Major Koala Habitat To Be Bulldozed In Australia
More than 50 hectares of koala habitat will be bulldozed in Australia after the federal environment minister gave the green light to expand a nearby quarry.
Minister Sussan Ley announced the decision today, October 27, claiming that clearing the land in the New South Wales town of Port Stephens would ‘not rob the area of critical koala habitat’.
A total of 52 hectares of habitat will be cleared to make room for the expansion of the Brandy Hill rock quarry, with the aim of increasing the quarry’s annual production from 700,000 tonnes a year to 1.5m tonnes to supply the Sydney construction market.
Ley said her department conducted an assessment of the area and concluded that ‘as few as one or two koalas’ were present in the proposed construction area, indicating the clearing could take place without affecting ‘small pockets’ where koalas had been spotted by residents.
The move comes less than a year after bushfires in Australia killed thousands of the marsupials and destroyed much of their habitat, prompting further backlash about the proposal from conservationists, local campaigners and celebrities including Olivia Newton-John and Jimmy Barnes.
A months-long campaign led by residents of Port Stephens gained worldwide attention and called on the federal environment minister to ‘use her powers’ to protect the koala population.
I recognise the proposal has been subject to a high-profile public campaign that has tapped into the genuine concerns we all share about koalas and bushfire-impacted areas.
In response to the backlash, Ley delayed her decision so she could hear from campaigners, consider assessments of the site and allow the department to commission an independent report by an ecologist, The Guardian reports.
After approving the plans this month, the minister explained:
This is not a region where bushfires have impacted local populations or habitat, the area to be cleared is not a site that is supporting resident breeding populations and, having reviewed the department’s recommendations, I have approved the proposal.
Chantal Parslow Redman, the co-campaign manager of Save Port Stephens Koalas, described the decision as ‘heartbreaking’ and said the government had chosen ‘rocks over koalas’.
The minister’s statement says this area didn’t burn – that’s the whole point. This is koala habitat. This just shows that nothing will stop this government from destroying koala habitat.
Redman said residents disputed the government’s view that the site did not support breeding populations because they had seen koalas with babies close to the quarry.
Earlier this year, an inquiry conducted by New South Wales found koalas would be extinct in the state by 2050 unless the government took urgent action against habitat loss. Ley said the approval of the quarry expansion comes with the condition that the developer, Hanson, establish new koala habitat near the site.
Hanson would have to replant 74 hectares to the south of the quarry site with trees suitable for koalas. The developer must also conduct site surveys to determine whether koalas are present in any of the trees, and it must leave a 25m buffer as well as a corridor around any koalas to allow them ‘to leave towards habitat outside of the area to be cleared’.
In a statement released after Ley’s decision, Hanson said the newly established habitat would be of ‘greater quality than currently exists’.
However, protesters questioned what the koalas were meant to do while they were waiting for the trees to grow, with Redman pointing out, ‘Koalas need habitat now.’
Chris Gambian, the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said the replanting of trees would not ‘make up for the loss of that critical habitat’.
Given what we know about the state of koalas in NSW – they’re headed for extinction by 2050 – we have to treat every bit of koala habitat as absolutely precious. You can’t replicate the forest.
The government is currently considering the koala for an official endangered listing.
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