Our koalas still face ‘horrible’ prospect under new rules
Landowners with no specialist knowledge could have the power to make drastic decisions on koala habitat, under proposed new codes.
Tweed Shire Council's senior program leader of biodiversity, sustainability and environment, Scott Hetherington, said new state planning rules will do little to protect many of the state's vulnerable koala populations in rural areas.
The NSW Koala State Environmental Planning Policy 2021 has been announced as a replacement of 2020 and 2019 versions of the same policy.
Most of rural NSW is exempt from this SEPP, but the state government has said "core rural zones" would fall under "new codes that protect koala habitat under the Local Land Services Act", expected to be developed over the next month.
Mr Hetherington said if the codes for rural areas are similar to those for native forestry, there would be little oversight.
"Our concern is that's how private native forestry has been managed over time," he said.
"So what you're relying on is the landholder to make the call themselves, where everybody else who wants to do a development has to engage an ecologist … to come and make a professional assessment.
"Having been an ecologist for nearly 30 years and being readily able to admit that I don't know everything, I think that's a really high risk. What we have seen in some of the incidences is you discover this stuff too late."
He said the 2019 parliamentary inquiry into koala habitat in NSW sent a strong message, but the government wasn't necessarily listening.
"They talked to farmers and foresters and ecologist … rescuers," he said.
"They came back and said if we don't actually take strong action to protect koala habitat now we're going to lose koalas in the state by 2050.
"So all of this stuff … if it doesn't increase habitat protection then it's going the wrong way.
"We've got fantastic information, fantastic evidence that says protect what we've got, start there.
"We've got to catch up, imagine in our lifetime that koalas are extinct in our landscape.
"It's a horrible thing to contemplate. That's why we're so concerned about this announcement."
The Tweed's koala plan of management - focused on the coastal population - was adopted by the council in 2015 but is yet to be formally endorsed by the state government.