Government ridicules WWF claim koalas 'extinct by 2050'

Koalas extinct by 2050? You have to be joking, the NSW Government has told the WWF.
Koalas extinct by 2050? You have to be joking, the NSW Government has told the WWF.

Claims by the World Wide Fund for nature that koalas could be extinct in NSW by 2050 because of the state’s native vegetation laws, has been met with a howl of contempt by the NSW Government.

A spokesman for NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the WWF claims in a report released today were “scaremongering” and “playing politics”.

WWF-Australia conservationist Stuart Blanch said: “WWF-Australia estimates there are likely less than 20,000 koalas left in NSW and at the current rate, they are on track to be extinct in the state by as early as 2050”. 

“We have to stop this excessive tree-clearing if we want to keep koalas alive in the wild for future generations,” he said.

“We are releasing this report on National Threatened Species Day to highlight that the destruction of koala habitat is accelerating in NSW and to call on the government to urgently strengthen the laws to ensure koalas and other threatened native animals are given the protections they need.”

The report highlighted loss of koala habitat in the Moree region in northern NSW. It claimed that since the repeal of the NSW Native Vegetation Act, in the Moree-Collarenebri region:

  • Clearing almost tripled. 8,194 ha was cleared in 2017-18, up from 2,845ha in 2016-17. 
  • 14ha of koala habitat was bulldozed each day in 2017-18 (5,246ha habitat destroyed). The koala is designated as vulnerable to extinction under commonwealth and state law.
  • 19ha of Painted Honeyeater habitat was bulldozed each day in 2017-18 (6,942ha of habitat destroyed). The Painted Honeyeater is designated as vulnerable to extinction under commonwealth and state law.
  • Habitat for 247 native species may have been destroyed in 2017-18, including habitat for nine species of National Environmental Significance.
  • The Moree-Collarenebri region is already extensively cleared. Only 6% of the study area has forest remaining while 11% is sparse woodlands.

The state government says the research is done by transparent methods using google earth, and not detailed satellite imagery for the findings. It says there at least 40,000 koalas in the wild in NSW. They are officially classified as vulnerable.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) said it had an effective regulatory compliance program, which draws data from a comprehensive satellite monitoring program, the Environment Line, and other reports. “All potential breaches are assessed and if appropriate investigated,” a spokesman for the Minister said.

“Any additional information not already identified in this report will be considered though this program. Local Land Services is working with the farming community to help it understand the new requirements.

“The legislative framework establishes strong offences and tougher penalties for illegal clearing and harming threatened species. It is absolutely appalling and attention seeking for WWWF, NCC and Labor to cast doubt on the future of the koala.

“The NSW Government’s Koala Strategy – the biggest commitment by any state government to secure koalas in the wild – will provide more natural habitat for koalas, tackle diseases, improve research and fix roadkill hotspots.

“The NSW Government has committed $45 million for this strategy. The WWF and NCC are simply playing politics and scaremongering.” 

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “Our satellite imagery analysis confirms the dire predictions of the government’s own advisers, who warned the new laws would permit bulldozing of 99% of identified all koala habitat on private land in the state. 

“The area where this habitat destruction has occurred is one of the most heavily cleared in the state, with only 6% of forest remaining while an additional 11% was in sparse woodlands.

“The NSW Government is responsible opening the floodgates to the destruction of koala forests and woodlands on a scale we have not seen for more than 20 years.

“This report looks at a fraction of the state, so we fear this spike in deforestation in the north is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The report concludes that repeal of the NSW Native Vegetation Act in August 2017 was likely the major reason behind the dramatic surge in forest and woodland destruction in this known clearing hotpsot.