The Wilderness Society released the statement below on April 27.
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Koalas must be included on the national threatened species list as part of Environment Minister Tony Burke’s 30 April announcement, especially in NSW’s Gunnedah region and the Pilliga Forest where they face the additional threat of expanding coal mining and coal seam gas operations, according to the Wilderness Society.
“Koalas need to be protected across Australia as they are rapidly declining in numbers, especially in the Pilliga Forest, where three-quarters of the population has been wiped since 2000,” said Naomi Hogan of the Wilderness Society.
“Minister Burke has ruled out protection for all koalas and we are concerned these northwest NSW koala populations may be left off the threatened species list, even while their populations are falling dangerously low.
“Gunnedah is known as the ‘Koala Capital of the World’, yet recent scientific studies show koala numbers across the region and in the nearby Pilliga Forest are seriously declining.”
Zoologist David Paull has recorded a 75% decline in the relative abundance of koalas in the Pilliga from 1993 to 2011. He said the population was relatively stable until 2000 and estimates there are only 500 to 2000 koalas left in the area.
“In 1993 I would take tours through the Pilliga and we would always see koalas, the river banks would be teeming with female koalas with babies on their backs,” said Paull, an associate of the University of New England. “Now, you are lucky to see them.”
Hogan said: “These northwest NSW koala hotspots are the target of very rapid and aggressive coal seam gas and coalmining expansion. The Pilliga Forest is covered by a proposal for the largest coal seam gas field in NSW, while the Liverpool Plains are threatened by coal seam gas pilot wells at Spring Ridge and Marys Mount. Koalas in Leard State Forest are facing three enormous open-cut coalmines.
“The spread of mines and gas wells, tree kills from coal seam gas spills and increased vehicles through the Pilliga Forest will likely put extra strain on these already declining koala populations.
“The 2011 Senate Inquiry into koalas recognised the major threats to Koalas are habitat degradation, vehicle strikes and fire — all of which are likely to increase in the Pilliga Forest, Liverpool Plains and Gunnedah areas if coal seam gas mining proceeds.