It seems the various levels of Australian government have ignored the requests of residents and conservation campaigners to deal with the urgent plight of dwindling koala populations and the bushland that harbours our national icons. Sadly Ministers Tony Burke and Peter Garett are yet again content delaying action on this critical national environmental issue, with multiple deferments (5 and counting) on the decision to list the koala as a protected species.
Below is a selection of articles from CNN and various ABC regional news desks highlighting the despair in various communities from Ballarat to the Koala Coast.
UPDATE : Rolf Schlagloth has updated us with this direct link to his report on the Ballarat City Council’s comprehensive koala plan of management. http://www.ballarat.vic.gov.
Koala populations are highly vulnerable to drought. In extremely dry periods, trees lose their leaves. The leaves that remain tend to be low in nutrients.However, environment minister Tony Burke says he needs 10 more weeks to consider new information from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) on where the marsupial is under the greatest threat. It’s the second time he’s delayed the decision, which was initially due in October.
“I can’t provide a blanket threatened species listing across Australia when there are many places where koala numbers remain high,” he said in a statement.
While the Senate report found there had been a “marked decline” in Australia’s national koala population — with the largest losses reported in the states of Queensland and New South Wales — it said that in some areas of Victoria and South Australia koala colonies were “flourishing.”
Some say the disparity between survival rates in different parts of the country is complicating what should be a simple decision to grant koalas greater protection.
“In the Senate documents there wasn’t one submission that said the koala as safe. Not one,” said Deborah Tabart, chief executive of the Australian Koala Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the species.
Currently, koalas are listed as “vulnerable” under state legislation in Queensland and New South Wales, and as “rare” in South Australia. However, they are currently not granted any extra protection under federal law. Campaigners say a national listing is necessary because state governments have clearly failed to stop population declines.
A national listing would offer greater protection to the koala under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. Currently, more than 1,700 species and ecological communities face the threat of extinction, according to government figures.
Tabart said the federal environment minister’s decision to delay his verdict was a deliberate tactic to avoid it becoming an issue before the upcoming Queensland state election on March 24. Most koalas in the state are found in the south-east near the capital Brisbane, a growing city which is suffering a shortage of affordable housing.
“We are absolutely convinced it has nothing to do with koala biology. It has to do with politics and I’m ashamed of our minister,” Tabart said. “There’s nothing that they could gather in 10 more weeks that hasn’t been gathered by a 200-strong page Senate report that says the koala is in trouble.”
“The data that we have presented — and 100 other submissions — has taken us 25 years to gather and 26,000 man hours. So unless Minister Burke has a group of volunteers scouring the bush looking for koalas, this 10-week delay is nonsense,” she said.
Burke’s office denied the delay was politically motivated and said that the minister was seeking more precise information on habitat boundaries. The minister says he doesn’t expect the decision to be delayed beyond April 30.
Each time, the committee found there was not enough data on koala populations to conclude that populations had fallen far enough to reach the threshold needed to declare them endangered under federal law.
Internationally, the koala is listed as of “least concern” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. However, the U.S. considers the marsupial a threatened species.
Updated February 17, 2012 10:09:18
The Federal Government has been urged to act sooner rather than later after delaying for another 10 weeks its decision to add the koala to the list of nationally-threatened species
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke hinted in a statement that a listing is being considered, but only on dwindling koala populations in specific parts of the country.
Mr Burke has asked the Threatened Species Committee for more precise boundaries detailing areas where koala populations are in trouble.
In the Gunnedah local government area in northern New South Wales, only 6,000 hectares out of a possible half-a-million is considered primary koala habitat.
Australian Koala Foundation chief executive officer Deborah Tabart says a Senate inquiry document is telling Mr Burke that he should act now and not wait another 10 weeks.
“I think it’s basically said the koala is in serious trouble and that it’s just declining, so unless you get this federal protection there’s nothing in place that will stop it going into extinction at some point in the future,” she said.
“So I think it’s time our Federal Minister stepped in and said ‘look, we’ve got to bite the bullet, protect the koalas and all those industries who are fearing this just get on the program’.
“Minister Burke has delayed this decision, I think, twice and Minister (Peter) Garrett prior to that, I think, three times.
“I’m just hoping that the Senate inquiry document, which is now firmly on his (Mr Burke’s) desk, should persuade him that, if nothing else, he should protect the koala under a precautionary approach.”
Posted February 17, 2012 06:54:58
Tony Burke has postponed making a decision on the issue until April and has also indicated he could make a ruling that would treat the status of koala populations differently in each State.
Society President, Sue Swain says she is concerned the decision has been delayed purely for political reasons, with the Queensland state election to be held in March.
Ms Swain says with the Port Stephens koala population on the brink of being wiped out due to habitat loss, a decision needs to be made as soon as possible.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll have to list the Queensland ones because they are disappearing, they’re just about gone,” she said.
“Ours are disappearing at a rate that if he doesn’t make a decision about them now, if he waits a couple of years it will be too late.
“The advice he is getting in the documents is to list the koala nationally, not just Queensland, not just New South Wales, but nationally.”
She says the listing would mean all development in Port Stephens would have to meet certain criteria regarding the local koala population.
“Every development would have to do an environmental impact statement involving koalas, whether they live there, whether their habitat is on the land that is to be developed and then the land can only be developed according to the environmental agency.
“They would be taken into consideration, currently they’re not, it doesn’t matter if it’s prime koala habitat, if the council is going to make money out of it, they will sub divide it.”
But Mr Burke announced he would delay the decision by another 10 weeks to seek further information from The Threatened Species Scientific Committee about the exact locations of dwindling koala numbers.
Ballarat researcher Rolf Schlagloth says it’s dangerous to limit the threatened species listing to selected areas.
“I think we all know that the koala is threatened in Australia in general and in some areas more than others.
“We don’t have the numbers exactly of how many koalas are where and whether they’re declining or not – I think there’s enough anecdotal evidence, historical evidence, to say that koalas are declining in most, if not all areas, apart from some isolated patches of habitat that are not natural, they’re man-made.”
Mr Schlagloth believes the areas selected will be down to politics.
“Very often you will find that there are certain electorates that are sensitive for koalas and koala habitat, and also development.
“It probably comes down to a simple mathematical calculation – where will we lose or gain the most seats with whatever decision the government comes up with?”
Mr Burke says the Federal Government will not introduce a blanket threatened species listing across Australia because “there are many places where koala numbers remain high”.
But Mr Schlagloth says koalas face problems due to inbreeding and numbers are high in some areas because their habitat is diminished.
“It’s a mismanagement of government over the last 100 years – the koala was basically extinct in all of Victoria apart from isolated pockets in east Gippsland.
“Then some koalas, very few, were taken to a couple of islands, so they reproduced…so all the koalas that are now in Victoria have been reintroduced [and] have a very narrow gene pool.”
Mr Burke says he will announce the decision on April 30.