Submission to the Draft Koala Habitat Protection Guideline
by Alec Roberts
To whom it may concern,
Please accept this letter as my submission to the Draft Koala Habitat Protection Guideline. I consent to the Department making this submission and my name public.
Following the recent catastrophic bushfires, koala populations are at a crisis point and it is imperative that urgent action is taken to ensure the survival of this iconic species within NSW.
Koalas are currently listed as a vulnerable threatened species in NSW, and therefore have a high risk of local extinction in the medium term. In 2016 it was estimated that there remained approximately 36,000 koalas in NSW (representing a decline of 26% over 2 decades). However, other studies suggest much lower numbers. Furthermore, compounding this, more than 24% of koala habitats were within fire-affected areas in eastern NSW with the recent bushfires.
In my area of the Lower Hunter, areas of know Koala Habitat have had an estimated 75% reduction in habitat since European Settlement with commensurate declines in koala population due to habitat clearing. Furthermore, areas of high priority koala habitat are often unprotected, with just over 20 percent within existing formal conservation reserves.
The main threats to Koala populations across the Lower Hunter include:
Changes in habitat in the Lower Hunter can be attributed to high development pressure and piecemeal planning resulting in isolated fragments of habitat remaining between urban areas. The long-term conservation of koalas is reliant on understanding habitat requirements and population dynamics and incorporating this into urban planning. The Koala SEPP 2019 and the Guideline should provide consistent requirements for development assessment on core koala habitat across the State.
NSW laws do not prohibit the clearing of koala habitat. Despite declining koala numbers and the devastation caused by this summer’s catastrophic bushfires, NSW laws still allow koala habitat to be cleared with approval. Decision makers just need to ensure development approvals are consistent with koala plans of management (if they exist) or these guidelines are considered. For our laws to protect koalas and their habitats, the approval process should not allow important koala habitat to be offset or cleared in exchange for money (as NSW Biodiversity Assessment Method does).
Comprehensive koala plans of management should be mandatory for all councils wherever there is koala habitat with a set completion timeframe. With only 5 LGAs adopting comprehensive koala plans of management since 1995 (including only one from the Lower Hunter) a mandatory approach is required. These plans should be monitored, reviewed and reported publicly on a set and regular timeframe. To assist local councils with these obligations the NSW government should provide incentive and support for councils to develop and maintain these plans. Furthermore, for consistency, the Koala SEPP 2019 should be applicable across the state wherever there is koala habitat.
The Koala SEPP 2019 and the Guideline need to apply to a wider range of developments and activities that can impact on koala habitat that are outside of the domain of local councils including: complying development, major projects (State significant development and State significant infrastructure), Part 5 activities (e.g. activities undertaken by public authorities) and land clearing activities requiring approval under the LLS Act. The NSW planning system, public and private forestry, and land management (land clearing) laws fail to protect koala habitat. The limited application of the Koala SEPP 2019 is unlikely to lead to improved outcomes for koalas.
The threshold of 1 hectare for triggering the Koala SEPP 2019 where a plan is not in place is arbitrary and leaves small koala habitat areas, particularly koala habitat in urban areas, without adequate protection. The one-hectare requirement also contributes to cumulative impacts and can reduce connectivity across the landscape by allowing small patches to be cleared. The threshold should be removed.
Climate change considerations need to be included in the Koala SEPP 2019 and the Guideline to identify and protect habitat and corridors that will support koalas’ resilience to more extreme heat and natural disasters, even if there is no koala population in those areas now.
Climate change is predicted to affect koala habitat condition and cause more severe weather conditions (such as the recent severe drought and catastrophic bushfires) which will impact koala survival rates. Climate change is predicted to affect koala habitat by altering the structure and chemical composition of koala food trees, changing the composition of plant communities, and changing the range of important habitat species.
Changing sea levels as a result of climate change will impact on low lying priority habitat area with Port Stephens area and Stockton Bight affected, further fragmenting habitat stands.
