Threats to koala habitat: urban
development, forestry, mining, drought, bushfire and climate change
Clearly, suitable habitat is critical for the survival of any species.
Many submitters identified loss or degradation of koala habitat as the key
threat to the species' survival.
The Australian Koala Foundation explained the importance of suitable koala
Stable koala populations can only persist if suitable habitat
is available. Natural population densities are directly related to the quality
of habitat which is in turn determined by the presence and density of primary
and secondary food trees.
The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009–2014
identified the significance of habitat loss on the koala:
Loss of habitat is the major threat to the koala in
Queensland and New South Wales, and is the primary factor responsible for
declining populations in those states. This continuing problem, which results
mainly from clearing or fragmentation of forest and woodland, must be addressed...
Habitat loss is the most significant cause of koala
population declines and reductions in long-term population viability...
The strategy further identified that fragmentation and degradation of
habitat can result from:
- linear infrastructure such as roads, railways and powerlines;
- agricultural development in inland regions;
- some logging regimes; and
- regular fuel reduction burning.
The committee received much evidence concerning the loss of koala
habitat due to urban development and forestry practices. Concerns were also
raised over the impact of mining on koala populations west of the Great
Dividing Range in Queensland. Additional threats to koala habitat included
environmental factors such as drought, bushfires and climate change.
Accordingly, this chapter discusses the following issues:
- urban development;
- mining; and
- drought, bushfires and climate change.
Other threats to koalas, such as disease, dog predation and car strikes
are discussed in chapter 4.
Koala habitat encompasses more than one million square kilometres of
eastern Australia, occurring in large part in coastal areas.
Much of the koala's natural range is also highly utilised, developed and
modified by and for the expanding human population. The species' range includes
approximately 300 local government areas (LGAs) and 30 catchment management
It was recognised by the Koala Action Group that:
The koala had the disadvantage of having preferred habitat
and being most numerous in the areas that were highly sought after for human
Population growth, particularly in the south east corner of Queensland,
is requiring further development and infrastructure projects which have the
potential to impact on koala habitat. The Australian Bureau of Statistics
indicates that the three most populous local government areas in Australia are
located in south east Queensland: Brisbane, Gold Coast and Moreton Bay.
These LGAs also had three of the four largest increases in population in
Australia between June 2009 and June 2010.
South east Queensland is also home to one of the largest natural koala
populations in the wild and has the greatest densities of koalas in the state.
The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009–2014
identified habitat loss and fragmentation in areas of high development as the
'primary threat to koalas', particularly in the south east corner of
Impact of development on koala
Urban development can have a significant impact on koala habitat through
the loss of food trees, fragmentation of home ranges and the severance of
Development may impact on previously untouched koala habitat occurring on urban
fringes or by removing remnant koala food and shelter trees existing in built-up
The fragmentation and removal of koala habitat may also occur outside of
the urban environment with small rural holdings subject to subdivision and
associated clearing of trees for roads, fences, stock corridors and powerlines.
In urban areas koalas have traditionally utilised and moved between
parks, suburban bushland, creek areas and gardens to reach food.
The University of Queensland Koala Ecology Group identified these urban
environments as an important part of koala habitat.
The removal of trees from gardens and the thinning of bushland may
fragment this habitat and cause large gaps to open up in previously maintained
koala corridors. Individual trees often form part of a longer chain of trees to
additional koala habitat further away. According to the Koala Action Group
Queensland, the removal of even one tree can break a chain making it difficult
for koalas to visit the next link.
Similarly, the Humane Society International submitted that:
Koalas have highly specific habitat requirements and are
particularly sensitive to changes and disruptions to their surrounding habitat.
Their limited movement capability means that they are unable, or reluctant, to
cross gaps in vegetation and move within or among fragmented habitats.
Urban development may also present additional barriers for koalas such
as the erection of concrete walls, solid-paling timber fences or Colorbond
sheeting for privacy and the reduction of traffic noise.
Such barriers to movement limit dispersal routes for koalas and force them into
contact with vehicles and dogs.
Additionally, those animals that are displaced by clearing in urban
areas may move into nearby parks and reserves already supporting a residential
koala population. Koala Action Pine Rivers stated that:
...competition for the remaining resources of food and
shelter then takes place stressing the new comers and residential [koala] population
The committee also received evidence from koala shelters of a
significant number of displaced animals that are taken into care each year.
Urban development and associated operational works may also cause direct
injuries or death to koalas.
It has been suggested that a loss of habitat may stress koalas and
impact on their ability to recover from disease (see Chapter 4: Other threats).
The Property Council of Australia submitted to the committee that the
property industry has in fact created developments that enhance and protect
high-value koala habitat.
The council put forward the example of Koala Beach, a 365 hectare
koala-friendly development on the north coast of New South Wales. To protect
the resident koala population, and other important wildlife, a number of
development initiatives were created and enforced, including:
- the prohibition of cats and dogs from the estate;
- the inclusion of speed humps near known koala home ranges;
- a requirement that fencing be koala-friendly to allow uninhibited
access to the estate;
the requirement that no koala food tree be removed for
development purposes; and
the establishment of a Wildlife and Habitat Management Committee
funded from an environment levy paid by rate payers.
It was suggested by community groups, research organisations and
development industry bodies that accurate habitat mapping is required to
identify areas of key koala habitat. This mapping would form the basis for
planning and management decisions regarding urban development in habitat areas.
