Friends of the Koala is calling for leadership from State agencies and local government in developing a recovery plan for koalas on the Northern Rivers.

The organisation says the NSW Koala Recovery Plan released by Environment Minister Carmel Tebbutt last week refers to the National Koala Conservation Strategy and State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 44 – Koala Habitat Protection as two statutory documents that serve as primary guides to conserving koalas and koala habitat in New South Wales.

All levels of government as well as researchers, wildlife rehabilitation groups and other partners in koala conservation are required to implement the objectives of both documents through 52 measures contained in the Recovery Plan, over the next five years.

Friends of the Koala President, Lorraine Vass, said: “The plan’s strength lies in providing a framework for localised koala recovery based on involvement by all stakeholders. Its weaknesses are that as yet there is little detail about how the plan will roll out and it is clearly under-funded.

“The announcement of $1.23 million is a complete furphy. $751,000 of the amount is in-kind and of the $479,000 cash, approximately $300,000 has already been spent.

“As far as we can see, the plan’s implementation will be subject to reorganising priorities within the lead agency, the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) which has undergone a decade or so of cost-cutting and restructuring.

“It is five years since the Draft Recovery Plan was exhibited for comment.

“Although some underpinning actions have commenced, it is vital that a regional focus is taken up and developed as a matter of urgency.

“The state-wide wildlife survey conducted in 2006 found that the only koala populations in NSW to be thriving are those in the Pilliga forests and around Gunnedah.

“All populations east of the Divide had decreased in numbers since the 1986 survey.”

Friends of the Koala will write to Minister Tebutt congratulating her on approving the Recovery Plan, pledging the group’s support and preparedness for involvement in planned koala conservation in the region and briefing her on some of the issues, such as the very high incidence and variety of disease, which appear to be peculiar to some of the Northern Rivers’ remaining koala populations.

People interested in joining the Friends of the Koala to help its koala conservation work can phone the Koala Rescue Hotline on 66221233 or visit www.friendsofthekoala.org