Koalas and anyone who cares for them could not take any comfort from vague and meaningless statements made by Redlands Mayor Karen Williams on national TV last week.
In an interview aired on the 7:30 Report she said “I certainly believe people in Redlands understand the value of the koala” but “there is no doubt there is frustration when you are trying to walk that fine line, and get the balance between jobs, between growth and maintaining your natural environment”.
The Mayor has been in office for over three years. During this time she has shown no inclination to give koalas improved protection from habitat loss. There is increasing community concern that when the Mayor says “Redlands is open for business” it means open slather for developers.
The fundamental threat to koala survival is loss of habitat…gum trees, lots of them. Talking about loss of koalas due to other factors (such as dog attacks, car impacts and illnesses like chlamydia) is a convenient distraction perpetuated by people who do not support the retention of koala habitat – such as developers and pro-developer politicians. If koalas have sufficient habitat they are less at risk from dogs, cars and illness.
Will koalas survive City Plan 2015?
The flaws, shortcomings and negative consequences of the current Redlands Planning Scheme are becoming better understood by the community. This scheme was adopted in 2006 when Don Seccombe was Mayor. Councillors who voted for the 2006 planning scheme include current Mayor Karen Williams and current Deputy Mayor Alan Beard. Another councillor who voted for the 2006 planning scheme was John Burns who happens to be the father of Cr Julie Talty, Council’s current Planning and Development Chair.
Survival of Redland City’s koalas could depend on future development being properly controlled in the new City Plan 2015. When the draft City Plan is finally made available for public consultation, the community should be more than watchful for any rule changes that facilitate further destruction of koala habitat. Retaining koalas as an important part of the Redlands way of life will require community support for improved protection of the City’s remaining koala habitat.
Some of the City’s best remaining koala habitat exists in areas considered for future large scale development, as shown in a recent post: Redland City koala mapping shows way forward .
The failing legal framework
Under Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act the koala is listed as ‘Regionally Vulnerable’ in the South East Queensland Bioregion. Under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act koalas are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in Queensland.
Mayor Williams indicated opposition to Federal protection for koalas in 2012, writing that:
…the listing has potentially profound concerns through the relationship to triggers under the EPBC Act for referral of Council works, Council development and proposals for works and development by others in the community.
The Redlands City Council recognises the local population of the koala to be ‘Endangered’. But none of this seems to make any difference. Our elected representatives are in need of a serious wake up call.
All three levels of government should work actively to protect koalas with effective laws and plans that are properly enforced, as discussed in: Koalas need better government .
Redland City’s sad record on koalas
Redland City is remarkable for having a significant population of koalas in an urban and near urban setting. This offers great opportunities for visitor attraction and tourism, but only if the koala population is sustained.
However, Redland City Council’s actions in the past few years suggest it is not taking the protection of koalas or their habitat seriously. The saga of detrimental Council decisions and actions (or inactions) includes:
Ineffective policy and strategy
In 2008 Redland City Council adopted a Redlands Koala Policy and Implementation Strategy 2008. This document included the following policy objective:
To provide a new vision and to meet community expectations to stop the rapid continuing decline of koalas by 2011 and take immediate action to recover the existing population to more than 5000 koalas in the Koala Coast by 2014.
Some of the actions in the Council’s strategy may have been initiated but there seems to have been a significant “relaxation” of effort and funding during the past three years.
In the Koala Coast (which mainly comprises Redland City) the number of koalas is estimated by researchers to have fallen from 2,300 to 1,700 between 2008 and 2012.
It is likely that by the end of 2014 koala numbers in the Koala coast are approaching 1,500 instead of the target figure of 5,000. Redland City Council has failed to look after the area’s koala population.
Instead we get Mayoral media announcements about ad hoc low cost activities. For example a small Federal grant to fund tree planting and Council deciding to spend $30,000 on some scientific research which does not appear to form part of any long term strategy.
Redland City Council’s tree protection laws (Local Law 6) are inadequate and compare poorly with the Brisbane City Council’s tree protection laws. The local law permits clearing of vegetation 3 metres either side of a fence line where a new fence is being built. Council is allowing people to clear ALL vegetation including mature trees for this purpose. The Council website states ‘Some clearing is permitted for building and maintaining a fence but this does not usually include removal of larger trees’. This is open to wide interpretation. Brisbane City Council law excludes trees with a diameter of 20cm or more (at 1 metre from the ground) when clearing is undertaken within 3 metres of a new fence. Similarly, all vegetation within 10 metres of a dwelling can be removed in Redland City whereas in Brisbane City it is only within 3 metres of a dwelling. Redland City is in the process of making changes to various local laws but council deliberately avoided the opportunity to improve local law 6 (to strengthen protection for koalas). .
