A DRAFT council plan proposes the impact on koalas should be assessed when private landholders apply for a Development Application (DA).
Council’s ‘Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management’ is designed to provide a strategic approach to koala management on private lands for the coast and lowland areas of the shire by way of mixing regulatory with non regulatory mechanisms to respond to key threats faced by koalas.
In essence, the DA process requires that developments are located, designed, constructed and managed to avoid adverse impacts upon koala food trees and habitat.
Council devised the plan after a concerted community campaign highlighted an increasing number of koalas living on the urban fringe of Bellingen.
In a statement, council acknowledged residents may be concerned their land rights may be restricted, but said there is a system of “compensatory mechanisms”.
“It is possible that individual landowners may feel that the DA framework impacts upon the economic viability of individual developments however the existence of a compensatory mechanism will provide some opportunity for development in most instances, particularly where opportunities exist on the same property to compensate,” council said.
Compensatory measures would not be approved if council was of the opinion that they were not feasible; there is a high risk of failing or there is no substantial evidence that the compensatory works would lead to an improvement in koala habitat values.
The Courier-Sun understands an example of a compensatory measure would be replanting a koala habitat zone if removing an existing one from the property.
However when compensation works are considered feasible, a time/risk multiplier will be applied. This could mean that a developer clearing 12 tallow wood, may be required to replant 96 replacement trees.
While individual property owners may have their property rights curtailed, council said the DA assessment process presented “a major opportunity to influence the type and level of habitat removal that is permitted, or not, within the koala planning area and in a broader perspective it is considered that a thriving koala population presents ongoing potential for other economic benefits (eg tourism) that will flow to the wider community”.
While some landholders may have rise for concern, the koala management plan has been warmly welcomed by the Bellingen Environment Centre (BEC).
BEC spokesperson Caroline Joseph said the study was an achievement and thanked council for the proactive approach to protecting koala habitat.
“This is a step forward in the right direction in addressing an issue that deeply concerns the community,” Caroline said.
“I’ve much praise for the council who have been very responsive throughout the last three years by listening to the local voices. They secured funding from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to undertake a series of detailed studies of local koala activity of the area and their habitat – and this is the result, a comprehensive koala management plan. ”
However, Caroline’s enthusiastic response was somewhat tempered with concerns the plan, while supposedly great for the shire’s koalas, was limited in regional scope.
“The plan does have a large flaw,” Caroline said
“It only covers the local government controlled areas of the shire – about 50 per cent. “The rest is controlled by State Forests and this plan has no jurisdiction over this land. Also as it’s just a shire-wide initiative – there’s no regional approach – and this means it doesn’t include the Coffs Harbour and Nambucca shires. For a healthy koala population we must look to establishing an adequate and broad area for their habitat.”
It is anticipated that community engagement will commence in October and will proceed for at least one month.
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