Koala habitat buy-up won’t undo the damage already done

On the face of it, the state government’s $45 million koala strategy, which includes$20 million to buy koala habitatin the Hunter, appears to be a welcome initiative.

But the plan needs to be seen in the context of the thousands of hectares of koala habitat that have been lost in recent years.

The NSW Nature Conservation Council estimates 5000 hectares of koala habitat has been lost in northern NSW since the repeal of the state’sNative Vegetation Act in 2017.

The law was replaced withcontroversial land-clearing codes which allow property owners to clear sections of native bushland without prior environmental assessment.

Koala habitat in the Hunter has been in decline for decades due to the pressures of urban development.

The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee noted in 2017 that koala habitat in Port Stephens, home to the majority of the region’s koalas, had become highly fragmented due to clearing for agriculture, housing, sand mining and roads.

New developments proposed in the area would take in more than 1200 hectares of koala habitat.

The committee predicted the Tomaree koala population would decline to extinction within a decade at the current mortality rate.

Despite the dire prediction, the committee was unable to listthe Port Stephens koalapopulation as endangeredbecause thenew laws stripped its power to classify populations as endangered.

Compounding the loss was the controversialsale of the six hectareMambo wetlands site in June 2016.

Ironically, under the government’s latest proposal,priority is given to the purchase of land closest to adjoining National Parks and other government-owned nature reserves.

Mambo Wetlands wasadjacent to a large nature reserve owned by Port Stephens Council.

The habitat buy-up plan comes after the establishment of a$3 million koala sanctuary at One Mile Beach earlier this year.

While the buy-up is a positive initiative in theory, it will require the purchase of a number of adjoining parcels of land to create a green corridor if it is to be effective.

The government’s latest proposal is a small glimmer of hope in thedesperate quest to save one of our most iconic native animals before it is too late.

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