Gunnedah is confused about whether it wants to be the koala capital or the coal capital, a koala expert has said.
Australian Koala Foundation chief executive Deborah Tabart OAM believes mining, a lack of water and the loss of habitat has caused Gunnedah's koala populations to plummet.
"The Shenua mine is a drama for some people in the community and for some it's a godsend," Ms Tabart said.
"Make no mistake, koalas in Gunnedah are in low numbers - and when the coal mines are gone, you won't have tourism either.
"Are your leaders in your region smart enough to get you through it?"
Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey rebutted the comments, saying it was "unhelpful for potshots to be taken against people who are actually doing something by those that aren't".
He said the shire would "continue to try to address the many issues that our local koala population face", including through the new koala park and hospital.
However, Ms Tabart said this was just a "band-aid" for the real issues.
"If you had healthy landscapes, you wouldn't need a hospital. Make the hard decisions, protect their habitats, which means healthy river systems," she said.
"Koalas primarily need to eat leaves that are lush and juicy, and that means trees right on the edge of healthy and full streams, creeks, billabongs and rivers.
"Over the last 250 years, we have allowed farm animals to degrade these systems and the result, particularly during a drought, is just shocking."
Cr Chaffey said the council "see[s] things very differently to Ms Tabart".
"As one example, the unprecedented fire situation has highlighted how desperately needed koala and wildlife hospitals are. We cannot wait to have a purpose-built facility in Gunnedah that will be able to help service the region," he said.
"That's the type of community we are - committed to working together and getting things done."