Ms Deborah Tabart, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Koala
Foundation told the committee that:
What I would like to table with this committee is that the
vegetation data of Australia is appalling...if you are going to find out where
koalas are you have to know where their habitat is, and you can only do that
with good vegetation data. I think the Australian government in general has no
understanding of how important mapping is and how good mapping needs to be
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (Queensland) (UDIA)
similarly called for comprehensive mapping of habitat to be undertaken:
Mapping process based on thorough scientific analysis be
undertaken which identifies a robust network of ecological reserves and
corridors which are intended to provide the ecological function/foundation for
maintained and improved biodiversity outcomes over future generations.
Evidence already exists of tree species preferred by koalas, however
much of this information is not aligned with surveying to ensure that all areas
of koala habitat have been examined and classified accordingly. The UDIA
suggested that more scientific mapping of habitat needs to be undertaken:
This mapping could be comprehensively ground-truthed and allow for
updates and amendments over time to address errors or when more detailed ground-truthed data and
scientific analysis is available. Such mapping could identify core habitats and
corridors as well as supplementary habitats to provide the organising basis for
optimising protection, acquisition and rehabilitation efforts, including
strategic location of biodiversity offset rehabilitation programs and planting
undertaken for carbon bio-sequestration
The committee was informed that ideal mapping would show the abundance
and distribution of koala habitat across eastern Australia.
Friends of the Koala argued that it is important that the size of the habitat
is known as well as the degree of connectivity that the area has with other
It was suggested by community organisations that any vegetation that
could be associated with koalas is recorded.
For example paddock trees and planted windbreaks that allow koalas to keep off
the ground and move across the landscape should be included in mapping.
The UDIA disagreed with the categorising and mapping of such a broad
sweep of the landscape stating that:
...further investigation should be made of the broader
landscape matrix to ensure that larger core bushland habitat areas are
protected and embellished as a high priority, consistent with landscape ecology
principles. This would take precedence over seeking to maintain small and less
viable habitat links/patches across the region and adjacent areas, dependent on
the broader landscape context and the level of threats to koalas in areas that
adjoin connecting habitat.
The Australian Koala Foundation's Koala Habitat Atlas (KHA) was
identified as being one example of published habitat mapping.
According to the AKF, 335 000 square kilometres of habitat in New South
Wales, Queensland and Victoria has been mapped representing just 21 per cent of
the koalas range.
According to the foundation:
The Koala Habitat Atlas relies on accurate vegetation mapping
which clearly identifies the percentages of Primary and Secondary food trees within
each distinctive forest or woodland community. This information is not included
in any mapping carried out by State of Federal agencies...
The lack of understanding and mapping of habitat across the koala's
range was concerning for many submitters.
Planning and regulation
Many submitters voiced their concern that poor development and planning
regulation were responsible for the destruction of key koala habitat in urban
For example, the Australian Koala Foundation stated that the destruction of
koala habitat has arisen from a 'lack of understanding and inadequate
The Koala Action Group Queensland was concerned that it is currently too
easy for developers to avoid regulations and that state planning policies are
easily able to be overridden.
The committee received evidence from a submitter, who wished to have
their name withheld, regarding the inadequacies of current planning regulation
to protect urban koala habitat. The submitter spent two years as a
self-represented appellant in the Queensland Environment and Planning Court
appealing a decision by the Brisbane City Council to approve a subdivision of
one block into twelve blocks. The submitter stated:
Our particular concern with this approval related to the
failure by the local (Brisbane City Council) and the Queensland Government
(Department of Planning and Infrastructure) to ensure the Developer complied with
careful design measures to protect the koalas and their habitat. Brisbane City
Council approved the developer’s application for subdivision without a detailed
ecological assessment and without a detailed vegetation plan. Further measures
are necessary within our State and Local planning systems to ensure land
clearing approval processes protect the koala and its habitat.
The submitter summarised that:
There is no clear accountability or responsibility in our
local and state government systems for ensuring systematic and ecologically friendly
development happens in suburban areas where koalas, their habitat and wildlife
corridors are present...
Concerns were also raised over the ability of state koala planning
regulation to be overridden by other planning decisions.
For example, submitters highlighted the ability for areas identified as Koala
Conservation Areas in south-east Queensland under the state koala planning
policy to be overridden by other state planning policies identifying key
resource areas (such as mining and quarrying).
Additional concerns were raised over the ability of koala habitat areas to be
re-zoned for industrial use.
Property and development industry peak bodies informed the committee
that there is already adequate planning regulation at a state and local level
for the protection of the koala and its habitat.
It was argued by these peak bodies that any additional regulation of
planning and development would have the effect of extending development
timeframes and impact on the ability of industry to deliver affordable and
sustainable communities to Australians.
The Property Council of Australia informed the committee that any future
regulation of planning and development at the Commonwealth level would 'amount
to increased overregulation and create inefficiencies in the nation's planning
Similarly the UDIA argued that:
Given the significant investment in both time and money in
the planning, marketing and delivery (including infrastructure delivery) that
the development industry, relevant local governments and State agencies have
already invested in many projects across South-East
Queensland (and other areas of Australia), any new requirement for an additional
layer of environmental assessment at the Commonwealth level would be
unreasonable for existing developments which have been identified as necessary
to meet the urban development needs of the region...
If further regulation of koala habitat were to occur the Property
Council believed that compensation of land owners and developers would be
If further regulation is seen as the appropriate mechanism,
it needs to protect and not interfere with existing land use entitlements and
development rights, whether or not further development approvals are required.
