Just weeks after a report highlighted plummeting koala populations, the federal government has given approved for coal seam gas (CSG) company QGC to bulldoze 54 hectares of koala habitat on Queensland's Western Downs.
Koala populations have fallen by about 80% in southern Queensland between 1996 and 2014, according to an interim Queensland Environment Department report from the Koala Expert Panel released on March 10. The report pointed to loss of koala habitat as the greatest threat to the already threatened species.
QGC, which is owned by Shell, applied to drill 25 new CSG wells near Dalby as part of project Anya. The company’s own report submitted to the federal environment department said habitat “critical to the survival of the koala” would likely be affected from the associated clearing.
The application read: “While the identified koala habitat values within [the site] is considered to be in good condition, the very low density of koalas combined with large home ranges within a geographically extensive intact remnant, will result in ‘no significant impact’.”
Wilderness Society Queensland Campaign Manager Gemma Plesman said: “It’s outrageous that the [Malcolm] Turnbull Government would approve clearing more of their habitat when it is a threatened species supposedly protected by Federal law.
“Koala populations in south-east Queensland are feeling the crunch. Their homes are being torn up from urban development, industrial scale agriculture and, as we’re seeing here, mining.”
Australian Koala Foundation chief executive Deborah Tabart said the decision to allow any clearing in areas where koala populations were declining was unacceptable.
“I have written to deputy Premier Jackie Trad and the Premier on several occasions saying that not one single piece of koala habitat in Queensland should be allowed to be cut down,” she said
“The [federal] Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act in my view has been a complete waste of time for protecting koala habitat.”
A QGC spokesperson told the ABC that the company would create koala habitat in central Queensland to offset any damage. “An area of 187 hectares within QGC's biodiversity property in central Queensland will be set aside to offset any potential loss of habitat.”
But environmentalists agreed that was pointless. Tabart said: “You get up to 70 and 80% mortality once you move animals away from their homes.”
Plesman said: “Australia is in the midst of an environmental crisis from deforestation and land clearing. One million hectares of bush and forest have been cleared in the past four years alone. An area the size of the MCG is bulldozed every three minutes.
“Land clearing destroys our forests and bushland, kills millions of native animals, including the endangered koala, and threatens the Great Barrier Reef.
“We need stronger laws to protect our landscapes and forests, our food and water supplies, our soils and climate.”