18 Mar 2019


The federal government should upgrade the listing for koalas from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ in New South Wales and Queensland.

An expert team headed by ecologist David Paull wrote the plan for WWF-Australia and other leading conservation groups.

“Weak state, federal and local government laws which allow excessive tree-clearing are the main driver of the loss and fragmentation of koala habitat,” said David Paull.

“In NSW alone, 25 of the 38 identified koala populations are in decline, with only two thought to be stable. Australia is the only developed country on a global list of ‘deforestation hotspots’,” Mr Paull said.

Koala populations in NSW and Queensland fell 42% between 1990 and 2010, according to the Commonwealth Scientific Committee. From 1990 to 2016, at least 9.6 million hectares of vegetation have been bulldozed in both states.

“Six years after the federal government listed koalas in eastern Australia as vulnerable to extinction, there’s still no national koala recovery plan and koala numbers continue to fall,” said WWF-Australia’s Dr Stuart Blanch.

“So conservation groups brought together koala experts to draw up the first, independent-of-government, plan to save this much loved marsupial across eastern Australia.”

Those experts say the decline of koalas in NSW, the ACT and Queensland is now so serious the federal government should list the koala as in danger of extinction in those states.

“In NSW it is still perfectly legal to bulldoze millions of hectares of koala habitat under permissive state laws. Koalas could be extinct in NSW by 2050,” said Dr Blanch.

“The only way to save koalas from extinction in eastern Australia is for the federal and state governments to pass strong laws to stop tree clearing in koala habitat, conserve priority koala populations in new national parks and other protected areas, and develop a strong national koala recovery plan,” he said.

Mr Blanch said legislation in NSW and Queensland differed considerably. Queensland introduced significantly stronger laws to protect koala populations in May 2018. Native vegetation laws remain very weak in NSW.

Josey Sharrad, from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) said: “Australia holds the dubious title of having the worst mammal extinction rate in the world."

“The koala is now at risk of joining that list. This plan outlines the roadmap for protecting the koala and needs to be adopted at a national, state and local level as a matter of urgency,” she said.

The WWF Koala Habitat Conservation Plan also recommends:

  1. Strengthening state and federal laws to ban clearing of significant koala habitat, including a major re-write of weak laws in NSW, closing remaining loopholes under Queensland laws, and a new federal Environment Act and national EPA;
  2. Ending native forest logging on public lands and reforming private native forestry in NSW where significant koala habitat and populations exist;
  3. Improving conservation outcomes for koalas across 1.4 million hectares of Koala Habitat Priority Areas in NSW by transferring over 340,000ha of state forest to the reserve estate particularly on the north coast, south coast and Brigalow Belt regions, better protection for 70,000ha of Crown land and better protection for 500,000ha of koala habitat on private land. A further 500,000ha of largely cleared private land should be targeted for koala habitat restoration.
  4. Developing a national koala recovery plan based on this independent report that can halt and reverse the slide of koalas towards extinction in the wild in eastern Australia.