The ability of Koalas to migrate due to the effects of climate change are impacted by the connectivity across the landscape. Particular attention is required to remove or mitigate the barriers to connectivity and to preserve and enhance existing connectivity, such as undertaken in the Hunter with the Great Eastern Ranges initiative. For example, regional and local conservation planning should consider protecting existing connectivity and enhancing connectivity of koala habitat patches that are within 100m of another patch.
Koala research findings, and potential application of mitigation measures, should feed back into the Koala SEPP 2019 and the Guideline, as part of a regular review process. In particular, new information should be added to Koala Development Application Maps and Site Investigation Area for Koala Plans of Management Maps to ensure they are current and accurate. The processes for the development and application of these maps needs to be transparent to allow for effective ground-truthing to ensure accuracy.
Regular monitoring and compliance are required to ensure the success of the Koala SEPP and Guideline. Monitoring, review, public reporting and compliance need to be established with a defined and regular timeframe.
To protect koalas, koala habitat must be protected from destruction. The Koala SEPP 2019 at present does not increase the protection for koala habitat. Until our laws are strengthened to truly limit or prohibit the destruction of koala habitat, koala populations and their habitat will continue to be at risk and koala numbers will continue to decline in NSW, possibly to the point of local extinction.
I urge the Department and relevant Ministers to strengthen the Koala SEPP 2019, the Koala Habitat Protection Guideline and provide incentive and support for councils.
I have read the Department's Privacy Statement and agree to the Department using my submission in the ways it describes. I understand this includes full publication on the Department's website of my submission, any attachments, and any of my personal information in those documents and possible supply to third parties such as state agencies, local government and the proponent.
Adams-Hosking, C., McAlpine, C., Rhodes, J. R., Grantham, H. S. and Moss, P. T. (2012). "Modelling changes in the distribution of the critical food resources of a specialist folivore in response to climate change." Journal of Conservation Biogeography Diversity and Distributions: 1-14.
Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, s 4.4(3)
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Understanding the impact of the 2019-20 fires, https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/parks-reserves-and-protected-areas/fire/park-recovery-and-rehabilitation/recovering-from-2019-20-fires/understanding-the-impact-of-the-2019-20-fires
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Koala conservation, https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/koala/koala-conservation
‘Eco Logical Australia 2013. Lower Hunter Koala Study. Prepared for Dept Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities’.
Local Land Services, Threatened Fauna of the Hunter & Mid Coast: Koala,2019, https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/1118563/koala.pdf
NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Report of the Independent Review into the Decline of Koala Populations in Key Areas of NSW, December 2016 above no 6, citing Adams-Hosking, C, McBride, M.F, Baxter, G, Burgman, M, de Villiers, D, Kavanagh, R, Lawler, I, Lunney, D, Melzer, A, Menkhorst, P, Molsher, R, et al. (2016). Use of expert knowledge to elicit population trends for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Diversity and Distributions, 22(3), 249-262. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12400
Paull, D., Pugh, D., Sweeney, O., Taylor, M, Woosnam, O. and Hawes, W. Koala habitat conservation plan. An action plan for legislative change and the identification of priority koala habitat necessary to protect and enhance koala habitat and populations in New South Wales and Queensland (2019), published by WWF-Australia, Sydney, which estimates koala numbers to be in the range of 15,000 to 25,000 animals. In 2018, the Australian Koala Foundations estimates koala numbers in NSW to be between 11,555 and 16,130 animals, see www.savethekoala.com/our-work/bobs-map-%E2%80%93-koala-populations-then-and-now
Additional Sources (not referenced in submission):
Environmental Defenders Office, Analysis: Koalas: new laws – old tricks, February 20, 2020,
Nature Conservation Council, Submission Guide: Koala Habitat Protection Guideline, 2020, https://www.nature.org.au/news-and-resources/submission-guides/koala-habitat-protection-guideline/
Nature Conservation Council, 2020, Defend koala protection laws, https://www.nature.org.au/get-involved/take-action/koala-sepp-guidelines-review/