Red tape killing region's koalas

COFFS Harbour City Council is demanding the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water provide legal justification for its approvals to log local tracts of koala habitat.

The council is accusing the Department of killing the koalas it is supposed to be protecting.

At least 60 separate logging applications on 1900 hectares of private land around Coffs Harbour, containing core koala habitat, have been approved by DECCW since 2007, according to an analysis by the North Coast Environment Council.

When DECCW was questioned about this recently, it blamed the council, saying the Coffs Harbour Koala Plan of Management was not officially gazetted, so its prohibitions could not be enforced.

Coffs Harbour mayor Cr Keith Rhoades has hit back angrily at the claim by the Department’s director of landscapes and ecosystems, Tom Grosskopf, saying it is untrue.

Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Steve McGrath wrote to the Department on January 6, asking DECCW ‘which has carriage to protect koalas a vulnerable species’ to advise the council of the department’s legal justification for causing the destruction of large tracts of core koala habitat and their consequent demise.

The letter says the council’s Koala Plan of Management was formally approved by the Director of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning on May 9, 2000, taking effect immediately; that it was prepared in accordance with the provisions of State Environmental Planning Policy 44; that there is no formal requirement provision under SEPP 44 to require or permit gazettal of the KPoM other than via amendment of the Local Environment Plan and that the Coffs Harbour City LEP 2000 references the KpoM; and it was gazetted.

Representatives of DECCW have been on the Coffs Harbour community koala advisory committee for 10 years.

Cr Rhoades points to letters stretching back to September 2009 from the council’s then general manager Stephen Sawtell, complaining that DECCW was ignoring council’s environmental protection measures in approving Private Native Forestry agreements. As a result, ‘a considerable amount of high value conservation value habitat is being modified under the scheme in the Coffs Harbour area’.

At that time, Mr Sawtell told DECCW director general Lisa Corbyn that 80 per cent of the 50 Private Native Forestry agreements issued since October 2007 involved land parcels zoned 7A which covers environmental protection of designated koala habitat or endangered ecological communities by the local council.

In August 2010 the council’s executive manager of strategy and sustainability, Jeff Green told DECCW the council believed the logging approvals contradicted the Department’s Code of Practice for core koala habitat and asked the Department to provide DECCW’s legal interpretation of the issues

No answer has so far been received.

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