An ecologist says the NSW government’s $20 million private land purchase program to preserve koalas has missed the mark.
Kootingal man Phil Spark said the initiative “is likely to not make any difference” to Australia’s koala population because often areas inhabited by koalas do not fit the program’s criteria.
“The land that is most under threat doesn’t match the criteria,” he said.
“Prime koala habitat is also prime agricultural land, so there is always that conflict.”
Mr Spark said key koala habitat was often found in pockets of land, not one large area.
“At this point in time, there’s still no habitat provided for koalas,” he said.
Mr Spark said he discussed the government’s new strategy with landholders at Thursday’s drought and koala information session at Breeza where he sought to identify areas where more koala corridors could be established.
“I came up with a lot of places I thought could be potential koala corridors, mostly along drains and streams,” he said.
“I did get some feedback on different locals where koalas have been recorded, which I followed up [on Friday] with those people to get more precise. Some were very interesting actually, the hills behind Carroll where we didn’t have any records, some out at Werris Creek, and Willala.
“It’s so valuable talking to people.”
Mr Spark said the highlight of the day was visiting the Pursehouse’s property Breeza Station where he was first faced with the decline of koalas back in November 2015 after seeing strong numbers in previous years.
“Breeza Station, that was really exciting for me,” Mr Spark said.
“The area where there had been very good koala activity back in 2015 had very good koala activity again. It makes me think it's not all doom and gloom.
“That population was decimated. They’d just about all died and these koalas that have moved into vacant habitat and they’re going well.
“It's the most positive thing I’ve seen in a long time, just really healthy koalas. For a while there, nearly every koala we found was crook and it was making us feel quite despairing.
“Now we’re seeing more healthy koalas coming back into the area where we’ve seen koalas die, it’s made me feel more cautiously hopeful [but] we need to see that same scenarios in more places to feel confident.”
Cindy Pursehouse said when koalas were at their peak about eight years ago, sightings were commonplace but much had changed.
“I know all the trees they eat very close to here and I could go out every day and I could always find one, or sometimes find five. Now I struggle to find one in a week, so that’s how much the numbers have decreased,” she said.
Mrs Pursehouse said she and her husband Andrew have been at Breeza Station for 30 years and about 28 years ago, they decided to plant koala corridors.
“When we realised there were koalas out here, we thought, ‘We should put in some koala trees’,” she said.
“When we planted them, we thought, ‘Won’t it be great when they grow up, and we can see the koalas in them?’.”
Mr Spark is currently working on his koala report and hopes to release his findings before Christmas.