It is unacceptable for existing land use entitlements and development rights to
be eroded without just compensation.
The UDIA supported the call for 'fair and appropriate' compensation,
...if there are existing property rights taken away as a
result of the legislation [to protect the koala] there can be no issue from the
developer if there is a level of fair and appropriate compensation.
In contrast to this view, Redland City Council submitted research
indicating that the property value that is derived from living next to koala
habitat is approximately $29 600 and the ability to view a koala is valued
at another $3100.
The Property Council argued that completely halting development in key
koala habitat areas is draconian and an ineffectual method of creating
Prohibition has a number of unintended consequences,
including land degradation, unintegrated land uses and poorly planned
communities. Prohibitions have the effect of sterilising and devaluing large
areas of land, with no compensation being made available to land owners for
loss of existing rights and entitlements.
Habitat offsets occur when parcels of land are purchased, and if
required rehabilitated, to ensure that there is no net loss of koala habitat.
The use of habitat offsets as a method of continuing development in areas of
key koala habitat was a contentious issue with submitters.
Some wildlife organisations, such as the Wildlife Preservation Society
of Queensland, believed that offsets are not a suitable method of conservation.
In areas of high development, habitat offsets were seen to be ineffectual as
there is very little suitable habitat remaining to act as an offset.
The Sunshine Coast Environmental Council stated that in areas of high
development, 'the opportunity for "like for like or better" offset
parcels or compensatory habitat decreases'.
Accordingly, this may increase the chance of koala populations becoming locally
Concerns were also raised over the possible lag time between the
development of the key koala habitat and the maturing of vegetation in a
rehabilitated parcel of land used as an offset. The Sunshine Coast Environment
Council submitted that:
Offset requirements offer little in the way of habitat values
with the abrupt loss of mature trees and reinstatement taking decades. In the
interim, the resilience of native fauna such as the koala is sorely tested.
Displacement, forced behavioural change and the ability to manage within
disturbed and highly modified landscapes puts the koala under incredible
It was the opinion of some environmental groups that habitat offsets
should only be used as a method of last resort.
The development and property industries stated that habitat offsets are
one method of allowing sustainable development.
The UDIA stated that:
Given the importance of connectivity between habitat patches
for koala populations, habitat and land acquisition, along with managed connections
is paramount to the sustainable conservation of the species. Therefore, any
in relation to the Koala at the Commonwealth level should allow for offsets
that include the opportunity for contributions to an initiative such as Ecofund
to ensure the best areas of koala habitat and connectivity can be acquired and
The Property Council of Australia stated that certainty is required in
the drafting of habitat offset provisions and that the ratio of cleared land to
re-vegetated land 'needs to be commensurate'.
Habitat acquisition and
Closely related to habitat offsets is the topic of habitat acquisition
programs. These involve government-funded acquisitions of existing koala
habitat without that area being used to offset a new land use.
One notable koala habitat acquisition program is the Queensland
government's Koala Habitat Acquisition and Rehabilitation Program—a $48
million program to protect and rehabilitate land in South East Queensland for
koala habitat. In 2010, 135 hectares of koala habitat were purchased including
the expansion of Daisy Hill Conservation Park in the Koala Coast by 30 per
Another example is in the Redland City Council area where the council
purchases land in urban areas for the protection of koala habitat. The council
stated that since 1993 over 800 hectares of land has been purchased, with a
recent focus on purchases of koala habitat.
The council is currently achieving over 5 hectares of revegetation of koala
habitat, and planting over 8000 koala food trees per annum.
Professor Frank Carrick also highlighted for the committee the recent
successes in re-establishing koala habitat on rehabilitated mine sites:
We know that 'build it and they will come' actually works,
because we have been monitoring what happens with mine site rehabilitation both
in Central Queensland and on North Stradbroke Island. The rehabilitated mining
areas now have koalas in them...
Professor Carrick also informed the committee of the habitat restoration
work that has been carried out in Gunnedah, NSW:
Gunnedah tells us two things. It tells us that, if you do
restore habitat of the koala populations—they have problems with dogs, cars and
disease in Gunnedah as well—the sum is positive. More koala babies get born and
survive than get chomped by dogs, hit by cars or die from disease if we put the
habitat back, as long as we do not push the population to unrecoverable levels
where there are just not enough koalas to be able to respond.
Voluntary private agreements
As well as promoting the direct purchase of koala habitat, the Redland
City Council promotes private citizens to sign-up to voluntary koala
'This has been undertaken through the creation of the Koala
Conservation Agreement Program; this is an extension program where residents
with properties larger [than] 1000m2 get advice and funding to carry
out replanting, weeding, construct fauna friendly fences and build dog
The committee received several suggestions about the protection of koala
populations on government-owned land (outside publicly-owned forestry areas
which is discussed below). For example the Redland City Council submitted:
An immediate action could be the investigation of land parcels
owned and managed by all tiers of government to investigate opportunities for
the protection and enhancement of habitat. An example of this would be that the
Federal Government currently owns 98ha of land in the suburb of Birkdale which
contains large areas of koala habitat. Council has written to the relevant
departments seeking opportunity for these parcels to be transferred to, or
purchased by Council for the protection and management of koala habitat.
Along similar lines, Professor Carrick suggested that opportunities
should be explored with the proposed sale of 'surplus' defence land. Professor
Carrick submitted that the Australian Defence Force 'has some of the best
biodiversity left in Australia' and that '[t]he Commonwealth must not be allowed
to dispose of such assets without assessing and protecting biodiversity
(particularly Koala habitat) values.'
