The eyes of the world are upon us, a koala ecologist has told an inquiry.
A NSW Upper House committee behind an inquiry into koala populations and habitat heard evidence at a hearing in Port Macquarie on Monday, February 3 and toured Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
Koala ecologist and Koala Recovery Partnership president Dr Rebecca Montague-Drake spoke about the threats facing the koala population including dog attacks, bushfires and clearing of habitat.
"I firmly believe the best thing we can do for koalas is stop clearing their habitat through strong laws that are formed using detailed knowledge of koala ecology and biology," she told the hearing.
"I believe that immediate moratoriums are needed across multiple pieces of NSW legislation to prevent further clearing of koala habitat, particularly in fire-affected regions where so very little habitat remains."
She also called for more investment in long-term monitoring programs.
Dr Montague-Drake said the recent global concern and outpouring of support and concern for koalas showed us we were custodians of an internationally significant species that required our government and community's assistance.
The inquiry is looking into the status of koala populations and their habitat and focusing on the impacts and effectiveness of existing policies relating to land management reform, forestry and the environment.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital clinical director Cheyne Flanagan was among those to address the hearing.
"Since the last inquiry [hearing] in December, bushfires in NSW have taken out many more populations of koalas in areas such as the Snowy Monaro region," she said.
Ms Flanagan told the inquiry anecdotal reports from university researchers around Gunnedah recorded a further drop in the population since they last conducted field work and this was likely due to the drought.
"Drought-affected koalas are still coming into care from Moree right down through the Northern Tablelands of NSW," she said.
These koalas were emaciated and very dehydrated, Ms Flanagan told the hearing.
"Reports from researchers in the region are also finding that river red gums, a koala staple, are dying due to lack of water," she said.
The committee's report is due by June 15.
Committee chair Cate Faehrmann said the inquiry was looking at the extent of koala numbers across NSW, and working out the threats to koalas, and how the committee could make recommendations to government to ensure the survival of the koala.
"At the moment, I think there's piecemeal approaches to koala conservation in NSW and we know without drastic intervention, they really are in danger of becoming extinct by 2050 - that statistic was before the latest bushfires, by the way," she said.
The North Coast Environment Council staged a rally in the Hay Street forecourt before the Port Macquarie hearing started.
Susie Russell told the rally that koala numbers had been in decline for decades and posed the question why.
She said the answer - habitat clearing - was pretty clear to all of us here.
Ms Russell encouraged supporters to continue to take action on the issue.
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