The Nature Conservation Council held their annual conference on 31 October via Zoom. There were speeches by Matt Kean, the Environment Minister, Cate Faehrmann from the Greens and Kate Washington, Shadow Minister for the Environment.
The good news is the NSW government’s policy of aiming for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and support for renewable energy projects in spite of the federal government’s refusal to make any commitment.
Matt Kean also announced that the goal set last year of declaring 200,000 ha of new national park land had been exceeded. He went on to announce the goal will be extended to adding a total of 400,000 ha by the end of 2024. The Narriearra Caryapundy Swamp National Park, the largest area, in the far north west of the state has now been formally gazetted. Additions have been made to several other national parks such as Capertee (Regent Honeyeater habitat) and Travelling Stock reserves that have already been managed by NPWS.
The speeches demonstrated the obfuscation about koala protection that has been apparent in the Coalition for many months. Matt Kean has announced he wants the koala population to double by 2050 but so much habitat has been destroyed in the bushfires. Any plan is confounded by forest logging and land clearing decisions by other members of the Coalition. The recent Upper House enquiry found that koalas are at risk of functional extinction by 2050.
Loss of Koala Habitat and Land Clearing
- Cumberland Plain Conservation Plan has recently been subject to consultation. It covers over 15,000 ha in south-western Sydney that is currently rural land but is earmarked for development to allow for population expansion. It aims to provide long-term certainty about areas that will be conserved to avoid piecemeal zoning decisions.
If it goes ahead only about one-third of the area of native vegetation will be conserved. The plan allows for the loss of a further 1,014 ha of critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland to development. There are only 6,400 ha left. The rest will be marked as ‘urban capable’. Large areas that are Sydney’s food bowl could go under concrete as well as more koala habitat.
In this area koala habitat will be protected in the new Georges River National Park but koala conservation groups are very concerned that habitat will be fragmented and essential corridors will be lost or cut off by roads. Of particular concern is the future of the chlamydia free population near Campbelltown.
- Lend Lease is developing the Gilead Estate, land that is core koala habitat in Appin between the Nepean and Georges Rivers. The Chief Scientist has recommended that habitat corridors be maintained but some of the preservation requirement would encroach on this land. It has been left to Lend Lease to do the right thing!
- One of the fast-tracking decisions made by the government is for another housing development (280 lots) by Walker Corporation at Appin that is next to 60 ha of critical koala habitat. This development has been knocked back by the local council several times.Then we have the approval by the federal Environment Minister for the Brandy Hill Quarry extension near Port Stephens – 52 ha lost.
- In rural areas, in particular the north of the state, a Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill proposes changes to the regulatory framework applicable to native vegetation and private forestry. The EDO believes that the changes proposed by the bill will remove important protections for koala habitat and will further facilitate excessive and inappropriate land clearing. The Total Environment Centre has dubbed this the Koala Destruction Bill.
- Then there is the modification made to the Koala SEPP after the threats from the Nationals to leave the Coalition. Councils with koala populations can choose to develop a strategy to manage koalas in their area. But the SEPP does not actually stop koala habitat from being bulldozed if the development is approved by council.
- Last, but not least, is the latest government proposal to amend the Rural Fires Act that will lead to more land clearing. Property owners will be free to clear all their land that is within 25 m of fencing. The landowner on the other side of the fence can be required to do the same. This includes public landowners such as national parks. This was not a recommendation of the bushfire enquiry. It is hard to see the reason for this proposal. It will be introduced by regulation. Is it aimed at reducing the cost of replacing fencing after a fire? In this case it is not a fire protection measure at all. The detail has not been released.
It will lead to broad-scale clearing of endangered forest and habitat for grazing and other purposes unrelated to hazard. In metropolitan rural areas where blocks are small this regulation could allow the total block to be cleared, a lovely invitation for developers to move in.
What we need is a Great Koala National Park to be formed out of key state forests in the north. Some of these forests are being logged but this has to stop if a resilient population of koalas is to survive.