The logging of native forests was raised by many submitters as being a
significant threatening process for koalas.
The loss of food trees, destruction of home ranges and death or injury from the
felling of trees were seen as threats to the survival of forest-dwelling koala
In particular the committee received examples of the impact of logging
on koala populations on the south coast of New South Wales and in the
Strzelecki forest in the Gippsland region of Victoria which are discussed
Submitters were also concerned about the apparent lack of monitoring of
forestry operations, the planning and approval process for the logging of state
forests and the exclusion of forestry activities undertaken in accordance with
a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) from the approvals and enforcement provisions
of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
This section considers each of these items in turn.
Impacts of forestry on koala
Many submitters drew the committee's attention to the impact of logging
native forests on koala populations which was stated to be degrading koala
habitat, including the loss of koala food trees and the disruption caused to
their home ranges. For example the Conservation Council ACT Region stated that:
Industrial level logging causes great destruction of forest
habitat and it is unlikely that many koalas would survive in logging coupes.
The level of logging activity is also likely to have some impact upon any
koalas in adjacent unlogged coupes, through noise and human presence.
In addition to the direct impact of loss of food trees, the logging of
koala habitat in native forests may cause fragmentation of koala home ranges
and disruptions to migration and breeding corridors.
Other associated impacts of forestry operations may be the loss and compaction
of topsoil, the reduction in species diversity and structural complexity, and
an increased fire hazard associated with the drying out of the forest floor.
The committee also received evidence of koalas being directly killed by
the felling of trees and logging trucks.
In its 2010 listing advice to the minister, the Threatened Species
Scientific Committee found that the level of impact depended on the type of
Koala habitat may also be lost due to logging, however the
effect at the population level is a function of the management regime. For
example, while clear felling will remove habitat, koalas may persist in
selectively-logged forests (Kavanagh et al. 1995; Kavanagh et al. 2007). Thus
the level of threat posed by logging is situation-specific and is determined by
the appropriateness of the management regime, and adherence to its
prescriptions. Koalas have also been recorded to have established home ranges
within revegetated eucalypt woodlands.
The National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009–2014
also recognised the point that 'some logging regimes' cause the degradation of
The National Association of Forest Industries (NAFI) (now known as the
Australian Forest Products Association) responded to the above criticisms by
stating that the industry is committed to constructively working with
stakeholders 'to improve the health and status of Australia's koala
The forest industry was keen to point out that sustainable forest harvesting
practices, such as the renewable harvest and regeneration of forest for timber,
should not be confused with habitat loss and fragmentation through land
NAFI highlighted that Australia has 147.7 million hectares of native
forest with 23 million hectares in conservation reserves and 9.4 million
hectares in public forests where timber harvesting may be permitted subject to
A further 2 million hectares of Australia's native forests are plantation
timbers. According to NAFI:
The sustainable harvesting of forests represents less than
one per cent annually of the forest estate potentially available for wood
production in any one year (in all states and territories) and may enhance the
habitat for a range of species through the provision of a diversity of mixed
age classes, forest structure and food resources across the landscape.
The committee was informed that under current forestry guidelines,
forests are harvested and replanted in small patches to maintain a mosaic
Areas where it has been identified koalas are inhabiting are retained and
corridors between those trees are created.
NAFI also explained that 'where there is evidence of the presence of
koalas in areas nominated for harvest through pre-harvest koala surveys, there
are requirements for the setting aside of additional minimum exclusion zones
for their individual protection.'
Forests NSW's regional ecologist, Mr Peter Kambouris, explained that the
exclusion zone for the Eden region is 50 metres.
The peak forestry body told that committee that whilst it is unlikely
that timber harvesting is taking place in koala habitat of sufficient quality
to be a concern to its long term survival, it is 'not to say that koalas do not
occur from time to time in areas scheduled for harvest, given their ability to
feed on a range of eucalypt species'.
NAFI submitted to the committee that forestry operations may have a
positive impact on native forests through fuel reduction, vegetation thinning
and related activities such as maintenance of access trails and fire breaks.
Forests NSW provided published forestry research which details the
koala's preference for logged coupes:
On the north coast, koalas are significantly associated with
heavily logged areas, with a 22 per cent detection rate, rather than unlogged
or selectively logged areas, which have a five per cent detection rate...Studies
at Eden showed that koalas preferentially use logged coupes in logged/unlogged
mosaics and that koalas were found in the same coupes before and after logging.
Along a similar vein, NAFI representatives informed the committee of
scientific research which was said to demonstrate the koala's preference for
young trees, implying that:
Koalas obviously like variability, as do other species, in
relation to age of forests. What forestry can do through its practices is
create a situation where you have a varied-age forest and therefore koalas can
appropriately source younger trees with younger leaves—which we hear from the
scientists that they prefer—and also have older trees in the forest to have as
their habitat shelters and things like that. So we are providing a more diverse
range of habitat than a single-age forest would.
Logging in specific koala habitats
– Mumbulla and Strzelecki
Concerns over the impact of logging on key koala habitat were
highlighted in the example of Mumbulla State Forest on the far south coast of
New South Wales. Mr John Hibberd of the Conservation Council ACT Region
Inc, told the committee that the Mumbulla State Forest koala population 'is the
last vestige of the once great koala populations that ran throughout the Bega
Valley' and that '[i]ntensive logging in Mumbulla State Forest is absolutely
imminent any day.'
