Five million hectares were burnt and at least 5000 koalas died in bushfires in NSW, a report says. Image by PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO

Environment

Bushfires a ‘game changer’ for NSW koalas

2020-03-06 17:09:50

There are calls for koalas to be declared an endangered species after a report found it was likely 5000 died in NSW during the summer’s devastating bushfires.

The report, by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and ecological consultant group Biolink, looked at how the recent bushfires impacted the state’s already declining koala population.

Koalas were already under stress from land clearing, urban development and the drought with the state’s population declining between 30 and 67 per cent since 2001, the report found.

The data published on Wednesday found more than five million hectares had burnt and at least 5000 koalas died in the bushfires from October 2019 to January 10.

IFAW wildlife campaigner Josey Sharrad said this is a conservative estimate with further research to cover impact of the bushfires to February 10.

Ms Sharrad also said the research does not include the number of koalas that will die because their habitats have been destroyed by fire.

“The surviving koalas have nowhere to go,” she told AAP.

IFAW is calling for an emergency listing of as endangered, to make sure the marsupial is protected as the population starts to recover.

An emergency listing would give the marsupial extra protection from harmful activities such as logging while the government completes a thorough assessment of the species.

“We want them to have breathing space to recover because they’ve been hit so hard,” Ms Sharrad said.

“The prolonged drought, excess land clearing, habitat loss and now the fires – it’s hit at the heart of so many significant koala populations.”

IFAW has made a nomination to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which will then make a determination on the listing. IFAW is calling on NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean to support the request.

“These fires have been a game changer,” Ms Sharrad said.

“Everything needs to be re-thought. They’re literally fighting for their survival.”

Ms Sharrad also called for a halt on land clearing and urban developments in known koala habitats to further help the species.

The report also found koalas are facing “serious challenges” for long-term survival because of their low reproductive rate and the increasing impact of climate change.

“The consequence of more frequent fires is that remaining koala populations are simply not able to recover from one fire event before being subjected to another,” the report found.

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will review the report, a spokesman told AAP in a statement.

“The NSW government recognises that this season’s significant bushfires have resulted in losses to koala numbers across NSW and may have compounded their vulnerable status,” the spokesman said.