New South Wales has a patchy distribution of Koalas; they are concentrated along the North Coast with notable populations around Port Stephens, Taree and Coffs Harbour. Away from the coast the largest population is in the Gunnedah area. There are other low-density populations in eucalypt woodlands on the Tablelands (e.g. around Bathurst, Bowral, Armidale, Cooma). It is very difficult to find Koalas anywhere else, including the South West Slopes where they have virtually disappeared in the last 30 years. It is likely that these areas once had Koalas but they have never been able to recover from the 1880-1920s fur trade.
State Environment Planning Policy 44 (Koala Habitat Protection) (SEPP 44) commenced in 1995, but it only applies to areas larger than one hectare and ignores the problem of cumulative impacts; the ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ The Vulnerable Listing under the Federal EPBC Act also has no mechanism to address cumulative impacts and only applies to areas more than two hectares in size. This means that many developments in coastal areas fly under the radar of scrutiny in terms of impacts on local and regional coastal Koala populations.
Comprehensive Koala Plans of Management (CKPoMs) have been slowly rolled out since the first Plan for Coffs Harbour in 1998. Ideally, CKPoMs are Shire-wide to provide habitat management for the whole area but none do. For example, the Coffs CKPoM only covers coastal development; it does nothing to address logging on private land. The new Bellingen CKPoM has the same deficiency; the area covered was actually reduced to appease private loggers. Of course, State Forests have always been exempt. All CKPoMs stress the importance of on-going monitoring of Koala populations; however monitoring programs are never implemented. How can you detect changes, or indeed the effectiveness of a CKPoM if you don’t monitor?
Gunnedah has the largest inland population; however drought, mining and climate change may mean that the local population will never recover from a heatwave in 2009 that killed about 30% of Koalas in the area. Further to the west, the Pilliga Forest has likely lost 80% of its population due to fires and drought, and coal seam gas access roads look set to fragment the habitat. Wild dogs love these tracks, as it is easier for them to cover territory quickly and kill any Koalas they see.
In a very disturbing move the NSW Government has started to translocate Koalas that are “in the way” of infrastructure development (the Pacific Highway), and they will do it for the Shenhua mine at Gunnedah. Five years ago this was unthinkable, but where will it stop? The Victorian Government used to do it but too many Koalas died.