According to Mr Chris Allen, a NSW government expert on koala
conservation and who appeared in a private capacity, the forest is home to a
population of approximately 21 to 42 koalas and is the only koala community
persisting in the Eden region.
The area that the koalas inhabit is committed to the forest industry under a
Regional Forest Agreement with approximately 40 000 cubic metres of saw
logs to be felled.
Mr Allen told the committee that 'anything less than a substantial reduction in
the extent of logging activity in that area will almost certainly make that
[koala] population go extinct'.
Mr Hibberd told the committee that in his view the reason that the
logging of the Mumbulla State Forest was proceeding was because of the:
...interagency conflict that exists between Forests New South
Wales and the Office of Environment and Heritage in New South Wales. There is a
draft Koala Management Framework that was produced in 2008, I believe, which
tried to lay down some prescriptions for how we deal with this particular
issue. As I said in my submission, this has now sunk without trace into the
bureaucracy. The local community has been totally frozen out of any
consultation in this process. We have no idea where those negotiations are at,
except that we have heard informally that they continually break down because
the environment department and the forestry department cannot agree on an
effective koala management strategy for Mumbulla State Forest.
Forests NSW's regional ecologist, Mr Peter Kambouris, informed the
committee that although there 'are koalas scattered throughout the park and
forest estate in that region' in the areas of the Mumbulla State Forest where
Forests NSW have conducted preharvest surveys there were no signs of koalas
found. Mr Kambouris explain that 'it is because the areas earmarked for logging
have been spotted gum, and that does not appear to be a preferred browse
species for koala in that vicinity.'
The Strzelecki ranges in South Gippsland, Victoria was another area
where concerns were raised about forestry activities within or near koala
habitat. The Strzelecki koala population is unique to the koalas of Victoria as
it is the only grouping that has not been translocated from the depauperate
stock of French Island or Phillip Island. The committee heard that a soon to be
published study found that Strzelecki koalas exhibit a much higher genetic
diversity than other Victorian koalas; one that is comparable to the highest
levels of genetic diversity in any koala population reported so far in Australia.
The present number of Strzelecki koalas is unknown.
In particular, concerns were raised about the impact of post-harvest
replanting and regeneration of Strzelecki forest areas. There were claims that
logged koala food trees were not being replanted with the same species.
Friends of the Earth Melbourne claimed that in the Strzelecki Ranges the
popular koala food tree Mountain Ash has been logged and replaced with Shining
Gum which is not endemic to the region nor a koala food tree leading to a 'massive
conversion in the area from koala feed to non-koala feed'.
Hancock Victorian Plantations manages both the plantation (including
both radiata pine and native species plantations) and native forested areas
that cover the Strzelecki area. The company's CEO, Miss Linda Sewell, explained
the company's approach to managing its impact on koalas within its estate:
It is a proactive approach. In formal terms it comprises five
elements: monitoring, operating standards, research, recovery and enhancement.
There are a range of initiatives within each of these five elements that have
been detailed to the commission previously. We have spent years mapping our
estate, and this knowledge has enabled us to identify prime koala habitat,
which, together with expert guidance, allows us to manage our operations
accordingly. Our research program includes a partnership with Monash University
to improve knowledge of the health and genetic diversity of the koala
population. We train our field staff and contractors on the company's operating
standards for the management and protection of koalas. On the ground, we are
working with local groups on a number of cooperative projects that enhance the
quality of the koala habitat. That work takes place on both HVP land and on
The committee questioned Hancock Victorian Plantations on its training
program for logging machinery operators. Miss Sewell told the committee that of
the company's total staffing numbers of about 100, six employees work
specifically on environmental issues, and with machinery operators having 'a
level of training in environmental matters'.
Miss Sewell also detailed the company's 'koalas operating standard'
which guides on-the-ground harvesting activities:
We have developed a koala operating standard, which dictates
our planning and operations around the areas that are viewed as being koala habitat.
For example, we go in and have a look immediately prior to the logging to
determine whether there are koalas in that plantation at that particular time.
If there are, we withdraw from that area until such time as they have passed
The importance of migration corridors was also raised by supporters of
the Strzelecki koalas. For example, Mr Amis of Friends of the Earth Melbourne told
It is essential that logging plans incorporate measures to
maintain koala gene flow between populations in logging areas...Such measures
need to include substantial migration corridors. Previous studies indicate that
a variety of landscape features can present barriers to koala gene flow in the
Sydney region and therefore that the corridors will need to take into account
the presence of roads or housing and contain preferred koala habitat.
Miss Sewell informed the committee that if wildlife corridors exist in
forests classified as 'plantations' then those areas are available for
commercial use and are not protected.
Regulation of forestry activities
Several submitters raised the issue of the approval process for logging
in areas of key koala habitat. The industry indicated that forestry operations
in Australian forests are well regulated through conservation assessments such
- the national forest policy framework established under the 1992
National Forest Policy Statement;
- state level sustainable forest management systems; and
- Regional Forest Assessments which require:
- the establishment of comprehensive, adequate and representative
(CAR) forest reserve systems;
- pre-harvesting flora and fauna surveys and the creation exclusion
zones if evidence of koalas is found in areas intended for harvest;
- the use of environmental management systems by forest agencies
that are certified to international standards; and
- regulatory codes of practice for the retention of identified
habitat (such as tree ferns) in coupe where timber harvesting takes place.
