2013 June: Ballarat koalas under threat despite protection overlay

Ballarat koalas under threat despite protection overlay

5 June 2013


Some residents and koala protection advocates say measures to preserve the species in Ballarat aren’t working.

Mark Jackson – a resident of Mount Helen for the last 16 years – says he and his wife Loreen saw a koala beside Eddy Avenue in Mount Helen recently, and they were pleasantly surprised as sightings have become rarer.

“When we first moved here we used to see and hear them all the time but the last one we saw in our area would have been four or five years ago.”

Loreen Jackson took some photos and realised they weren’t the only people who’d spotted this koala.

“Somebody had drawn an arrow on the road in chalk pointing to where the koala was, adding, ‘Koala: probably the last one’.”

In 2009, the Ballarat City Council became the first in Australia to amend its planning scheme with a koala protection overlay, however Deborah Tabart from the Australian Koala Foundation says the change hasn’t prevented the destruction of the animal’s habitat and numbers are continuing to decline.

“Dogs, disease, cars, development and no constraints on developers.”

Deborah thinks there’s one vital factor underpinning the koala’s decline that’s missed by people.

“If we didn’t cut their food trees down in the first place we wouldn’t have them starving to death, being misplaced and killed.”

Despite the koala being listed as vulnerable in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT in May 2012, Deborah thinks Victoria wasn’t included because of the Victorian Government’s representations in the Senate inquiry.

“The Victorian government absolutely protested the protection of the koala because of logging interests.”

Karen Pohlner runs the Wala Wildlife Sanctuary at nearby Smythes Creek and she’s noticed she’s caring for fewer koalas.

“It’s very uncommon for me to care for a koala but 10 years ago was different. Now I get maybe one a month.”

Karen’s also worried because evidence of their breeding is rare.

“I haven’t seen a koala joey in over three years so there’s koalas out there but because there’s no environment for them to live in, they’re not breeding.”

Karen also thinks that governments need to do more to protect this Australian icon.

“If they’re not careful in the next 10, 20 or 30 years they’re not going to have that icon to look after anymore.”

Councillor Des Hudson from the City of Ballarat accepts the anecdotal evidence but insists the koala overlay may be responsible for limiting the decline in the koala population.

“I’m not sure what would have been the case with numbers had the council not had the overlay in place.”

Ballarat Council doesn’t monitor the actual number of koalas as this responsibility falls to the Department of Environment and Primary Industries but Cr Hudson says Council does take the issue seriously.

“Where there has been a loss of vegetation without a permit, matters have been taken to VCAT and we certainly follow up.”

Cr Hudson would like to have a discussion with residents and the Koala Foundation to examine what else could be done locally to help koalas.

“If there are other improvements that could be done to encourage koala population all councillors would welcome that.”