HASTINGS residents will be able to participate in the Australian government's annual koala monitoring program in order to pin-point where koala populations are and how to best continue helping them to recover from the Black Summer bushfires.
Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan has welcomed Environment Minister Sussan Ley's announcement of an $18 million package.
"Our community has done a lot to support our koalas after the 2019-20 bushfires and I'm pleased to see this new package acknowledges their contribution," he said.
"The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has been outstanding in its actions to assist local koalas, raising $7.9 million through a GoFundMe page to build and distribute 140 water drinking stations locally and in other bushfire-affected states and now it is planning a wild koala breeding facility.
"The annual koala monitoring program our government is funding will provide a channel to collate all local conservationists' valuable knowledge on koalas to give government agencies a better picture on koala population numbers and trends."
Launching the initiative at Sydney's Taronga Zoo, Minister Ley said the koala audit would help direct Commonwealth, state and private funding to where it will achieve the most good for the species.
"For all our focus on koalas, scientists are telling us that there is a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires," she said.
"A total of $2 million from this package will be devoted to filling those gaps, identifying where koala habitat areas can be expanded and establishing an annual monitoring program."
Annual reporting on koala populations and conservation strategies will become a mandatory agenda item at Meetings of National Environment Ministers and a range of techniques will be employed from scat monitoring to drone and acoustic surveys, detector dogs and citizen science surveys.
Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said that this funding boost comes at a critical time for our koalas, following the devastating bushfires which killed and injured thousands.
"This announcement will support the conservation community to respond to the devastating 2019-20 summer bushfire season which impacted important habitat for koalas and other threatened species right across Australia," said Dr Box.
"By understanding where koalas are persisting, how they are using the remaining habitat and how they are responding to the fire impacted landscape, we can tailor on-ground efforts to ensure that action is focused where it is needed most."
In addition to funding the annual koala monitoring program, a further $2 million will be invested in koala health research and veterinary support, tackling challenges such as chlamydia and other diseases that are second only to car strikes in the normal causes of koala mortality recorded in veterinary hospitals.
The remaining $14 million will help restore impacted koala habitat in both bushfire and non-bushfire affected areas and provide targeted funding for koala habitat in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.