Forests NSW informed the committee of the regulatory framework it
Apart from the Forestry Act, the main regulatory framework
governing the way Forests NSW manages the public native forests is comprised of
the regional forests agreements, the NSW forest agreements and the integrated
forestry operations approvals and their embedded threatened species licences...The
threatened species licences are designed to protect threatened species and the
habitat of threatened species from forestry activities. In relation to koalas,
the licences prescribe the way in which Forests NSW must conduct surveys for
the detection of koalas, signs of their presence and signs of their preferred
habitat. The licences also prescribe the measures that must be put in place to
The listing of the koala under the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 would have varying implications for the
forestry industry depending upon the type of listing. However, in general the
listing of the koala would require the preparation of a species recovery plan and
a risk assessment. According to the forestry peak body, cost implications of
any revised changes for koala species protection would be 'incurred by the
forest manager or grower and typically passed on through the industry supply
chain as higher costs'.
However, several witnesses pointed out that public state-owned forests,
which are managed under Regional Forest Agreements, would not be covered by the
protections provided by the EPBC Act, if the koala were to be listed. For
example Mr Hibberd of the Conservation Council ACT Region Inc explained
The other problem [with the EPBC Act] is that the regional
forest agreements are specifically excluded from consideration under the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This is a real problem
as well. The [Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals], which are the key
operational regulatory instruments under the regional forest agreements, are
not protecting threatened species or ecosystem processes.
Concerns were also raised about the management of koala habitat on
private land, where according to the AKF 80 per cent of koalas live.
According to the Friends of Gippsland Bush, although logging in state forests
and in those managed under a Regional Forest Agreement is required to meet certain
codes of practice, forestry on private lands is not subject to such rigorous
The timber growing and harvesting operations of private forestry
are not subject to the same scrutiny or protection as the operations of public
forestry. This has meant that in private forestry, protection of biological
values in particular has been left largely to the discretion of the landowner
or forest manager.
The Coffs Harbour City Council was concerned about the ability of state
governments to grant logging approvals over council approved koala management
plans. The council submitted that areas identified as key koala habitat under a
Koala Plan of Management (KPoM) were approved for logging by the New South
Wales Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (now the Office of
Environment and Heritage).
According to the council, a KPoM was prepared in accordance with the State
Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) 1995 No. 44 – Koala Habitat Protection.
The Management Plan was designed to provide a strategic framework for the
conservation and management of koala habitat. The mapping undertaken as part of
the KPoM also identified areas meriting protection through the council's Local
Environment Policy. The council stated that:
The KPoM identifies and ranks core koala habitat into
primary, secondary and tertiary zones on private land in the [Local Government
Area] LGA. In many cases, Council is the principle consent authority for
development activities. However, almost half the land in the LGA is State
Forests or National Parks, and as such, is not under council's jurisdiction. An
even greater and ongoing concern has been the granting of logging approvals by
the Private Native Forestry (PNF) a division of the Department of Environment,
Climate Change and Water (DECCW). Currently DECCW has issued approvals in over
2,277 ha of the 19,000 ha of core koala habitat in the Coffs LGA.
The Coffs Harbour City Council suggested that all core koala habitat
identified through Koala Plans of Management should be excluded from existing
Forest Operation Plans and proposed changes to the plans should be referred to
local governments for assessment.
The committee heard evidence on the impact of mining on koala habitat.
In particular, evidence was received from the Darling Downs region of
Queensland concerning the impact of open-cut coal mining on the local koala
The New Acland Coal Mine is an open-cut coal mine situated approximately
40 kilometres northwest of Toowoomba. The mine comprises two mining leases
granted in 2001 and 2006. A new mining lease application is currently subject
to a development approval process. If approved, the current 2278 hectare lease
area for the mine's operations would be expanded to 7347 hectares.
Coal is currently mined, processed and dispatched from the site.
According to anecdotal evidence provided by the local residents of
Acland, the area the mine would occupy is home to approximately 100 koalas.
As the koalas on the Darling Downs occur outside the south east Queensland
bioregion they are classified as a 'species of least concern'.
The mine occurs in the area of popular box and forest red gum woodland which
according to the Friends of Felton, is important koala habitat.
Local residents have raised issues over the impact of the mine on koala
habitat including the loss of suitable food trees and the destruction of
corridors for movement.
Also of concern are the associated effects of mining on koalas, such as an
increased risk of death from heavy vehicles and an increased risk of disease
New Hope Group, owners of the New Acland Coal Mine, submitted that a
rigorous environmental impact assessment process has been conducted at the
site, including an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address the
requirements of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) and the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
Fauna surveys conducted at the site by New Hope Group indicated that
koalas are present, however an exact population count could not be established.
New Hope Group has prepared a Conservation Management Plan for the site
to protect, rehabilitate and manage vegetation occurring within some
operational areas of the mine. There is to be no impact on koala habitat in the
northern parts of the mine which support koalas.
The mine's environmental management is also facilitated by two on-site
To date, the New Acland Coal Mine has not been required to address any
major issues of non-compliance in relation to its environmental approvals.
Changes to mining approvals and
For the community action group Friends of Felton, the issue of mining
and its impact on koala habitat raised a number of questions about the
environmental approval process for such projects.
