Use of loopholes put Hawkesbury's Koalas at risk.
We are deeply disappointed that a motion to protect the habitat of a key stronghold of koalas in the Hawkesbury was gagged for debate by a majority of Hawkesbury Councillors at a council meeting this week. The motion, moved by independent Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett, seconded by Greens Councillor Danielle Wheeler, and supported by Councillors Djuric and Zamprogno sought to ensure the correct application of the rural boundary clearing code, which must exclude mapped koala habitat.
According to the rural boundary clearing code, the following endangered ecological communities found in the Hawkesbury region cannot be cleared:
- Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest in the Sydney Basin Bioregion;
- Cumberland Plain Woodland in the Sydney Basin Bioregion;
- Core koala habitat that has been identified in a koala plan of management under the State Environment Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2020.
Unfortunately for koalas in the Hawkesbury, their habitat has never been recognised or mapped by Hawkesbury Council, despite publicly available records of long term generational persistence in the area. The rural boundary clearing code is being applied without scrutiny, and there is community concern for the potential for land containing koala habitat to be cleared under this code and then exploited for urban development.
The concerns are valid. 78.7% of koala habitat in the Hawkesbury was destroyed in the Black Summer Bushfires and safe koala habitat on the peri-urban interface has become critical to their long-term survival. Closing loopholes that undermine the protection of core koala habitat is urgent.
Black Summer Fire Mapping source: Biolink 2023
Frustratingly, there are many resources where detailed koala habitat mapping for the Hawkesbury is publicly available that the council could use as a precaution. Our recently commissioned report prepared by Biolink, maps the entire Sydney Basin Bioregion and shows 57.1% of vegetation in the Hawkesbury is preferred koala habitat.
Koala Habitat Mapping Source: Biolink 2023
The NSW Koala Strategy also considers the Hawkesbury an Area of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS) and detailed habitat mapping is readily and publicly available via the NSW Government's SEED portal, which includes the statewide Koala Habitat Information Base, providing spatial data on koala habitat, likelihood, koala preferred trees and koala sightings for NSW and can be used on a lot by lot basis.
At present, it is voluntary for councils to use available mapping data. In order to reverse the endangered status of the koala, this must change. The Hawkesbury is a key focal area for koalas in the Sydney Basin Bioregion, with generational persistence for over 20 years. We call on the Environment and Planning Ministers to direct Hawkesbury Council to immediately halt the indiscriminate clearing of koala habitat and use publicly available data.