The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today welcomed a broader definition of ‘core koala habitat’ and new maps of koala habitat across New South Wales.
That expanded definition of koala forests is part of an updated planning policy released today which encourages councils to conserve koala habitat.
But WWF-Australia warned the changes will not turn around the decline of the iconic animal because the vast majority of koala habitat remains unprotected.
“Skyrocketing deforestation, drought and bushfires are killing thousands of koalas,” said Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia’s Senior Manager Land Clearing and Restoration.
“Release of the long-overdue review of the State Environment Planning Policy 44 – Koala Habitat Protection
is welcomed, but it will currently only strongly apply to a handful of the 83 councils which have koala habitat,” said Dr Blanch.
“That’s because SEPP 44 only fully kicks in if a council has a koala management plan. Only 6 councils have approved plans with a further 5 councils with draft plans.
“For Council areas without a koala plan of management, the protections are much weaker. Such councils must only ‘take into account…the land does not include any trees belonging to the feed tree species
…or the land is not core koala habitat’.
“This policy won’t stop the extinction of most of the 38 koala populations across the state.
“If the Premier wants to save koalas, she must rewrite native vegetation and forestry laws to protect the new areas mapped as ‘core koala habitat’ wherever it occurs.
“Koala habitat is legally being destroyed due to weak and permissive regulation under the Local Land Services Act, such as for deforestation for agriculture, and the Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals.
SEPP 44 does not stop state governments making decisions to destroy koala habitat.
WWF welcomes the environment agency’s state-wide mapping of ‘core koala habitat’, and much broader definitions of which areas of bushland provide homes for koalas. WWF and conservation partners have long called for these reforms.
The list of tree species used by koalas has been increased from 10 species to 123 species.
However, it is discretionary for Councils whether or not they prepare a koala management plan, there is no additional funding to assist Councils to do so, and even with a plan koala habitat can still be destroyed as long as it is offset elsewhere.
WWF acknowledges that this intervention is certainly a step in the right direction for Koalas and asks that the NSW government take the next critical step, which involves not only acknowledging core koala habitat but protecting it by law from agricultural land clearing and native timber harvesting.