Inquiry comes to the Koala Capital to investigate population decline

STEEP DECLINE: Gunnedah may be the Koala Capital, but populations have been in decline in recent years. Photo: Nick Moir
STEEP DECLINE: Gunnedah may be the Koala Capital, but populations have been in decline in recent years. Photo: Nick Moir

THE future of koalas in and around a town which calls itself the "Koala Capital' will be the focus of a parliamentary inquiry on Friday.

The koala population at Gunnedah, 80km west of Tamworth, has been in rapid decline.

The inquiry aims to find out why there has been a steep decline in numbers and what needs to be done to conserve remaining populations.

Greens politician Cate Faehrmann is spearheading the inquiry and will visit farmers in Breeza to inspect the koala habitat on their properties, and discuss the patterns of koala movement across farmland between forests.

"The inquiry will hear evidence from local experts and landholders on the rapid decline of koala populations in the New England region, and the threats to koalas from climate change, land clearing and mining," she said.

"New England's koalas were once a healthy and growing population; it is vital that we understand the reasons behind their decline and that the government takes up recommendations to stop the loss of koalas in this region."

The threat to local koala populations by the proposed Shenhua coal mine will also be discussed.

It isunderstood Shenhua has been invited to speak at the hearing, but it not known if the company will attend.

Tamworth ecologist Phil Spark is among the dozen local experts to speak before the inquiry.

He's been studying koala decline in the state's west, and says koalas are locally extinct in Walgett, Lightning Ridge and the Pilliga.

"The big issues is that there is a front [of local koala extinction] moving from the west towards the east," Mr Spark said.

There's always been a fear that this summer, without any rain, will be the tipping point for a lot of areas still hanging in there.

Maules Creek CWA president Libby Laird said the inquiry was "very timely".

"We're interested in shining a light on some of the things going on in our region, particularly with the koala population in the Leard State Forest," Ms Laird said.

"I think there is a misunderstanding by the government that you can just tell koalas where to live.

"You can't just plonk a mine in the middle of their habitat, then create environmental offsets for them. It doesn't work like that; you have to live with them."

Earlier this week, the parliamentary inquiry heard about how the bushfires ranging across the state are having an impact on the various koala populations.

North East Forest Alliance president and ecologist Dailan Pugh says more than 2000 koalas may have died in the fires with up to one-third of the koala habitat on the north coast lost.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton in October estimated at least 350 koalas would have died in a bushfire in Crestwood based on a predicted 60 per cent mortality rate.

It's estimated the Blue Mountain fires have already impacted "hundreds and hundreds" of the koalas.

This story Another declining koala population under the spotlight first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.