A novel and much needed koala conservation project has kicked off in Queensland, squarely aimed at helping address the worrying substantial decline in koala populations faced across many parts of eastern Australia.
Led by the natural resource management group for South East Queensland, Healthy Land and Water, the three-year Protecting Koalas project has its sights on protecting, restoring and increasing priority koala habitat, building collaboration on koala conservation and improving understanding of local koalas.
The project is being run in Flinders Peak on the outskirts of Brisbane. The project location was selected by the Australian Government from more than 20 priority koala habitat areas identified in an earlier study. The project area extends from White Rock and Spring Mountain, south to Undullah and Flinders Lakes, and across South Ripley to the Flinders – Goolman corridor.
Healthy Land and Water CEO, Julie McLellan, says the project is as essential as it is timely, pointing to the growing concern for dwindling koala populations in certain zones. She says South East Queensland is an ideal test bed for the project, focusing efforts on koalas which are at elevated risk for a variety of reasons.
“A growing human population has led to large-scale clearing of better-quality koala habitats with many koalas now struggling within smaller, fragmented patches of poorer-quality forest,” she says.
“Combined with decline in habitat condition through drought, fire and climate change, disease, vehicle strike, dog attack and reduced genetic diversity, this has culminated to cause further, substantial declines in koala populations, here and across other parts of Australia.”
Australia’s koala populations have dramatically decreased since European arrival. Before it was realised that they would become a threatened species, between 1906 and 1927, 450,000 to 1-million koalas were killed for their fur annually in Queensland.
Ms McLellan says that proactive projects such as the one about to start in Flinders Peak are absolutely critical if Australia is going to get serious about protecting koalas before it’s too late.
The Healthy Land and Water Protecting Koalas at Flinders Peak project team has set some lofty targets including restoring 110+ hectares of connected koala habitat to facilitate koala movement and survival.
“The project is working from each end of the spectrum – from directly restoring habitat through to arming land managers with the latest research and tactics to reduce the threat of fire,” she says.
“We will also be focused on improving knowledge and understanding through citizen science, workshops, research and surveys by a koala conservation dog.”
Ms McLellan says that the success of the project could bode well for more koala protection projects in priority areas into the future, and is firmly backing its highly collaborative approach with governments, community, Traditional Owners and researchers as the key to success.
The Protecting Koalas at Flinders Peak project is part of a broader Australian Government Environment Restoration Fund investment in koala conservation across South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Healthy Land and Water is delivering in South East Queensland and North Coast Local Land Services in northern New South Wales.
“This project continues the high level of cross-border collaboration built through previous and ongoing initiatives, and ensures we learn from each other’s respective skills and knowledge for the benefit of koalas,” says Ms McLellan.
“The first step for both projects is to get the word out to local landholders so they have an opportunity to put their hands up to become a part of this important project.”
Local landholders line up to be involved
There was a strong response to our call for landholders to be involved in the project, and these applications are now being assessed. The project will provide participants with support for weed control, fire management and other practical actions for koala habitat conservation or expansion on their properties. The project also offers opportunities for local aspiring citizen scientists and koala surveys.
This project is supported by Healthy Land and Water, through funding from the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund.