AFK Claims The Government Has Fudged Koala Population Numbers
March 15, 2012
Deb Tabart weighs in with her views on the Queensland state governments koala planning controls.
CONSERVATION GROUP CLAIMS KOALA NUMBERS FUDGED
March 15, 2012
Koalas numbers are falling in southeast Queensland.
The Australian Koala Foundation has accused the state government of “appalling science” to bolster koala numbers in its latest koala population survey so it would not lose koala planning control to the federal government.
But the state government has rejected those claims.
Surveys show there are possibly only 1500 koalas today in southeast Queensland’s Koala Coast, between Redlands and Brisbane, which is down from an estimated 6240 in 1996.
That is the worst-case scenario in the most recent survey of koalas in the region that includes Redlands, the eastern portion of Logan and the southeast portion of Brisbane.
The Queensland government this year released the findings of the 2010 koala survey, the latest in a series since 1996.
The Koala Coast Koala Population Population Report 2010 estimated there were 1991 koalas – “plus or minus 488″ – in the 1751 hectares of bushland two years ago.
The survey includes in the fine detail an admission that koala numbers on the Koala Coast were boosted by “approximately 270 animals” when fauna spotters found four extra koalas in an area of bushland.
“The estimated increase at this site applied over the full area of the Lower Density Bushland Stratum resulted in the overall Koala Coast abundance being increased by 270 animals over what it would have been without this particular component,” the report finds.
Australia Koala Foundation chief executive Deb Tabart said she believed the results were “deliberately skewed” so the koala was not listed as “vulnerable” under the federal government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act.
That meant the Queensland government could say the rate of decline was “stabilising” and they would not lose control of koala planning, she said.
Ms Tabart said a decision by federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on last month to delay a decision by 10 weeks to list the koala as “vulnerable” shielded four Labor-held seats in inner-city Brisbane; Mansfield (4.4 per cent); Chatsworth (0.1 per cent); Springwood (4.1 per cent), while Capalaba, held by Michael Choi (9.7 per cent) appears safe.
Comment has been sought from Mr Burke. A spokesman for state Environment Minister Vicki Darling rejected the AKF’s claims, saying the department asked for advice from scientists when the first surveys came back with low results.
The spokesman said four extra surveys were completed in the same area of bushland and delivered similar results.
He said the external scientists asked that the results be included be included, even though they were unusual.
The spokesman said officers in the minister’s office did not speak to Mr Burke before he made his decision on Febuary 16 to delay the listing decision.
“I can’t speak to what happened at officer level, but certainly we did not speak to Tony Burke before we released the report,” the spokesman said.
Ms Tabart, speaking while inspecting a piece of land at Logan where a developer has applied to build homes, said she had no doubt koala numbers on the Koala Coast had sunk to about 1500.
“Oh, definitely, it’s just rubbish,” she said of the report.
Ms Tabart said the government had exaggerated koala numbers.
“They have skewed the data by one site,” she said. “We just could not believe it.”
Ms Tabart said AKF scientists could not believe the result, because “one site contributed disproportionately to the result”.
“He just delayed it and I am arguing that it was to protect the Queensland Government and also to give him (Mr Burke) more time to decide which koalas he would not protect,” she said.
The latest survey showed the koala’s decline since 1996-98, showing koala numbers dropping from 6246 in 1196, to 4611 in 2005, to 2279 in 2008 and dropping further to 1991 in 2010.
Ms Darling said the survey showed the rate of decline of koalas had decreased.
“(The) recent population survey of SEQs koala coast shows no statistical change in koala populations between 2008 and 2010 – indicating populations appear to have stabilised after a marked decline in the previous survey,” she said in a statement.
“We have already spent $15 million on purchasing seven properties totalling more than 400 hectares.”
Since 2010, the Environment Department has required councils in the Koala Coast area increase their total koala habitat area over three years. That will be audited by the state government next year.
However, councils were not required to seek agreement from the Department of Environment and Resource Management before a development on koala habitat occurs.