Koalas living on New South Wales' far south coast are at serious risk of local extinction with just a single wildfire sufficient to wipe them out.
In an effort to save the dwindling population, the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) has developed a strategic proposal to relink the forests of the south coast.
The new Great Southern Koala Forest would connect the south coast's remnant koala population with larger ones in Shoalhaven and the Southern Tablelands, including a significant population 700 strong in Cooma-Monaro.
" Koalas were once common between Bega and Narooma, but survival of the current population, estimated at only 70-80 animals, is precarious and warrants strategic management. Their existence is by no means assured and attempts to achieve greater movement of koalas through the region's forests and between connected populations, are not compatible with the continuation of industrial scale logging and forest fragmentation," says Kim Taysom, Vice-President of NPA Far South Coast Branch.
"Because their population is so small and localised, one major fire could be the final nail in the coffin for the south coast koalas," says Dr Oisín Sweeney, NPA's Science Officer. "With an El Niño predicted for eastern Australia this year, the chance of this occurring has greatly increased."
NPA argues that the native forest industry has declined sharply in terms of its importance to the regional economy. Log production in the Eden Management area dropped by 36% between 2007-2013, whilst woodchipping is in decline. With the current Regional Forest Agreement due to terminate in 2017, other more economically viable and environmentally sustainable options for these forests should be considered.
"The eucalypt forests of south east Australia contain some of the highest carbon stores on the planet. By logging these areas we release this stored carbon into the atmosphere. It takes over 100 years for regrowth to capture and store a similar amount of carbon. This is just too long if we are serious about dealing with climate change," says Mr Taysom.
"Emissions reductions to tackle climate change on both a global and national scale offer the potential for an alternative funding model for native forest management. For example forest carbon credits can be used to help finance the Great Southern Koala Forest."
The area included in NPA's proposal incorporates the major regional towns of Batemans Bay and Eden, where nature based tourism already provides a significant boost to local economies.
"These beautiful and unique forests are far more valuable for health, biodiversity and recreation than they are as wood chips. This World Environment Day we are calling on the government to commit to building a sustainable future for NSW rather than continuing to support a redundant industry," says Dr Sweeney.
"We have some of the best terrain for outdoor activities in the world and we need to wake up to the opportunities nature already provides right on our doorstep."
Kim Taysom, ph. 6458 5263 or 6493 2183