ENVIRONMENT Minister Tony Burke yesterday today announced Australia's most at-risk koala populations will be included on the national list of threatened species.
Minister Burke has decided to list koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory as vulnerable under national environment law.
"Koalas are an iconic Australian animal and they hold a special place in the community," Mr Burke said, adding that they are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease.
"My decision to list the koala under national environment law follows a rigorous scientific assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee which gathered information from a variety of experts over the past three years," Mr Burke said.
The Minister said koala numbers vary significantly across the country, with koala populations clearly declining in some areas, but stable or even increasing in other areas.
"In fact, in some areas in Victoria and South Australia, koalas are eating themselves out of suitable foraging habitat and their numbers need to be managed," Mr Burke said.
"But the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory koala populations are very clearly in trouble, so we must take action.
"That is why the scientific committee recommended to me to list the Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory populations as threatened, rather than to list the koala as nationally threatened across its full range."
Mr Burke said the Gillard Government had committed $300,000 of new funding under the National Environmental Research Program Emerging Priorities to find out more about koala habitat.
"This funding will be used to develop new survey methods that will improve our knowledge of the quality of koala habitat using remote sensing, and help fill important data gaps to enhance our understanding and ability to protect the species," Mr Burke said.
A fact sheet issued by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities said the impact of new listing will have minimal effect at the householder level, with minor activities, such as single tree removal on private land in an area where koalas are listed under national environment law as vulnerable, "highly unlikely to require federal environment approval."
It also says that at the planning level, sustainable development that takes into account koala protection can continue, even in urban and peri-urban areas with koala populations.
However, projects likely to have a significant impact on the koala population in Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory will need to be assessed under national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.