The conservation status of koalas has been downgraded to endangered with the NSW government acknowledging the beloved furry marsupial is at risk of becoming extinct.
The status of koalas was changed to endangered on Friday following a final determination from the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which noted habitat loss had significantly affected lessened populations.
In the last two decades the numbers of koalas is estimated to have fallen by 50 per cent, the final determination, written by Chairperson of the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee Anne Kerle noted.
Dr Kerle acknowledged this figure may not go far enough in counting koala deaths, noting the Black Summer bushfires and preceding drought had caused habitat loss which would have ongoing impact on populations.
Other contributing factors include vegetation clearance from urbanisation, grazing, agriculture and mining, with all reducing habitat.
The only bioregion in NSW with convincing evidence of a stable koala population, the New England Tablelands, had 13 per cent of its landscape burned during Black Summer.
A spokesperson from the NSW government said it supports the independent committee’s decision to list koalas as endangered.
“Through the $193.3 million NSW Koala Strategy, the NSW government has made the biggest financial commitment by any government to secure the future of koalas in the wild,” the spokesperson said.
The NSW Koala Strategy includes $107.1 million for koala habitat conservation, $19.6 million in community support for koala conservation, $23.2 million for a koala safety program and $43.4 million for science and research into the species.
Shadow Environment spokesperson Penny Sharpe accused the government of attempting to bury the change in status hours before the federal election.
“Today is a very dark day for koalas in NSW,” Ms Sharpe said.
“Twelve years of neglect from the Liberal and National government has led to our most iconic animal, the koala, closer to extinction than ever before.
“As the Nationals and Liberals have fought the koala wars they have been slow to act on climate change, accelerated land clearing, cut funding to National Parks and refused to follow advice from the Natural Resources Commission on saving forests.”
Independent MP Justin Field called on the government to stop logging koala habitat in NSW’s state forests and public land.
“Right now high quality koala habitat with resident koala populations is being logged in our state forests in NSW. That is simply unacceptable,” Mr Field said.
“There are lots of threats to koalas in NSW … but stopping the logging of koala habitat in our state forests is something Premier (Dominic) Perrottet can and should do now.”
Earlier this year the federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley downgraded the conservation status of koalas across the country’s east coast at a Commonwealth level, in line with a recommendation from the government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
“There have been many pressures on the koala,” Ms Ley said.
She said koalas had been under pressure from disease and climate change, but Black Summer had been a tipping point for the species.