The Australian Koala Foundation has welcomed with caution, the listing of the koala as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act by the Minister today, but is shocked and saddened that the koalas in Victoria have been left unprotected. It is disheartening to read that the Minister has fallen for the old and sad myth that koalas in Victoria have "eaten themselves out of house and home".
When the United States Government listed the koala in the year 2000, it showed very clearly that if you have a few islands with koalas - which are all identical genetically - that it should not cloud the conservation debate in the original geographical range.
When the AKF nominated the koala, we did not nominate the island populations on good scientific advice and the Minister's TSSC should not have included this in their thinking. It is so predictable that the same old, same old argument from the Victoria Government has won on the day. There is good science to show that the koalas in Victoria have the same decline curve as their brothers and sisters in other parts of the country. This is a battle that is still to be fought.
The AKF right now has still not seen the details of what the Minister is saying - his website does not respond so we have little to go on right now. As I get interviewed by journalists from around the world, they are all asking questions, good questions, like how will this react with the conservation laws where the koala is still listed as Common?
Will this be able to over-ride existing projects that are destined to diminish koala habitats? Will the Koala Coast population, which is now "functionally extinct”, have any chance with a listing like this?
From my point of view, I want to see the science. We hear that the Minister thinks there are 200,000 koalas in Australia. A lovely neat number and nearly double what the AKF estimates. Where did he get this figure?
The AKF also wants to know what has happened to the National Koala Conservation Strategy? The Minister in his press release, mentions funding $300,000 worth of research. I wonder who will get that money? And for what?
And finally, the kicker in any policy decision, where is the money? When a species is listed, there has to be funds for a Recovery Plan. It is concerning to me that a Recovery Plan for the koala at the Federal level has not been announced, and I suppose that is predictable, because the other 1700 species already on that list haven't had that money either. The devil is probably in the detail and as the day progresses, we will know more. As I have said on many occasions, the system is broken.
It is a good step in the right direction, but I have a feeling the koala still has a long journey to make before it can be completely safe.