Environmental impact statements were seen to be ineffectual at accurately
assessing the importance of habitat areas. In particular the ability for the
proponent to employ consultants to conduct the EIS was not seen as transparent
The Sunshine Coast Environment Council highlighted the ability of
certain industrial projects to be exempt from state environmental law:
Mining and state significant projects, which are increasingly
being applied to residential and commercial development, are largely exempt
from State law. The environmental costs of a project and the impact on native
fauna are only really tested against Federal law.
In the example of mining in the Darling Downs, the Friends of Felton
argued that even Commonwealth legislation provides inadequate protection for
Currently, the EPBC Act 1999 provides no mechanisms for the impacts
of mining on the koala to be considered because the species is not listed as
threatened and often, as in the case of Felton, nor are the vegetation
It was suggested that changes to the status of the koala at a national
level, or in Queensland in areas outside of the south east bioregion, would
ensure viable koala populations and habitat are better protected from mining.
Evaluating and approving mining applications in isolation was seen to be
problematic for ensuring the overall protection of koalas and their habitat.
According to the Friends of Felton:
...to our knowledge, none of the planning legislation adequately
addresses the issue of incremental loss of habitat due to the cumulative impact
of multiple development approvals. Unless there is adequate protection for
habitat areas (and critical linkages between these across the landscape) from
such development activity, clearing of remnant vegetation for mining within the
district could reach a point where it threatens the survival of koala
populations on the eastern Downs...
Dr Nicola Laws, a resident of Acland, also called for annual koala
audits to be conducted by independent experts in key koala habitat areas where
mining is taking place.
According to Dr Laws, this would show proof of habitat protection and
revegetation programs. It was also suggested that a koala levy on mining
companies could be established to fund these measures and penalties could be
applied when numbers fall below an agreed level.
It was also raised by the Friends of Felton that responsibility for
conducting koala surveys in proposed development areas should lie with the
government and not left to local community groups or consultancy firms.
Drought, bushfires and climate change
Natural stochastic events such as droughts and bushfires pose an
additional threat to koala populations. These events can impact koalas both
directly (through animal mortality) and indirectly (by destroying habitat or
reducing it to remnant patches).
Several submitters recalled their personal stories of the devastating
Black Saturday fires in 2009. For example, Ms Vicki Hams, a volunteer at
the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter in Victoria, recounted her experience:
The shelter received 101 koalas during the [Black Saturday] bushfires
(including the now iconic “Sam” the koala). The koalas suffered varying degrees
of burns. One of the most moving stories was a young female joey found in the
hunched over burned body of her mother. The mother had wrapped her arms around
the joey and hunched over her thus sacrificing her life to save her joey. (The
joey had minor burns and was successfully released 12 months later). This is
the character of these wonderful animals.
Ms Vivienne Jones relayed the damage she had witnessed to koala habitat
in the South Gippsland region:
A huge number of koalas were killed in the Strzelecki Ranges
during the Black Saturday fires. When driving through the Calignee area you can
see just how much of their habitat has been wiped out.
The TSSC noted that the overall impact of the Black Saturday fires was
The mortality of koalas resulting from these fires has not
been quantified, but loss of habitat was extensive and koalas are particularly
exposed to injury in crown fires that occur in these intense bushfires.
Mr Chris Allen also raised the related issue of fuel reduction burning:
Fuel reduction burning is considered to be [a] threat to
Koalas in the NSW Koala Recovery Plan (DECCW 2008). Fire applied in dense
regrowth areas is likely to be more of a threat [than wildfires] because of the
difficulty in keeping flame height low in these areas.
With governments requiring an increase in the extent of fuel
reduction burning, the associated risks to Koalas are likely to increase.
(Chris Allen, p. 18).
The ACT Conservation Council also touched on this issue:
Wildfire has always been a major threat to koalas due to
their slow movement response to such a threat. Changing climate in the region
is likely to lead to more frequent severe fire events with subsequent impacts
on koala populations. Agencies need to incorporate the location of koala
population cells into fire management planning so as to be capable of mounting
a strategic defense of known activity areas in the event that they are
threatened by wildfire (Phillips 2007)...Phillips (2007) has recommended that
fire management practices including the use of low intensity burns for the
purposes of hazard reduction should not be undertaken within areas of known
Droughts can also have a devastating impact on koala populations. The Conservation
Council ACT Region submitted that:
Drought is clearly a factor in the growth or decline of koala
populations, as it can substantially affect the level of foliar nutrients
available. However, it is a factor over which we have no control, unlike many
of the other potential threats. The only way the potential effects of drought
can be effectively mitigated is to provide suitable landscape-scale movement
corridors for koalas consisting of a range of tree species with high foliar
Although the impacts of drought on koala populations are considered by
the TSSC to be 'reversible',
their immediate impact can result in dramatic population declines. This impact
is most vividly demonstrated by the recent population collapse in central
Queensland. Professor McAlpine told the committee that:
The koala populations in the Mulga Lands region, centred on
Charleville [Queensland], are estimated to have declined from 50,000 to 60,000
in 1996 to 10,000 to 12,000 in 2009. Work by Dr Alistair Meltzer and Dr Bill
Ellis in [Springsure] in central Queensland and Oakey on the eastern Darling
Downs also show a substantial decline in the population due to drought and
drought induced dieback.
The trees became stressed during the drought and they lost
their foliage and the health of the canopy, which affected the nutritional
value of those leaves. The evidence that Alistair Melzer has found in
Springsure showed that that was an important factor there. Those populations at
Springsure have also experienced a fairly substantial crash due to the drought.
