Comments on the Draft South East Queensland Koala Conservation State Planning Policy

Wildlife Tourism Australia

February 2010

Tourists want to see koalas. They are often at the top of the wish-list of tourists visiting southeast Queensland, and very close to the top for others. Many have already seen koalas in zoos and other captive settings, and their primary interest now is seeing them in the wild. Others have an aversion to zoos, and seeing them in the wild is for them the only acceptable way of viewing them.

The Lonely Planet Guide to Australia some years ago named Brisbane as the koala capital of the world, because of its large expanses of koala habitat and the high probability of finding koalas within them. However, over the past decade it has become increasingly difficult to find koalas in areas they were once common, even in large, intact habitat reserves such as Daisy Hill State Forest, which is highly disturbing to conservationists and tour operators.

The most pressing issue is the conservation priority of ensuring continued survival of koala populations. Their importance to the tourism industry, both current and potential, must also be considered.

We are thus very pleased to see such a comprehensive draft conservation planning policy to protect the remaining koalas.

We applaud the retention of 30% of koala habitat on sites to be developed, and that the pattern of the 30% to be cleared and the conservation properties of surrounding land are also to be considered. chosen should be selected in conjunction with advice of an ecologist familiar with koala behaviour and ecology. As has been shown from counts of koalas before and after habitat loss in Queensland, the relationship between habitat loss and koala decline is not linear. Removing 70% of koala habitat from any site is likely to result in the loss of substantially more than 70% of the resident koalas. There may well be manu instances where 30% retention is simply not enough to ensure the continuing presence if koalas.

Considerations on the shape of the 30% to be left intact should include:

  • What other large trees are visible to koalas from this site (this may indicate the direction that koalas might choose to travel when leaving the site)
  • Will the retained area include trees in valleys or near creeks, which may be important for providing moisture-rich eaves in drought times
  • Is the site laid out in such a way as to force koalas into areas of busy traffic or through suburban yards where dogs may be kept. If so, can mitigating actions be implemented? e.g., fencing to ensure that koalas cannot enter danger zones but are channelled into safe crossing areas, restrictions on dog ownership or regulations to ensure confinement of dogs at night, speed bumps in sections of road that could be of particular concern, habitat corridors constructed above roads or very large ones underneath.
  • Is the retained habitat very linear (which can be fine for koalas if other things are equal) or more rounded in shape (making it more useful to other wildlife that avoid edges, and thus increasing its value beyond koala protection)
  • What is the possible range of future alterations to habitat adjoining and near the site in question, how would this be compounded by the proposed clearing, and how might careful planning on the target site help to mitigate possible future changes in the surrounding area? Is there any way of ensuring that conservation measures on the target property will not be undone by clearing of habitat in surrounding properties?
  • What are resident koalas currently doing, and how could the proposed clearing affect their regular movements? This would be best determined by an ecologist with particular knowledge of koala behaviour and ecology.

The proposed plan states that:

Intensive development for community infrastructure purposes is not appropriate in any area of bushland habitat, or high value or medium value habitat suitable for rehabilitation unless—

  • there is no suitable alternative site; or
  • there is an overriding need in the public interest.

This is very vague, and we would like to know what would be considered to be an “overriding need in the public interest”. Does it for instance mean provision of essential services such as a local hospital in an area genuinely lacking same and I urgent need, and for which no other site can be found, or could it be interpreted to simply mean we are expecting an influx of new residents and therefore need more housing development, supermarkets or football grounds? Who decides, and how much public consultation will be sought for particular cases?

Most developers, landowners and local government staff will not have the training or skills to immediately appreciate all the reasoning behind many of the provisions in this policy. Thus, effective educational efforts must accompany notification of requirements.

There is some evidence that global warming may alter the chemical composition o eucalypt leaves such as to make their nutrients less readily available to koalas. Further research is needed urgently to determine the extent of this problem, and whether it can be mitigated to some extent by selective breeding and planting of appropriate trees to provide suitable leaves in the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments on the draft