The NSW Government’s latest move to preserve the iconic koala is a $20 million private land purchase program designed to secure more protected habitat.
“Essentially, if you own good quality, occupied koala habitat that meets the criteria, the NSW government is a willing buyer,” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said in a media release this morning.
Ms Upton said the initiative would increase the number of koala habitat corridors and linkages across the landscape.
However, maps of the regions that are the focus for expressions of interest notably do not include the Bellingen Shire or the area around Coffs Harbour.
This is despite the fact that the forests around Bellingen and Bongil Bongil National Park are recognised as prime koala habitat.
Bongil Bongil NP is home to one of the state’s largest koala populations, but it straddles the highway and is broken up into multiple-oddly shaped sections, making it more likely that koalas will range into ‘unsafe’ areas and be at risk from vehicles and dogs.
National Parks Association Senior Ecologist Dr Oisin Sweeney said it was “incredibly disappointing” that Bellingen and Coffs were not in the focus areas.
“No reason is given as to why Bellingen and Coffs are excluded, and it makes no sense because Bellingen and Coffs are two of the local government areas that have actually shown some leadership by implementing koala plans of management,” he said.
“The area has lots of high quality koala habitat and Bellingen locals even lay claim to being the koala capital of NSW. That’s why the Great Koala National Park has been proposed there.
“Just like the government’s koala reserves were selected to minimise impacts on timber supplies rather than for koala protection, this purchase strategy picks winners and losers rather than doing what’s best for koalas.”
The government is seeking expressions of interest from private landholders in Port Macquarie, the Southern Highlands, Port Stephens and the Far North East region (Northern Rivers) for six weeks from now until 6 December 2018.
Information on the Office of Environment and Heritage website states that criteria for considering a property include:
- presence of koala habitat
- evidence of use by koalas
- good connection to surrounding native vegetation
- that reservation would improve the management of threats to koalas in that location.
It goes on to say: “Not all land identified as having high koala values will be suitable for addition to the national parks system. In addition to the above criteria, OEH will assess whether the land is suitable from a general conservation and management perspective.”
These criteria include:
- the property’s proximity to existing national parks
- specific management requirements and whether OEH has the capacity to manage the property
- other natural and cultural values
- value for money
- competing land use interest such as potential for mineral resources and timber harvesting
- the social and economic impacts of reserving the land.
Ms Upton’s press release noted that while the four areas “are of particular focus”, the government would “also assess expressions of interest from other areas where there is good quality occupied koala habitat”.
Oisin Sweeney commented, “By the Minister’s own admission, the koala reserves the Government has made so far have been selected on the basis that they don’t impact on timber supplies, rather than their importance for koalas. Many of them have no koala records and no koala habitat.
By the Minister’s own admission, the koala reserves the government has made so far have been selected on the basis that they don’t impact on timber supplies, rather than their importance for koalas.Dr Oisin Sweeney, NPA
“In contrast, NPA has proposed several koala reserves that would protect habitat on public land and which we know will make a positive difference because the government itself has identified them as important areas.
“The Great Koala National Park alone would protect 175,000 hectares of public forests near Coffs Harbour and has been shown to be of paramount important for koalas. That’s 100 times more habitat for $20 million less, because we already own these forests.
“Instead, the government’s proposing an ‘intensive harvesting zone’ for the Mid North Coast where 45-hectare patches of forest will be able to be clearfelled in a single operation.”
Oxley MP Melinda Pavey has been approached for comment.