An interim report from the Koala Expert Panel, established by the state government after a catastrophic koala population crash in south-east Queensland last year, has offered little hope for the state’s faunal emblem.
It outlined a long list of failures in government policy, planning and mapping, which continued to put the vulnerable population at risk. It said laws introduced to protect koalas since 2008 have “had very little impact in slowing the rate of habitat loss” and existing laws favoured urban development and were “not constructed to halt ... impacts on koala populations”.
It said there was evidence that offsets used by developers and government authorities to justify the clearing of koala habitat — where new trees are planted or another area is cited as a replacement habitat — were not working and even led to “potential perverse outcomes”.
But, aside from recommending “better mapping of habitat”, which is already known to be dwindling, and “better monitoring of koala population”, the report offered little by way of new ideas to halt koala decline. Its only action plan is to call for a second reserve to the north of Brisbane to complement the Daisy Hill reserve to the south.
Up to 80% of the koala population in south east Queensland has been lost due to destruction of woodland habitat, traffic and domestic dog attacks.
The report implicitly acknowledges that there is a real risk that the koala will become extinct in the wild in south-east Queensland in coming years.
The Queensland Conservation Council has expressed its deep disappointment with the report, saying to protect koalas there should be a moratorium on clearing.
Coordinator of the Queensland Conservation Council Dr Tim Seelig said: “This Interim Report on failing koala protection itself fails to deliver.
“The koala, which is Queensland’s official animal emblem, is now close to extinction in the wild in south-east Queensland. Past strategies have failed to arrest the population decline.
“While better mapping of habitat and monitoring is always helpful, to have this as the main recommended approaches is essentially throwing in the towel on proactively saving the koala in the wild.
"We need some radical action to put a stop to this ongoing decline before the koala becomes extinct in Queensland.
“The koala should now be formally declared endangered in south-east Queensland. It is tragic that this should have become necessary, but it will at least indicate publicly how dire the situation now is.
“There also needs to be an immediate moratorium on any clearing of koala habitat within the south-east Queensland region, at least until proper mapping has been incorporated into state and local government plans. Those plans must deliver on strong environmental protections.
“If we can't have planning laws that protect our special environment we won't have any natural environment left and we won't have any koalas left either.”