What will it take?

Hello Koala lovers,


I am about to do a TV interview for an American film crew, and as I have been briefing them I took the time to re-read the determination by the United States Government when they listed the Koala as threatened under their Endangered Species Act. This was in May 2000 and the Koala was nominated for review by that country in 1994. I would encourage you to read it.

It was a Clinton/Gore administration at the time and I do believe that this listing, in part was their way of saying to Australia “you need to meet your Kyoto Protocols" to limit global warming as it was known then. Now nearly two decades on, it is sobering reading because Australia is still not meeting its international obligations. The Koala was also listed by the Australian Federal Government in 2012, and as you know we still await a Koala Recovery Plan – which I am sure when it is written will still not stop both urbanization and logging.  

I was explaining to the AKF team that in 1992 when I first learnt of a thing called the RFAs (Regional Forest Agreements) that I truly did not understand what impact it would have on Koalas. I was told this document would allow logging to occur sustainably and give the industry security that they could take wood from forests which presumably were sustainable.  It sounded logical but time has proven it to be fraught. No-one really knows whether it has been sustainable and I noted recently that the New South Wales Government is now wanting to re-define the definition of what constitutes “old growth forest”. I wonder why? One probable reason is that the plantation forests that were planted twenty years ago, and which were supposed to make money, have either not grown for various reasons and perhaps they now need to go back into native forests; the true source of profits.

The Regional Forest Agreements are back up for discussion and will allow logging to occur again for the next 20 years. It brought back memories of when I was standing in a forest in New South Wales looking at a stump of an old tree thought to be around 600 years old (this was around 1994) and I was told “no luv, this is not an old growth forest; this has been logged before”. I do not know if this was a legal definition then, but this logger clearly thought because “man had logged in that forest, it no longer met the definition of old growth.”


As I read the US determination (which is an incredible document), I realised that unless we get the Koala Protection Act, my successor in 20 years’ time will be writing about the documents that I wrote and the habitats will still not be protected. Throughout this document it talks of habitat destruction as the key threat and what galled me the most is the people who opposed the listing then, many of whom were in the zoo industry, should in my opinion have had no say in this process. Thank goodness they were ignored and the listing occurred, mainly I think because the US Government said the following “…the amount of native vegetation cleared in Australia in 1990 was more than half that cleared in Brazilian Amazonia". I am sure the Clinton administration probably made sure these words were in this document to prod Australia to get on board on a global scale.

I remember the Howard conservative government seemed to chat about protecting forests and by 2006, they had created forests that would meet international guidelines by saying that a two metre tree (6 feet or so) would constitute the legal requirement of “forests”. Truly nonsense.

Are you bored with all this? I hope so, because I truly am.

So who should have a say in this process? Most likely the custodian of the Koala - and who is that? Well, legally, we presume the Australian Government and in practice the Minister for the Environment. But how much have the last 14 Environment Ministers done over the last 30 years? Nothing. Not one site has been protected to my knowledge. 

Remember too that had the United States Government not stepped in (in 1929) to stop the importation of Koala skins into the United States, we would have lost this special little marsupial then. Truly, what will it take? It will take you. Join the Koala Army and send a letter to the Prime Minister or perhaps even the Governor General. Could he be the custodian of the Koala? Then you have to ask too, is it the Queen? Perhaps we need to write to her. Would love some of you legal folk to think it through. Who is the custodian of the Koala under the Westminster system?

As always,