Environment

NSW’s koalas ‘in crisis’ as threats rise on many fronts, inquiry told

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Koala populations are facing increased threats across NSW with even the healthiest colonies at risk as critical habitat is destroyed, and the climate grows hotter and drier, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Among the submissions to the inquiry in Sydney on Friday was an Office of Environment and Heritage document obtained under freedom of information laws. It showed "less than one per cent of identified koala habitat is protected" under new land clearing codes introduced by the Berejiklian government in 2017.

Koalas face threats on multiple fronts, including in Sydney's south-west where even the state's healthiest population are facing loss of habitat and humans move in.

Koalas face threats on multiple fronts, including in Sydney's south-west where even the state's healthiest population are facing loss of habitat and humans move in.Credit:Jessica Hromas

"Koala populations in NSW are in crisis," said Jack Gough, a researcher at the Nature Conservation Council who obtained the document. "Koalas face a range of pressures – climate change, disease, cars and dogs – but the number one threat is habitat loss and fragmentation."

The document showed OEH expected clearing of native vegetation for farming to rise from 9000 hectares a year before the new laws came into effect to about 15,000 hectares afterwards.

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Instead, the pace has quickened further, with farmers giving notice they would clear 51,000 hectares and Local Land services approving a further 288,000 hectares for native vegetation removal, Mr Gough said.

The day-long inquiry heard from a range of witnesses. Senior forestry and primary industries officials defended the expansion of forestry into northern NSW coastal forests known to contain koala colonies, saying improved monitoring and adaptive management could moderate the impact on the marsupials.

"We believe we can have koalas and a sustainable timber industry," said Brad Law, principal research scientist in the forestry unit of the Department of Primary Industries.

Similarly, the expansion of new housing planned for south-western Sydney – including almost 70,000 homes between Campbelltown and Wilton alone – could also co-exist with the healthiest koalas in NSW, the officials said.

South-west Sydney's koala populations are chlamydia-free, while as much as 70 per cent of the animals in the Liverpool Plains are infected with the sexually transmitted disease that leaves them infertile, the inquiry heard.

Environmental groups stressed the threat posed by developments such as Lendlease's Figtree Hill at Mt Gilead to an animal assessed by the government as "vulnerable" statewide.

They pointed to the use of the existing Noorumba Bush Reserve as a biobank to offset the loss of koala habitat trees, and argued the federal government's Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act would likely end up rejecting the move even though NSW Planning had approved the swap.

"Anything that decreases habitat is not going to be positive for koalas," Matthew Crowther, an associate Read More – Source