LETTER: Koala population more fragile than expected

REPORTED koala road fatalities in the area of Ballina's nationally significant "Important Koala Population" identified in the 2013 Ballina Koala Study have increased alarmingly.

The Save Ballina's Koalas Campaign has ensured that the Federal Minister for the Environment requires NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) to demonstrate the impact to the Ballina koala population will be acceptable before building Section 10, which starts at Broadwater and finishes at Coolgardie, can commence.

Several additional koala studies have been carried out in the area. During the fieldwork for these studies reporting of road kills to Friends of the Koala has increased. Reported fatal koala road hits south of Ballina were two in 2013, three in 2014 and six in 2015.

Actual numbers of koala road hits are likely to be several times these numbers. Injured animals crawl into the bush, escaping detection, often succumbing to a slow and painful death. Besides, relatively few motorists are known to intervene and report road strikes.

From Friends of the Koala's extensive 26 year data-base, road-kill records for the past eight years have been extracted to identify those areas relevant to the "Important Koala Population", where mortalities are most commonly reported. They are the Bruxner Highway, east of Alstonville; Wardell Road around the intersection with Bagotville Road, the southern part of Bagotville Road and the Pacific Highway, north of Wardell to Coolgardie.

Presuming under-reporting, high levels of road hits may have been the norm in these areas for years. This will have impacted on the koala population and may be the reason for low numbers of males compared to females in the area of Section 10. (Home range dominance dictates dispersal of young males putting them more at risk to vehicle strike.)

From what can be gleaned, given that the reports of the recent field studies have yet to be made public, the "Important Koala Population" which is a source population for Lismore's and perhaps Byron's koalas, is more fragile than expected.

Campaigners believe that reducing the numbers of koalas being killed on the roads is vital for the survival of Ballina's koalas. Road signage and increasing public awareness may help, but fencing off "hot spots" is essential and containment of road-kill must commence now. To this end immediate resourcing of proven mitigation measures by Roads and Maritime Services is being sought.

Needless to say, construction of the new highway, should the route of Section 10 remain unchanged, will spell the end for Ballina's koalas.

Lorraine Vass, President, Friends of the Koala, Inc.

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