The Queensland government will inject more than $24m into protecting koala populations and habitats in the state’s southeast as part of a threatened species funding package.
The almost $40m funding announcement coincided with World Environment Day on Sunday. Queensland’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the state had “good conservation success stories” such as bilbies and green turtles.
“Queensland is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. So it’s incredibly important to protect those threatened species,” she said.
“This funding will help us do so much work for our much-loved koala population, but it also allows us to do some really important work for threatened species.”
The funding includes $14.7m for recovery plans for threatened native species and Indigenous land and sea rangers.
The Queensland Conservation Council’s director, Dave Copeman, said the investment showed the state government “hasn’t given up on our incredible native wildlife”.
“We can save our iconic native species. We know it will take funding, research, and strong laws to protect habitat from clearing, logging and development,” he said.
“We were disappointed beyond words at the news that the outgoing federal minister Sussan Ley abolished 176 recovery plans for threatened species and habitats as one of her last acts as a minister. She’d just given up on preventing the all too common march to extinction.”
Copeman urged the new federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to review the decision.
He stressed that Queensland had the highest number of threatened species in Australia that faced habitat destruction due to “shocking rates of land clearing”.
Andrew Picone, a spokesperson for the conservation project Outback to Oceans, said the funding would help reverse the decline of threatened species such as koalas.
“Investments of this size are a good sign the Palaszczuk government is taking the loss of biodiversity seriously, but matching this investment with on-ground protection will be vital,” he said.
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Guardian Australia in March reported that more than 90,000 hectares of koala habitat in Queensland were cleared in a year, with the majority (80%) occurring for beef production. The figure was based on an analysis by the Wilderness Society. It examined the Queensland government’s most recent Statewide Landcover and Trees Study, which showed landholders cleared 680,688 hectares of woody vegetation in 2018-19. It estimated that 92,718 hectares of that clearing were in known or likely koala habitats.
The $24.6m investment will help continue the Queensland government’s southeast five-year koala conservation strategy to increase the species’ population. The process involves relationships with councils, conservation groups, and universities. But the Queensland Conservation Council has called for a statewide koala protection scheme.
In February, the koala was deemed an endangered species in Queensland, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory, meaning it faces a high risk of becoming extinct, mainly due to habitat loss, in the short term in the two states.