New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) released their Ballina Koala Management Plan on February 17, 2016. The development of a Koala Plan was a condition imposed by the Federal Government (because the Koala is a Federally-listed Threatened Species in NSW) before work could proceed on the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrades to the Pacific Highway.
A key requirement was population viability modelling. That is, modelling that takes estimates of births, deaths and migration into and out of the population and predicts the status of the Ballina Koala population over the next 50 years, with and without the road.
It is the Australian Koala Foundation’s (AKF) view that the Koala Plan Population Viability Analysis is a puff piece.
The analysis suggests that the population is already in decline, but ironically if the road is built, the population will apparently persist. Can the AKF truly believe that building the road will miraculously be able to improve fecundity (births) by 20% and reduce Koala deaths by 20% (as suggested by the Koala Plan)?
One has to ask, where did this 20% figure come from? Was it was just plucked out of the air?
How is this miraculous improvement in outcomes for the Koala population going to be achieved? Apparently, by simply fencing the road and providing habitat for 41 additional animals.
It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But is this realistic? AKF certainly doesn’t think so.
How about dogs and disease which are major threats to Koalas? Reducing Koala deaths from dogs might improve things. Reducing deaths and infertility due to disease might improve things.
But the Koala Plan doesn’t actually place any responsibility on RMS to reduce dog attacks, or vaccinate Koalas. Certainly the Koala Plan does not require RMS to spend any money to address dogs and disease.
All the plan requires is that RMS simply encourages the local community and other parts of Government to work harder to control the dogs and the use of a vaccine for Chlamydia for Koalas in the area. Note that these are not requirements and there are no obligations to provide financial support for any of this. The Koala Plan basically relieves RMS of any real responsibility to deal with dogs and disease.
It’s just nonsense, masquerading as science.
Here are the big questions: If the road goes ahead, who will keep monitoring to see if Koala populations do indeed see a 20% improvement in fecundity and a 20% reduction in mortality? Again, monitoring is a suggestion, not a requirement of the Koala Plan. And if the project fails to meet those thresholds, who is going to hold RMS responsible? Who is going to hold the consultants and the experts who signed off on this nonsense responsible?
A Koala Protection Act (KPA) will do all these things. Better still a KPA would not allow this kind of nonsense to be written in the first place. A road is still a road and there is no such thing as a Koala Friendly Road (Warning: graphic content).