Council attempted to remove the requirement to restrain dogs at night in Koala Areas from their Local Law 2 but fortunately after public feedback the original local law is being reinstated. The fact that officers or Councillors could countenance the original changes is a concern. The laws must be expanded to include the urban acreage areas to have any hope of minimising dog attacks on koalas. The revised law is currently going through a second round of public feedback. Dogs are a significant threat to koalas (see Straddie koala dies after dog attack ) .
Council has been revoking Vegetation Protection Orders on significant trees where the order was initiated by a person that did not own the property. A tree is either significant or it is not, it should not matter how the Vegetation Protection Order came about.
No balance in Koala protection
In the past few years, it has been noted that koala conservation conditions on development approvals have been minimised and in some cases non-existent…. presumably because of the perception that they are difficult to uphold in the planning law courts. This situation can only have developed from a poor or inadequate planning scheme. The scheme should have been amended long ago to eliminate the “loop holes”. This has resulted in many development approvals being fast tracked without due concern for protecting koala habitat. These conditions should be tightened up so that they are defendable in the law courts and developers should be required to follow the State Government’s Koala Sensitive Design Guidelines.
Council does not seem to be upholding and enforcing its tree protection laws in all cases. Some developers routinely clear vegetation illegally, with little or no consequences as Council rarely prosecutes.
It appears that there is no consistency on the requirement that a fauna spotter be “on site” when native vegetation is being cleared on Council land or private properties, unless the clearing is occurring on a development site. Unfortunately there seems to be no clear guideline for when a spotter is required. Council need to adopt a similar law to the ‘Nature Conservation (Koala) Conservation Plan and Management Program 2006-2016’ which has clear requirements for when a fauna spotter is required. An example late last year of the need for regulation is when a koala was knocked out of a tree and injured when eucalyptus trees were being removed in a privately owned Cleveland car park. It is understood that the incident is being investigated by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
A half acre (2096 m2) property in a Priority Koala Conservation Area was subdivided into 2 allotments in 2011 and Council protected the majority of the koala food trees by applying a building envelope and covenant. But the protection was undone recently when Council removed the building envelope and covenant at the property owners’ request.
The Ormiston koalas
In a controversial subdivision at Ormiston, Council gave permission to remove 27 mature Eucalyptus trees. The developers’ report that was accepted by Council may have significantly underestimated the value of these trees and their usage by local koalas. This was despite the residents having photographs and good evidence of koalas using the trees.
If this development had been “impact assessable” instead of “code assessable” there would have been more opportunity for the community to have input. This would most likely have resulted in better planning decisions being made.
Council has a Vegetation View Management Strategy which is being abused by both ‘self-interested residents’ and Council. In April 2013, in response to a request to provide residents with bay views at Cape Cleveland, Council cleared protected foreshore vegetation on State land in contravention of applicable legal requirements.
To make good its actions and avoid prosecution and significant fines, Council was had to reinstate this vegetation. Both the tree clearing and the reinstatement were paid for by the community. For further details see Redland City Council tree clearing was illegal and Did Council get it right this time?
Council’s draft Toondah Harbour PDA development plan proposed to install a new road through G.J. Walter Park right next to a known koala corridor. Following community feedback the final plan dropped the proposed road. But what were they thinking?
However, the increase in traffic, human presence and potential loss of already limited habitat in the Toondah Harbour area will have dire consequences on this koala population that is already under pressure from ongoing human impacts.
Detailed development plans are yet to be made available for public review More information about the Toondah Harbour PDA consultation process is available here.
A reduction in the Environmental Levy after Mayor Williams was elected to office in 2012 has resulted in fewer funds being available for environmental projects and conservation property acquisitions. Very little has been spent on land acquisitions since 2010.
Instead funds have been diverted to routine council activities concerning environmental management.
A development proposal for 4,000 dwellings, accommodating 10,000 people in Southern Redland Bay (‘Shoreline’) is currently being assessed by the Council. The area is not zoned for urban residential. The consequences of the huge increase in traffic to native fauna would be horrendous.
The proponent’s Ecological Assessment states 2363 koala habitat trees are on the site and that 728 non-juvenile koala trees (30%) will be removed under the proposed plan. The loss of so many koala habitat trees is not acceptable when the koala, a much-loved icon, is struggling for survival in the Redlands.
Koalas need help now
If you want to do something to help koalas survive in Redland City here are some ideas:
- Join the Redland City based Koala Action Group (KAG)
- Join the Australian Koala Foundation and support their campaign for a national Koala Protection Act
- Contact your State and Federal MPs and ask them what they are doing, personally, to ensure the long term survival of koalas in Redland City
- Contact the Mayor and your division councillor and ask them the same question
- When Redland City Council finally releases its draft City Plan 2015 for public consultation, take an interest and have your say to help preserve koala habitat in the Redlands
Redlands2030 – 26 March 2015