Dr. Douglas Kerlin – AKF Chief Ecologist.
The stated aim of the recently released Consultation Draft National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy 2009-2014 (the Strategy) is to "conserve koalas by retaining viable populations in the wild throughout their natural range". In my opinion however, the strategy will not be effective. It fails to adequately address the major threats facing the koala, and thus fails in its principle aim. If the purpose of the strategy is to conserve the species, then obviously the strategy must identify the critical habitats necessary for the koala to survive, thrive and recover throughout a significant part of its range, and it must designate and protect these habitats. Whilst the koala has been afforded some degree of legal protection since 1936, sadly there has never been any effective protection of the koala and its habitat. The strategy does nothing to remedy this situation. There is no mechanism within the strategy to do more than identify habitats which should be protected. Protection of this habitat is left to others.
What then is the purpose of this document? The strategy cannot protect the species because it lacks the legislative power to achieve meaningful planning protection. Neither is the strategy a recovery plan for the species. Instead the strategy is full of well meaning, but fairly minor projects which may benefit the koala (predominantly the production of guidelines and policy advice on a range of topics). There is nothing new in this document when you compare it to the previous strategy, a strategy which has failed. It appears that the Federal Government is content to leave the actual work of conserving the species to State government authorities, even though by their own admission the States have been hopelessly incapable of conserving and protecting the koala.
How then to improve the strategy? The fundamental roadblock to koala conservation in Australia is the lack of detailed vegetation and koala habitat mapping to form the basis of conservation efforts. It is apparent that the current standard of vegetation data throughout much of the species range is substandard; this poor standard is subsequently reflected in policy instruments. As 80% of koala habitat occurs on private lands, it is imperative that policy and planning instruments reflect reality. Recently there have been a large number of proposed developments in areas where koalas are known to occur, but where policy instruments and underlying mapping do not recognise the presence of koala habitat. As the policy instruments do not recognise the presence of koalas/koala habitat, conservation and impact mitigation measures are generally not required, and distinctly lacking. The Strategy fails to address this fundamental problem.
Standardised mapping protocols which identify all known areas of koala habitat, are essential to future conservation efforts. If populations are to recover, and the threatened status of the species to be reduced, available habitat must be protected and expanded; the strategy should seek to map the species range, and identify koala habitat irrespective of existing land tenure, and irrespective of the current presence/absence of individuals (particularly areas where koalas were present historically, but where populations have since declined). The strategy must therefore provide for the generation and collation of high resolution vegetation mapping. This vegetation mapping should be used to identify areas of available koala habitat, with habitat ranked on the basis of local koala habitat preferences.
This data should then be made available to State and local government authorities and the strategy should have the power to ensure this is incorporated into local planning processes and schemes. The draft National Strategy provides an ideal mechanism to fund this process, and to ensure good quality mapping is at the heart of improved legislative protection. While the draft National Strategy is deficient in a number of other areas, better mapping is the most realistic starting point for improving conservation outcomes for the koala in Australia.
- The National Strategy should provide for the establishment of a national koala habitat mapping standard.
- The National Strategy should provide for detailed vegetation mapping for the entire species range.
- The National Strategy should allow for the dissemination of vegetation mapping to state government agencies and local council authorities.
- The National Strategy should have the legislative power to ensure updated habitat mapping is incorporated into planning processes and planning schemes (irrespective of land tenure).
- The National Strategy should allocate sufficient funds for the above recommendations.