Legal protections for Sydney’s koalas are woefully inadequate and will fail to halt the decline of the iconic species, a new EDO report has found. 

On behalf of Sydney Basin Koala Network (SBKN), EDO law reform Special Counsel Cerin Loane analysed the legal and regulatory frameworks for protecting koalas and found planning, environment and natural resource laws continue to allow koala habitat to be destroyed or degraded and the species remains at risk. 

Read the full report

SBKN has commissioned a separate report, prepared by Biolink, which found that just 10 per cent of the Sydney Basin has koala occupancy. It also found that there has not been a koala sighting recorded in Shoalhaven, south of Sydney, since the Black Summer bushfires, while minor gains are recorded in the Campbelltown region. 

Koalas are facing multiple threats from the cumulative effect of hundreds of development approvals causing habitat loss, modification and fragmentation, along with vehicle strikes, dog attacks, stress-induced disease and significant weather events such as drought, fire and floods.  

However, the new legal analysis confirms there’s an opportunity to create immediate impact and halt the decline of koala populations across the state by: 

1.Ensuring laws apply to all koala habitat by adopting consistent, comprehensive mapping across NSW as a matter of urgency, to identify key areas for conservation so koala populations can recover and grow. 

2.Urgently reforming state laws to deliver certain protection and strong safeguards for koalas in all environmental, planning and land clearing legislation. 

SBKN has identified six focal areas of significance as key to improving the fate of koalas in the Sydney Basin: Campbelltown/Wollondilly, Liverpool, Sutherland, Wingecarribee (Southern Highlands), Hawkesbury, and Cessnock/Lake Macquarie. 

Jeff Angel, Director of Total Environment Centre (TEC), which manages Sydney Basin Koala Network said: 

 “There are alarm bells going off across the region. Koala numbers in the Sydney Basin overall have declined by an estimated 22 per cent in the past 20 years, and NSW legislation and policy has continued to allow their decline.  

“Areas with the most significant koala populations are not being protected from development and other threats, despite their looming extinction.” 

“No government to date has provided koalas with adequate protection. Current local and state environment and planning laws are failing our koalas: there are too many regulatory gaps and too much flexibility in decision making, and the NSW Koala Strategy is not legally binding.  

“Planning and environment laws do not consider the cumulative effects of development approvals across NSW and the subsequent stress this is putting on koala colonies. The NSW Biodiversity Offsets Scheme fails to meet best practice, and local government Koala Plans of Management (KPoM) are voluntary.” 

Cerin Loane, EDO Special Counsel, Nature, said: 

“After extensive review, it’s clear that our laws are not up to the task of protecting koalas and their habitat. We have identified multiple opportunities to strengthen koala laws and policies.  

“We need urgent reform together with ongoing support for government agencies and private landholders to identify koala habitat, assess threats, and properly implement the rules.”  

While the full impact of the Black Summer bushfires is yet to be established, the loss of koala habitat from fire (such as 78.7% in the Hawkesbury) has seen habitat closer to urban areas become critical to recovery, as protection against fire is prioritised in these areas.  

Amanda Lane, Ecologist, Biolink, said: 

 “Because koala populations are expanding at the urban fringes of south-west Sydney, it is here that they face the greatest challenges from habitat loss/fragmentation and vehicle strike. But it is also where our greatest opportunity is to protect them. 

“Identifying and protecting koala habitat corridors in these areas will assist koala movement and support population expansion. These corridors should be protected in much the same way as infrastructure and housing during bushfire events.” 

Australia’s largest wildlife organisation, WIRES, is funding the SBKN project. 

Leanne Taylor, CEO, WIRES, said: 

“WIRES’ dedicated volunteers and Emergency rescue teams are increasingly responding to calls from the public about displaced, injured and orphaned koalas and we are pleased to be able to add our full support to TEC’s Sydney Basin Koala Network initiative. 

“Last financial year WIRES received 617 calls from across NSW regarding koalas and more than half of these (337) were for koalas in the Sydney Basin area. As their habitat and invaluable corridors continue to be destroyed, despite being reclassified as Endangered, it’s a now or never situation. All relevant parties including the public need to join together to halt what is fast becoming an avoidable tragedy for the Basin’s remaining koala colonies.” 

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