Have you seen this sign?

Have you seen this sign? Sounds like good news, or is it?

You would think that fewer koala deaths is a good thing, but these numbers reflect more than meets the eye. Encounters with koalas by the local community are more rare these days and although we don’t know for certain how many koalas are out there, fewer deaths means likely fewer healthy animals left in the wild.

It’s evident that people and koalas are competing more than ever for prime coastal real estate. Prior to the Black Summer bush fires 2019-2020, koala carers and wildlife hospitals on the NSW mid-north coast used to report higher mortality figures and those admitted for treatment than they they do now. Dr Darryl Jones states that this is “principally because the numbers of local koalas have declined significantly.” The same pattern has been emerging in Port Stephens and adjacent LGAs despite not having experienced the horror of the bushfires.

Koala Koalition EcoNetwork Port Stephens (KKEPS)

KKEPS was formed in June 2021 in response to the growing need for a strong voice to advocate for better protection for koalas in Port Stephens and neighbouring LGAs. It operates as a Special Interest Group within EcoNetwork Port Stephens.

The members of this alliance, comprising groups and individuals, are committed to working collaboratively with local councils, landholders, environment groups and other stakeholders to ensure that strategies such as the Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) are actively used to address and rectify the plight of koalas in our region.

Similar groups exist in other parts of NSW and Australia where advocacy and on ground actions, such as protection of habitat and corridors through private properties, have had great success.

Protect the Unburnt

During the Black Summer bushfires, it is estimated that around 30,000 koalas perished and millions of hectares of habitat destroyed. Experts advised that there should be a moratorium on further land clearing in crucial koala habitat across Australia but this has fallen on deaf ears in NSW. The Port Stephens community was devastated when the expansion of the Brandy Hill quarry was given the go-ahead in October 2020 by the Federal Environment Minister. Surely governments at all levels have an obligation to provide better protection for koalas and halt the ongoing clearing of native forests? We think so!

In July 2021, representatives from the KKEPS researched and prepared a detailed submission for the draft conservation advice and Commonwealth listing assessment for the koala.

Many of the key points will be included in another important response that KKEPS is working on: responses to the Draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). As stated on the Department’s webpage ‘the public consultation process gives Australians the chance to have their say on the draft plan that sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of the nation’s threatened koalas.’ 

Wildlife Corridors

Ecologists will tell you that fragmentation and encroachment into large or small pockets of habitat will inevitably lead to local population crashes, contributing to state and even nationwide koala extinctions. We cannot keep allowing one tree at a time to be removed without accepting that one day soon, there will be no koalas left in NSW. Without urgent intervention, the NSW Koala Inquiry estimated that this could happen by 2050.

As the concept of wildlife corridors is not adequately taken into account by local or state planning authorities, remaining koala hubs are becoming isolated islands dissected by major roads and new housing estates.Wildlife corridors need to be kept as intact as possible through private land that links fragmented pockets of koala habitat. Every landowner, whether on acreage or smaller blocks, can do their part to ensure that not only feed trees are retained but also other trees that koalas can use to traverse from one hub to another. 

In June 2021, ABC Landline’s ‘Bushfire Recovery Special featured an inspiring project in northern NSW. Host, Pip Courtney says: “Landholders and volunteers are planting thousands of trees to create hundreds of kilometres of corridors to try and halt the alarming decline in koala numbers.”

Former tennis player Pat Rafter, is one of the landowners committed to this local project planting thousands of koala trees on his property to connect koala hubs. Creating wildlife corridors is one of the more achievable outcomes that a community can undertake through a collaborative project as the Bangalow Koala group has shown us.  It is estimated that many of the habitat and feed trees will provide a canopy in as little as five years.

We hope that the Port Stephens community will be inspired to collaborate on a similar project in our area.

Koala-corridors: planting a tree highway for koalas (Season 30, Episode 20).

If you missed this inspiring Landline Bushfire Recovery Special, you can view it here.

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