying the death of a thousand cuts, as development after development gets approved and each time we say ‘oh, it’s just a few hectares lost here and there, it won’t affect the koala population overall’. But it does affect the koala population as we need to look at their cumulative effect.”   

Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth said: “Koala’s are First Nations totems that need to be protected. Our totem’s die, we die.”  

Alea Babeck, SS4C youth activist: “This has become the most urgent issue. Land clearing and logging are huge contributors to the climate emergency we are facing. We need our forests as vital carbon sinks and as habitat for our wildlife, like koalas. We are logging more forests than any other developed country. We should be doing all we can to protect the remaining wild places, not cut them down for woodchips. We can’t afford to do this anymore.”  

THE KOALAS NEED TREES CAMPAIGN 

The Nature Conservation Council in March launched its Koalas Need Trees campaign, which is underpinned by a policy agenda that includes: 

  • Adding of 200,000 hectares of koala forest to the national parks estate; 
  • Banning the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land; 
  • Setting up a $1 billion koala conservation and restoration fund; and 
  • Ending native forest logging.   

BACKGROUND  

Koala populations in NSW have plummeted in the past 30 years - estimated to be fewer than 20,000 before the Black Summer Bushfires that destroyed almost 25% of koala habitat on public land. 

In late 2019, the NSW Government introduced a new Koala State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala SEPP 2019) that marginally increased legal protections for koalas. 

In late 2020, the National Party threatened to “blow up” the Coalition if the SEPP was not scrapped. The Nationals objected to the policy controlling logging on private land (private native forestry) and land clearing for farming and property development.   

To end the war, the Coalition partners agreed to: 

  • Limit the application of the new Koala SEPP to  Sydney, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains;  
  • Exclude rural areas from the new Koala SEPP; and   
  • “Protect” koalas in rural areas through amended land-clearing and logging codes. 

Conservation groups and environmental lawyers have grave concerns the new codes will weaken rather than strengthen protections. 

The process for developing those new codes, a new Koala Strategy, and the timing for the release of both, have still not been made public.