Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice-president Marilyn Spletter with Scarlett the koala.
Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice-president Marilyn Spletter with Scarlett the koala. Marian Faa

FOI: Mass tree clearing against strict policy exposed

THE Federal Government is failing to protect koalas and pushing the animals to extinction, according to environmental campaigners.

It comes amidst revelations the clearing of 75ha of koala habitat was approved for residential development in Ipswich, breaching policy on environmental offsets.

The Australian Conservation Foundation obtained documents through a Freedom of Information request which showed habitat was approved for clearing even while the Environment Department conceded the developers' planned offsets didn't meet policy standards.

Developers are given permission to destroy wildlife habitat on the condition equivalent bushland is protected elsewhere, which is known as an offset.

The documents obtained by ACF revealed the department approved the land clearing in January 2018 by Springfield Land Corporation and Defence Housing Australia to 'maintain consistency in decision making' with other projects already going ahead.

The department said offset proposals from both developers 'lacked consistency' with its policy but approved them anyway and stated any future proposals would need to fall in line.

Springfield Land Corporation was told its proposal at Spring Mountain would offset 17.6 per cent of the impact, rather than the required 100 per cent.

Springfield Land Corporation was told its proposal at Spring Mountain would offset 17.6 per cent of the impact, rather than the required 100 per cent.

ACF nature campaigner Andrew Picone said the Federal Government was failing in its role to protect koalas.

"(They are) a much-loved species that is known around the world as uniquely Australian," he said.

"Experts believe koalas could be pushed to extinction in Queensland.

"In both these cases the Federal Environment Department acknowledged the planned offsets were inadequate, yet it approved the destruction of bushland anyway, relying on the flawed reasoning that the decision was consistent with existing housing projects nearby, which also did not meet policy standards for offsets."

Mr Picone said Australia's national environment budget had been slashed by 39.7 per cent since 2013.

"This is further evidence Australia's environment laws are failing our threatened species," he said.

"Australia has the dubious distinction of being the world leader on mammal extinctions and having a terrible record on protecting biodiversity, with more than 7.4 million ha of threatened species habitat, an area larger than Tasmania, destroyed in the last 20 years.

"In the midst of an extinction crisis we can no longer entertain the fantasy that it's ok to destroy precious wildlife habitat so long as we promise not to destroy bushland somewhere else.

"Under current standards Australians cannot be confident that offsets are providing adequate conservation outcomes for this special Australian species.

"ACF urges the Federal Government to adopt an immediate moratorium on its approval of the clearing of further koala habitat to help ensure the species' survival.

"In coming weeks there is also a significant opportunity with the release of the Palaszczuk Government's south east Queensland koala strategy, which must lead to the permanent protection of priority habitat for such an iconic Australian species."

Ipswich Koala Protection Society vice president Marilyn Spletter, who has been rescuing koalas for 28 years, said the news came as a "kick in the gut".

Sick with a nasty flu and with a husband ill in the hospital on Wednesday morning, she still went out and rescued as koala on Gatton Esk Rd.

Together they have hand raised more than 100 joeys.

"It doesn't seem like (the department) is doing too much to help," she said.

"I've been to koala seminars all over Australia over that 28 years. They always seemed to be on our side to help the koalas but (the news) was a bit of a kick in the guts. We're on the ground rescuing... we're doing all the hard yakka."

Since moving to her Hatton Vale eight years ago with her husband, Mrs Spletter has planted 250 trees along their back fence.

"They're big enough (yet) to house a koala," she said.

"If they're offsetting they should be planting trees first before chopping down. That's just a perfect world though.

"I've been saying for about eight years that (koalas) are not going to last ten years. The only koalas you see are going to be the ones in the zoos."

The society was formed as the Woogaroo Koala Protection Society 25 years ago as a result of development in Springfield ramping up.

Another member of the group, who did not want to be named, said there had been no improvement in protection measures for the animal in that time.

"Now people are aware of the plight of koalas, 25 years ago we didn't know they'd be in dire straits," they said.

"Obviously someone needs to be accountable for those approvals."

Both Springfield Land Corporation and DHA were contacted for comment but have yet to reply.

On Monday, the QT printed a story with long time environmental champion Ted Fensom about his concerns with the amount of land clearing in Ipswich, particularly in Springfield and surrounding suburbs.

He said native wildlife like the koala are feeling the growing pains of a rapidly growing population and large-scale residential development and current trends were "unsustainable" for wildlife.

"What's left in Springfield is just 10ha out there on the Centenary Highway," Mr Fensom said.

"Ipswich had the highest amount of urban land clearing in 2017, which was about 298ha.

"The problem is the assessments weren't done properly for the SEQ Regional Plan."

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