THE World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of $50 million in funding for koala protection and recovery efforts.
On Saturday, 29 January, the prime minister announced a $50 million commitment over the next four years.
The funding includes restoring koala habitat, monitoring koala populations, and supporting koala treatment and care training.
“We’re pleased to see the government investing in koalas and contributing to some of the key recovery actions needed to save them from extinction after the devastating 2019-20 bushfires,” Tanya Pritchard, Landscape Restoration Project Manager, WWF-Australia, said.
“The $10 million for community-led initiatives is particularly welcome as it recognises the value of the community groups, koala carers, and citizen scientists working on the front line to plant koala trees, monitor populations, and respond to injured and orphaned koalas.”
Ms Pritchard said the funding for koala monitoring was welcome but should be accompanied by a commitment to double the number of east coast koalas by 2050.
“We can’t just count koala numbers as they continue to decline,” she said.
“A baseline survey of koalas is important, but it should be used to guide efforts to turn around the sad decline of this Aussie icon.”
Ms Pritchard also said the funding must be followed by a comprehensive national recovery plan backed by state governments that address the two most significant drivers of koala declines – deforestation and climate change.
“This money is much needed, but without stronger laws and major landholder incentives to protect koala habitat, their forest homes will continue to be bulldozed and logged,” she said.
“Koalas are the face of our forests, yet we’re still clearing the habitat of many priority populations.”
Ms Pritchard said the federal government could increase protections and give hope to koalas by listing them as an endangered species on Australia’s east coast.
WWF-Australia made a joint nomination with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Humane Society International in March 2020 to the federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee, calling for koala populations in Queensland, NSW, and the ACT to be classified as endangered.
The organisations submitted strong evidence to support the nomination, including scientific reports by ecological consultants Biolink, which revealed Queensland’s koala population has crashed by an estimated 50% since 2001, and up to 62% of the NSW koala population has been lost over the same period.
A federal panel of threatened species experts recommended the marsupial’s status be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered and the Environment Minister’s decision is expected soon.
“An endangered listing should make it much harder to bulldoze koala homes under state and federal laws,” Ms Pritchard said.
WWF-Australia has launched a multi-year program to Regenerate Australia and rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires.
A key initiative of this program is Koalas Forever, which aims to double koala numbers in Eastern Australia by 2050 by protecting and restoring habitat, creating koala safe havens, bolstering the capacity of wildlife hospitals, and advocating for stronger laws and protections for koalas.