August 16 - 22, 2020: Issue 462


call for Pittwater Support to Save Koalas 

Environmentalists are calling on the Pittwater community to join today’s state-wide actions to save koalas from extinction in NSW - a fate experienced by our local population. 

The protests follow a recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Koala Populations and Habitat in NSW, which found that koalas will be extinct by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to protect them. 

Its report said that the biggest threats to the koala’s survival in this state is loss and fragmentation of habitat and it made 42 recommendations to safeguard them.

To put pressure on the NSW government to protect that habitat from development and logging, one of the actions staged by koala activists and environmental organisations will be a COVID-safe rally outside NSW MP Rob Stokes’ office at 11am today. 

Local residents are encouraged to join the protest to reinforce the message for Mr Stokes, Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Environment Minister Matt Kean.

Environmentalist and former koala handler John Illingsworth is supporting the day of action, having already joined a protest targeting Mr Stokes in Mona Vale on Friday. 

Mr Illingsworth, who grew up in Pittwater at a time when koalas were “relatively common”, was an animal handler for the Skippy television program based at the former Waratah Park at Terrey Hills. He cared for a number of koalas during that time.  

“There’s no more iconic animal in Australia than the koala,” Mr Illingsworth told Pittwater Online News. 

Mr Stokes, as Planning Minister and former environment minister, should understand how koalas became extinct on the Barrenjoey peninsula, and would also be old enough to remember when koalas lived here, Mr Illingsworth said.  

“It’s my opinion that Rob Stokes would not want to be the person who saw the extinction of the koala in NSW – which is going to happen by 2050 unless he protects all the land with viable colonies in NSW.''  Mr Illingsworth stated. 

Mr Illingsworth was particularly concerned about a chlamydia-free colony at Campbelltown, in south-west Sydney, which is threatened by the NSW government’s plans associated with development of the new Western Sydney Airport. 

John Illingsworth - photo supplied

Greens environmental activist Pru Wawn said that the recent bushfires have pushed koala populations to the brink, with 80 per cent of their habitat destroyed in some areas. 

“We lost our last few koalas in Pittwater some years ago after traffic and introduced species like dogs hastened their demise,” Ms Wawn said yesterday.

“Once again, urban growth and logging in regional areas is threatening this treasured species. 

“Unless some serious measures are put in place like wildlife corridors and a designated NSW koala park, by 2050 they will be lost forever.”

Koala survival is a poignant issue for many in Pittwater, where long-time residents can remember the marsupials living in their gardens. 

However, a 1970 survey discovered the population had declined to 123 animals and only about six were recorded in 1989. The last known sighting was in Avalon in 2006. 

Ecologists say their demise was due to increasing development fragmenting their habitat and forcing them to face dangers on the ground - such as cars and dogs – while they moved between trees.  

The release of an 8 years old female back into Angophora Reserve after she had been bombarded by magpies. Taronga Zoo picked her up and nursed her back to health before the release on November 5th, 1989. Doug Bladen and Marita Macrae are in the background representing the Avalon Preservation Trust (now APA). Photo by Geoff Searl OAM

Pittwater community members on Wednesday suspended a sign across the Seaforth approach to the Spit Bridge, encouraging motorists to contact Mr Stokes as Planning Minister, asking him to take action.

On Friday morning, Mr Illingsworth, Ms Wawn and others conducted a small COVID-safe rally near Mr Stokes office at Mona Vale, with four people in koala suits and the same banner.  

Bob Brown Foundation campaign organiser Doro Babeck reiterated that today’s protests are directed at continued logging in both burned and unburnt patches of remnant koala habitat following the last bushfire season.

“It’s about the excessive ongoing logging to native forests that has to stop, whether it’s for urban development, mining or to fulfil contractual obligations for wood chips,” Ms Babeck said. 

“With a lot of forests having been burnt, they’re now logging coupes (small areas of forest within a compartment that is harvested in a single operation) that have not been burnt but earmarked for logging.

“They’re logging areas that they found koala droppings and claw marks on the trees.

“This is for wood chips to be turned into toilet paper. We can use recycled paper for toilet paper and plantation for all our other needs.”

NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, who chaired the Upper House Parliamentary koala inquiry, has called for urgent action to save the creatures, saying they are suffering “extinction by a thousand cuts”. 

Projects such as the Brandy Hill Quarry in Port Stephens - that will clear 52 ha of core koala habitat – and Lend Lease’s Figtree Hill development, near Campbelltown - would destroy key koala habitat. 

“The time has come for the government to draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough,” Ms Faehrmann said. 

“Instead we have developments being fast-tracked that will destroy hundreds of hectares of koala habitat and forests which have been identified as core koala habitat being clear-felled by Forestry Corp.

“The Premier has said she wants to save the Koala. Well the world is watching Premier, and the only way to save them is to protect their habitat from further destruction now.” 

The koala inquiry found that at least 5,000 koalas were lost in last season’s bushfires.  

However, even before the fires took their toll on wildlife, land clearing and logging for agriculture, development, mining and forestry had severely affected most koala populations in the state over many decades, the inquiry reported in June.  

Koalas had also suffered through many years of drought in parts of NSW – with high numbers of malnourished and dehydrated animals taken to wildlife carers for rehabilitation. 

And climate change was affecting the quality of their food and habitat, as well as increasing the severity of other threats, such as drought and bushfires, the report said.  

Its recommendations included that: 

  • the NSW Government urgently … consider and determine the most appropriate method of surveying koala numbers, and that this method become the standard across all government authorities.
  • the NSW Government urgently prioritise the protection of koala habitat and corridors in the planning and implementation stages of urban growth areas.
  • the NSW Government fund and support local councils to conserve koala habitat, including by identifying pockets of urban bushland to include in the State's protected area network. 
  • the NSW Government and Campbelltown City Council ensure the protection of the koala colony and habitat on the Figtree Hill site before allowing any further development.
  • the NSW Government create a Georges River Koala National Park to provide secure habitat for the South Western Sydney koala population.
  • the NSW Government investigate the establishment of the Great Koala National Park.
  • the NSW Government rule out opening up old growth forests in the state forest reserve for logging.
  • the NSW Government urgently investigate the utilisation of core koala habitat on private land and in State forests to replenish koala habitat lost in the bushfires.
  • the NSW Government ensure that the NSW Koala Strategy: Bushfire Recovery Plan contains as its key focus, the protection of koala habitat.
  • the NSW Government urgently prioritise the restoration and replenishment of koala habitat lost to bushfire in national parks and publicly release a plan to do this. 

Today’s protests are hosted by the Bob Brown Foundation, Bellingen Environment Centre, Extinction Rebellion, NSW Greens, Save Sydney’s Koalas and the Total Environment Centre. 

For anyone joining the Mona Vale protest outside 1,725 Pittwater Road, Mona Vale, please bring your own face mask to wear and ensure you stay two metres away from others. Optional: Wear brown and green clothes to symbolise trees. Some posters and placards will be supplied or bring your own! Find your tree pose! 

Locals are also invited to join a social media storm today (Sunday) from 10am to 6pm.  

Take a photo or video of yourself at a pop-up protest, or print a photo of yourself with a poster at home and share on social media tagging:

Premier Gladys Berejiklian (@GladysB), Environment Minister Matt Kean (@Matt_KeanMP) and Planning Minister Rob Stokes (@RobStokesMP).  

Use the hashtags:  #SaveOurKoalasGladys and #StopExtinction 

If you would like a “Koalas need trees” A4 sign for your front fence, please message 0416 192 602. 

For more information about koala survival see the following webinar: 

By Miranda Korzy
Greens Northern Beaches