Koala populations at risk, group says

STRIDENT CRITIC: Australian Koala Foundation chief executive officer Deborah Tabart has expressed grave concerns over the impact on the iconic marsupials of Shenhua Watermark’s proposed coalmine on the Liverpool Plains.

STRIDENT CRITIC: Australian Koala Foundation chief executive officer Deborah Tabart has expressed grave concerns over the impact on the iconic marsupials of Shenhua Watermark’s proposed coalmine on the Liverpool Plains.

A CONSERVATION group claims Shenhua Watermark’s plans to mine coal on the Liverpool Plains would pose a catastrophic risk to one of the country’s most precious koala populations.

The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) is adamant the Chinese-owned mining giant cannot clear more than 800ha of koala habitat near Breeza without a “dramatic” impact on the threatened species.

But Shenhua maintains its safeguards, which provide for the relocation of 262 koalas – or 2.1 per cent of the local population – over the mine’s 30-year lifespan, mean the project is “not expected to have a significant impact”.

“Shenhua Watermark has implemented a number of avoidance measures, which is reflected in the mine plan design, in order to minimise impacts on preferred koala habitat,” the company states on its website.

“To compensate for unavoidable impacts, a total of 4626ha of preferred koala habitat will be provided through retention, revegetation and rehabilitation within the on-site biodiversity offset area.”

However, AKF chief executive officer Deborah Tabart said the marsupials were already at great risk from drought and, if the project went ahead, the koalas “on this site and surrounds are doomed”.

“The koala is listed as a threatened species at both the state and federal levels and a development of this magnitude will have a dramatic, detrimental impact on what is, at present, one of the few remaining significant koala populations in NSW,” she said.

Ms Tabart said there was a “wealth of evidence” to suggest relocation schemes resulted in high mortality rates among koalas, with one Victorian program abandoned after 80 to 100 per cent of koalas died and another program in Queensland resulting in 30 per cent dying.

“These are appalling figures and the true figures could be higher still, given the level of secrecy which surrounds many of these programs,” she said.

“To suggest that you can move nearly 300 animals with ease is pure nonsense. This is an unprecedented exercise and, to be frank, the groundwork has not yet been done to suggest this will be anything short of a catastrophe.”

The Planning Assessment Commission, which heard from dozens of concerned farmers, environmentalists and industry representatives at a two-day hearing in Gunnedah last week, is expected to hand down its decision on Shenhua’s project in the coming weeks.

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