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Serious concerns about Hawkesbury council’s record on koalas

May 31, 2023

Michael Sainsbury

There is growing concern amongst wildlife and environmental groups about Hawkesbury City Council’s (HCC) failure to protect koalas and other endangered species.

They are worried that the native animals are not being sufficiently protected from developers as fallout continues after a motion designed to protect native habitats failed, in its main part, at the special HCC May 17 meeting.

They have called on NSW Environment and Planning Ministers to intervene to stop Hawkesbury Council facilitating the destruction of Koala habitat.

Four parts of the notice of motion put by Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett, including an amendment by Councillor Danielle Wheeler to reverse a decision on the HCC’s controversial adoption of the Rural Boundary Clearing Code (The Code), were voted down at a meeting where Mayor Sarah McMahon and Councillor Eddie Dogramaci did not attend.

The Code was designed for councils west of the dividing range where large landholders could use it for fire prevention. HCC is the only peri-urban council to adopt it and many councillors as well as ratepayers are concerned it is being misused to clear property to enable development.

‘’The Council is intent on ignoring well established evidence of crucial Koala habitat so that it doesn’t have to take protective action. This week the majority of councillors voted against a motion proposed by independent councillor Mary Lyons-Bucket that sought to update habitat mapping, which would have protected habitat.  The councillors also gagged debate revealing a deliberate intent to ignore the plight of Koalas, now classified as endangered under state and federal legislation,’’ said Jeff Angel, Director of Total Environment Centre.

“The Council’s action facilitated clearing on rural land when the law requires such land to be protected if it has koala habitat.  The desire to not know about koala presence will also feed into other damaging clearing proposals and as a precursor to urban development. Hawkesbury Council will become known as the Koala Killer Council.’’

Stephanie Carrick, Manager of the Sydney Basin Koala Network noted that ‘’78.7% of koala habitat in the Hawkesbury was destroyed in the Black Summer Bushfires.

:Safe habitat on the peri-urban interface has become critical to their survival. Koala habitat mapping is readily and publicly available in the NSW Government’s SEED portal, which is already used by many councils.  There is no excuse to not access this, ’’Carrick said.

‘’The Hawkesbury is a key focal area for koalas in the Sydney Basin, with generational persistence for over 20 years. We call on the Environment and Planning Ministers to direct Hawkesbury Council to immediately halt the indiscriminate clearing of koala habitat and use publicly available data and stop creating loopholes’’, the groups said.

WIRES media spokesman John Grant, a former local resident, told the council meeting, “I’d like to give you an idea of the value placed on native wildlife by both your residents and visitors – the WIRES 24/7 Rescue Office has recorded just under 10 thousand calls for wildlife assistance from the Hawkesbury area in the past 6 years – I repeat almost 10 thousand calls,”

He said that annual assistance figures have jumped from 1200 calls in 2017 to over 2100 calls in 2022 – almost doubling – was  indication of the focus and concern for wildlife in the  area.

“I don’t have to tell you that the Hawkesbury region is privileged to contain some of Australia’s most iconic and endangered species including koalas, spotted quolls and lyrebirds just to name a few, “ he added

Grant reminded council that the devastating Black Summer fires have decimated these species with many escaping and remaining only on the fringes of the Gospers Mountain ‘megafire’ – a term first coined during this unprecedented event.

“It therefore seems both inconceivable and counter intuitive that council would in any way support further land clearing and habitat destruction via a code that was never meant to be applied to this region – especially in areas where WIRES has recorded sightings and tracking of koalas.”

Grant said that he and other wildlife groups had been surprised at the February 2022 HCC meeting that the pleas of local WIRES koala rescuer and volunteer Morgan Philpott, a highly valued neonatal care nurse, went unheeded. He added that it was also curious that the advice and recommendations of the local Fire Captain, who said that  the introduction of this code could actually increase fire risks also went unheeded.

“The eyes of the world’s media are watching what we as Australians are prepared to do to protect our threatened species,” he said

Still, the two parts of the motion that were adopted by council were to commission a report detailing costs and potential funding sources for a Koala Management Plan as well as providing an update on a resolution that dates back to Feb 2022 for a report on methodology and funding available to map the local koala population.

However, HCC voted down resolutions that would provide more detailed information on land clearing and its affect on koala population, as well as declining to approach the state government for advice on  The Code including land in the LGA eligible to  be cleared that does not have koalas and other wildlife.

“Protecting these precious koalas is an absolute priority for the people of Macquarie and the Greater Blue Mountains,” said Mayor Sarah McMahon on Feb 19, last year when she was selected as the Macquarie Liberal candidate for the 2022 Federal Election, a contest won by sitting MP Susan Templeman.

“And my view is that we can’t do enough to ensure the long-term recovery and health of our beloved koala populations.”

In 2022, Ms McMahon voted in favour of the introduction of the Rural Boundary Clearing Code a decision which could potentially see 15,800 hectares of land cleared including koala habitat.

The Hawkesbury Post is planning to run regular news and picture stories on the Haweskbury’s precious koala population. If you have pictures or wish to report sighting of koalas in the Hawkesbury, please get in touch with us on: info@hawkesburypost.com.au

The Hawkesbury’s famous Wally. The elderly gentleman was nursed back to health by wildlife rescuers and is now often sighted around the Hawkesbury.

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