Koala populations in south-east Queensland are at risk of extinction unless urban development in known habitats is limited, an expert says. Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles announced on Saturday an expert panel would be appointed in the next month to come up with ways to protect koalas that inhabit areas in and around Brisbane.
The announcement followed the release of a University of Queensland report that claimed koalas would likely be extinct in some areas “within a small number of generations”.
The report was released in August 2015.
Dr Miles said he did not receive a copy until December and since then he had been meeting with relevant stakeholders.
The environment minister rejected the claim a panel did not go far enough in addressing the koala crisis.
“We do need action but what we don’t need is knee-jerk action,” he said.
“The last we want to do is act too quickly and implement actions that aren’t backed by the science.”
But UQ Associate Professor Jonathan Rhodes – lead author of the report – said “urgent action” was needed.
“At the same time we need to consider what the options are, but we can’t just leave it for years,” he said.
“We need to act relatively quickly and decisively.”
The report found koala populations along the Koala Coast – in Brisbane’s southeastern suburbs – had dropped by about 80 per cent between 1996 and 2014.
Populations in the Pine Rivers region – in Brisbane’s north – reduced by about 54 per cent over the same period.
Prof Rhodes said it was well known urban development and koalas didn’t “go very well together”.
He said while urban development couldn’t be undone, thought needed to be given to how threats like dogs and vehicles could be reduced in areas where koalas were known to live.
“On top of that we need to ensure we control further new development and protect their habitats as well,” he said.
Prof Rhodes said although the report focused on South East Queensland, it was likely koala populations had declined in other areas where there had been large-scale urban development.
“We need to look carefully at where we can successfully conserve and recover koala populations,” he said.
“It may be the case in some places we’re just too late, but we can still focus on areas where we can have success.”