Dr Bill Ellis elaborated on the situation in the areas surrounding
Springsure and Oakey:
...what happened [in Springsure in central Queensland] was
that the koalas did retreat to the riverine communities but the drought was so
bad and the amount of water that was available got so low that most of the
riverine trees died as well. The collapse in that population has just been
dramatic. A similar picture is out at Oakey as well. The only way you can get
the really good long-term data on those sites is to look at them pretty
intensively as opposed to looking over the whole of the state less intensively.
That is where we found these fine-scale, cascade effects. When the riverine
communities supplying the best habitat and supporting the highest populations
suffer, they really suffer. The trees there cannot survive through the real
extended droughts. That was a really good study population that just totally
Climate change is forecast to increase the frequency and intensity of
both bushfires and droughts, as well as other climatic extremes. In this regard
the TSSC has stated that:
Climate change is a potential threat to the koala, as it is
expected to lead to increased temperatures, changes to rainfall, increasing
frequency and intensity of droughts and increased fire risk over much of the
In addition to the climatic variability expected from climate change, elevated
carbon dioxide levels may alter leaf chemistry resulting in decreased
nutritional value for koalas:
Increasing atmospheric CO2 will have effects
independent of climate change per se. When eucalypts are grown under
elevated CO2 the ratios of carbon to nitrogen in the foliage
increase such that concentrations of carbon-based anti-herbivore compounds like
tannins increase while nitrogen (protein) decreases. It has recently been shown
that the balance between tannins and proteins determines protein digestibility
and that subtle differences may have profound effects for reproductive success
of eucalypt folivores...Koala population dynamics could be negatively impacted
by the changes in leaf chemistry induced by elevated CO2. It is not
yet possible to assess forest nutritional quality over much of the koala’s
range, and thus to quantify the effect described above.
The committee received evidence of the range of potential threats to
koala habitat including urban development, forestry and mining.
The committee agrees that the loss, degradation and fragmentation of
koala habitat is the most significant cause of koala population declines and
reductions in long-term population viability. This is not to diminish other
threats, such as disease, drought, dog predation and car strikes, which when
combined with habitat loss, place even greater pressure on the species. Addressing
habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation is particularly critical to koala
populations in Queensland and New South Wales.
It is imperative that developers, forestry operators and mining
companies act as responsible stewards of the land they occupy and manage. This
must involve effective engagement and consultation with local communities,
thorough training of staff, minimisation of any negative impacts on koala
populations and habitats, and promotion of positive impact which support the
wellbeing of the koala.
The committee recognises that protecting koala habitat also provides
protection benefits to a range of other plant and animal species that share
The committee notes that policy responsibility for many of the
activities that pose a potential threat to koala habitat, for example urban
development and forestry, are primarily matters for state and local government.
However, there are areas where Commonwealth involvement and leadership
is needed. There are various initiatives already underway which strive to map
the koala's habitat. The AKF's Koala Habitat Atlas covers approximately 21 per
cent of the koala's national range, while the mapping activities listed under
the National Koala Management and Conservation Strategy cover a small number of
In the committee's view there is a much greater need for a national
approach to habitat mapping. The committee recommends that the Commonwealth
undertake national koala habitat mapping, designed to support the committee's
recommendations (contained in chapter 2) aimed at addressing the deficiencies
in koala population data and genetic information.
Initially, koala habitat mapping would concentrate on identified
priority conservation areas as well as areas where there is a lack of robust
population and habitat data (such as those listed in the TSSC's answers to
questions on notice).
A national koala habitat mapping program would also allow information on
the impact of elevated CO2 levels on leaf nutrients and the
resulting changes to koala habitat to be monitored. The committee makes a
recommendation in relation to changes in leaf chemistry at Recommendation 10 of
this report at paragraph 4.43.
Such an initiative would clearly require the cooperation and active
involvement of state governments as well as koala advocacy groups such as the
3.127 The committee recommends that the Australian Government undertake
habitat mapping across the koala's national range, including the identification
of priority areas of koala conservation, with a view to listing important
habitat under the provisions of the Environment Protection Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999.
In this regard the committee notes that if Parliament supports a related
aspect of the recently released Australian Government response to the report
of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999, the identification of critical koala habitat would
be required under the EPBC Act, if the koala was listed as a threatened
3.129 The committee recommends that the habitat maps be used to identify and
protect important habitat in known koala ranges.
The committee heard that there are parcels of Commonwealth land which
comprise significant areas of koala habitat. The Commonwealth could show
leadership in protecting the koala by actively managing its land holdings, such
as parts of the defence estate, which contain koala habitat.
3.131 The committee recommends that the Australian Government review its land
holdings which contain koala habitat and consider biodiversity, and
specifically koala populations, in the management and sale of Commonwealth
Much of the koala's habitat lies within privately owned land. The
National Koala Management and Conservation Strategy lists a number of
state-based programs designed to promote habitat protection on private land,
however there are no such Commonwealth activities.
Acland koala, Queensland
Source: Dr Nicola Laws and Mr
Glenn Beutel, Submission 74, p. 3. Reproduced with the permission of Dr
Nicola Laws and Mr Glenn Beutel.
In this regard, the committee believes that the Commonwealth should
actively explore ways to support private land holders to protect koala
populations. For example supporting conservation covenants over existing
habitat, establishing connectivity corridors between areas of existing habitat,
and the revegetation of former habitat or the rehabilitation of degraded
3.134 The committee recommends that the Australian Government actively
consider options for recognition and funding for private land holders for the conservation
of koala habitat.
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