State Government to set up expert panel to discuss findings of koala report
Published Saturday, 07 May, 2016 at 10:45 AM
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef
The Honourable Steven Miles
Queensland Government committed to supporting koala population
The Queensland Government will appoint a panel of experts to explore ways to better protect koalas in the wake of a new report confirming populations continue to decline in the State’s south-east.
Environment Minister Steven Miles said the Government would consult with a range of specialists with a “diversity of expertise’’ relevant to koala conservation.
These included population dynamics, behavioural science, genetics, captive breeding, translocation, disease management, threat mitigation, rescue and rehabilitation, and town planning.
“We will be setting up a panel of experts as a matter of urgency to help determine the most appropriate and realistic options to respond to the available science,’’ Dr Miles said.
“The Queensland Government takes the protection of the State’s iconic and much loved koalas very seriously,’ he said.
“We will review all koala programs in light of these findings to develop a plan that will support our koala population.
“Since receiving the report from UniQuest, I have also directed the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to come up with realistic short-term options to better protect koalas,’ he said.
The UniQuest report, “South East Queensland Koala Population Modelling Study’, was commissioned under the LNP and prepared by the University of Queensland. Its purpose was to analyse and make conclusions on all known koala population data in SEQ.
The report concluded there was clear statistical evidence of a decline in koala population densities of around 80% in the Koala Coast and 54% in Pine Rivers between 1996 and 2014 – despite current protection measures.
While density modelling was not achievable over all of SEQ due to incomplete survey coverage, modelling was possible for the Koala Coast and Pine Rivers populations over that time frame.
Dr Miles said the LNP, which weakened laws which saw tree clearing rates almost double in Queensland, disregarded the science at the expense of koalas.
“Last year, the Palaszczuk Government accepted a recommendation by an independent scientific panel to list the koala as vulnerable across Queensland after the LNP refused to accept that advice, and even axed the jobs of koala specialists employed by EHP,’ Dr Miles said.
“This report tells us that koalas are in decline, and we all know that laws that allow too many trees to be cut down mean there are less places for koalas to live across Queensland.
“The Palaszczuk Government has introduced legislation to Parliament to reverse the State’s worrying level of tree clearing under the LNP.
“We will also look more closely at our offset programs to make sure any unavoidable clearing of koala habitat is offset by actions that deliver real and direct benefits to koalas,’ he said.
Dr Miles said koalas were threatened by a number of factors in addition to habitat loss, including disease, car strike and dog attack.
“The past 20 years have seen an increase in the number of people living in south east Queensland with an associated loss of habitat, and increases in the numbers of roads, cars and dogs,’’ he said.
“It is clear from the science that we cannot just assume that the koala protection strategies put in place over the past two decades are going to stop populations of this iconic species continuing to decline’.
The State Government has invested over $150 million since 1996 in programs to map and restore koala habitat, address the impacts of car strike, dog attacks and disease, rehabilitating injured animals, surveying animals and investing in science. Considerably more has been invested by other parties including local governments.
The State Government spend included:
• $33 million to acquire 34,405 hectares for koala conservation with a focus on land that contributes to habitat connectivity and will involve the revegetation of 270 hectares of land;
• $3.13 million in research grants to investigate koala diseases and other preventable causes of death, injury and illness, and
• $800,000 for koala rescue and rehabilitation services, providing much-needed assistance to organisations treating injured koalas and other wildlife.
Dr Miles said a koala land acquisition and rehabilitation program was initiated by the then Labor Government in 2010, with a focus on purchasing land in South East Queensland suitable for rehabilitation as koala habitat.
“Since 2010, the State has acquired 24 properties for koala conservation at a cost of $33 million,” Dr Miles said.
“We led by example back in 2010 when we purchased the first property under the extensive acquisition and rehabilitation program – a 7.6 hectare property on Mount Gravatt - Capalaba Road.
“The property was prime koala habitat next to Tingalpa Reservoir that had been extensively cleared.
“Because of this purchase back in 2010 and the extensive rehabilitation that followed, we were able to covert this land back to suitable koala habitat.”
In addition, since 2010, more than 323,900 trees have been planted in local Queensland communities to enhance koala habitat (through the Queensland Government’s Koala Nature Refuge Program and the Koala Habitat program).
The Department of Environment and Heritage (EHP) currently spends $600,000 per annum on koalas, including $380,000 on an annual koala survey and $220,000 to operate the Daisy Hill Koala Centre and the Moggill Koala Hospital.
Dr Miles said the Government expected to announce the members of the new expert panel next month, and he anticipated receiving its advice within three months of it being convened.
A copy of the UQ report can be found on the EHP website at www.ehp.qld.gov.au.
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