From today, the Palaszczuk Government is increasing protections for koalas in South East Queensland, with strict new planning regulations to protect koala habitats.
Minister for Environment Leeanne Enoch said koala populations were under intense pressure and the impact of a prolonged drought and recent bushfires meant we need to act now to prevent further habitat loss.
“In December 2019, we released the draft South East Queensland Koala Conservation Strategy for public consultation,” Ms Enoch said.
“Throughout that consultation period we have heard from thousands of Queenslanders who are calling for stronger protections for koalas in South East Queensland.
“While the full strategy is finalised, we are acting swiftly by releasing new mapping and stronger planning regulations.
“More than 690,000 hectares has now been mapped as koala habitat under these new regulations.
“That is an increase of more than 421,000 hectares on what existed previously for state protected koala habitat.
“Over 577,000 hectares in South East Queensland is now identified as Koala Priority Area, which includes habitat and areas identified for rehabilitation – that’s an area twice the size of ACT,” Ms Enoch said.
Koala Priority Areas are large, connected areas that include koala habitat as well as areas that are suitable for habitat restoration.
Clearing of koala habitat areas within Koala Priority Areas is prohibited under the new regulations. Some exemptions to the clearing prohibitions will apply, including a once-off 500m2 allowance per premises, as well as an allowance for the removal of dangerous trees, and the creation or maintenance of firebreaks adjacent to infrastructure.
Ms Enoch said the new koala planning framework will deliver a more strategic and consistent approach to koala conservation across local government boundaries and give more certainty to the community and industry.
“The Nature Conservation and Other Legislation (Koala Protection) Amendment Regulation 2020 delivers on the Queensland Government’s commitment to ensure the continuation of koala populations in the wild,” Ms Enoch said.
The new koala habitat mapping has been updated following a map validation process in December 2019, to remove any areas that had previously been developed.
More than 440 requests were made to validate mapping across that period, and many Queenslanders expressed a desire to ensure that their local areas of vegetation were protected.
Koala Advisory Council chair, Mark Townend, said the draft Koala Conservation Strategy and accompanying regulations achieved strong koala protection measures in the face of growing population pressures.
“The Government has worked closely with the Koala Advisory Council to ensure all stakeholders were heard and the result is one that still accepts the principle of providing the necessary housing stock for growth yet protects and enhances the important areas of habitat to ensure the sustainability of the koala population in south east Queensland.
“Our hope is that the population will not only be maintained but will increase under these reforms,” Mr Townend said.
During broader consultation on the draft Strategy, which closed on 31 January 2020, the Department of Environment and Science engaged with over 350 interested parties through engagement events and received around 3000 submissions, emails and letters.
“The Queensland Government is now analysing the feedback in order to inform the final Strategy, which I expect to release later this year,” Ms Enoch said.