Koalas were the focus of a community engagement meeting facilitated by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in Gunnedah on Thursday.
A number of local landholders, landcare group members and community members attended the meeting to provide their input for the development of the NSW Koala Strategy which aims to stabilise and increase the koala population.
A handful of OEH staff were on hand as well as Gunnedah’s Martine Moran who is the WIRES koala coordinator for the Central Northern region.
The informal session saw attendees mingle with fellow community members and discuss issues and concerns with OEH staff including the impact of mining, the need for greater community education on koala care and chlamydia, lack of access to medication for chlamydia, the impact of drought, and improving connectivity of koala habitat.
Seven sessions were held across the region but Gunnedah was the only community west of the Great Dividing Range to host a meeting. OEH’s principal policy officer Trish Harrup said Gunnedah was recognised as an “important koala centre”.
Ms Harrup said it was important to find out what community members were already doing to help koalas, the threats koalas face in the area and what else needs to be done.
“It’s been really positive and really enthusiastic. Lots of local knowledge and lots of ideas about what should be done,” she said.
“The councils are very important in managing koalas and we want to hear what they’re already doing and what further help they need.”
Local landholders John and Susan Lyle said they had a “very significant” koala population on their property at Nea and their main concern was the potential impact of the proposed Shenhua Watermark coal mine.
“I think for the Shenhua mine to go ahead there would be so much of their habitat wiped out,” Mr Lyle said.
“The little guys need all the help they can get and they’re already struggling to survive.”
Mrs Lyle said the policies on show at the community meeting were not adequate to protect the local population.
“The problem is that these policies will not cover Shenhua,” she said.
“It’s not addressing the issue we care about.”
Fellow landholder Patricia Duddy also has a number of koalas on her property and echoed the Lyle’s concerns about the potential impact of mining.
“I think big developments are a major concern,” Mrs Duddy said.
“[Koalas] should be prioritised – they’re classified as an endangered species.”
Ms Harrup said the OEH was “right at the beginning of the process” to develop the NSW Koala Strategy and wanted to hear from those who couldn’t attend the Gunnedah meeting.
“We’re working to deliver [the strategy] this year, however we see it as a living document and we’re hoping to refresh it over time and set out long-term goals to protect the koalas,” she said.
“We’re really keen to hear from the public and we’re taking public submissions until the third of March.”
To have your say in the development of the NSW Koala Strategy, visit http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/nsw-koala-strategy.htm