Grave threat for Australian wildlife icon
THIS picture highlights the bleak future for koalas, which face the escalating threat of extinction in New South Wales thanks to record levels of landclearing.
Taken recently in Monaltrie in the state's northeast, it shows four koalas clinging to an almost bare tree, starving and with no suitable habitat to shelter within.
The area is at the epicentre of mass clearing, which has expanded since the State Government removed forestation safeguards in 2017, with 14 hectares of koala habitat bulldozed every day on average last year.
"Rates of bulldozing of native bushland have almost tripled in just one year in this area," WWF-Australia said in a damning report.
It's the equivalent of 14 football fields of habitat torn down every single day and the country's eastern coast is now one of the world's worst deforestation regions.
Koalas through much of NSW struggle to find enough food and adequate protection - particularly during the current heatwave, the organisation said.
WWF-Australia conservationist Dr Stuart Blanch said at current rates, koalas will be extinct in the state as early as 2050.
"Koalas will disappear from NSW unless the state increases legal protections of mature forests and woodlands," Dr Blanch said.
A local community group in Monaltrie, Friends of the Koala, is working with Landcare to encourage landholders to replace exotic weeds with trees for the iconic marsupial.
The project's co-ordinator Julie Reid said the photo shows how important habitat restoration is, to ensure koala plantings are planned to provide connectivity and create 'koala corridors'.
"Planting the right trees reduces the need for koalas to cross roads and open paddocks in search of food," Ms Reid said.
"The planted trees are being browsed before they are able to take the weight of the koala. This shows how desperate koalas are for food."
However, Dr Blanch said it can take a decade or more for newly planted trees to reach maturity and a point where they can provide sufficient nutrients and protection for koalas.
"We need strong laws to end excessive tree clearing plus more funds for farmers and rural communities to reforest over cleared lands with koala habitat," he said.
Koala populations along Australia's east coast have plummeted even faster, at a rate of 21 per cent per decade.
"It is a wakeup call for our east coast to appear alongside notorious forest destruction hot spots such as the Amazon, Congo Basin, Sumatra and Borneo," WWF Australia boss Dermot O'Gorman said.
Clearing for livestock is listed as the primary cause of forest loss, with unsustainable logging an important secondary cause.
"The Government needs to urgently reverse its axing of laws that has led to a tripling of koala habitat destruction in northwest NSW," Mr O'Gorman said.
"The plight of koalas is matched by alarming declines for many other uniquely Australian species who are losing their forest homes.
"Buying land is welcome but will only save a fraction of koala habitat. Stronger forest protection laws are crucial."