A PETITION signed by over 17,000 concerned citizens has been presented to the NSW Parliament, urging the government to find an alternative koala-friendly route for the Pacific Highway upgrade from Broadwater to Ballina.
The petition, coordinated by Friends of the Koala, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the Ballina Environment Society, expresses concern that the proposed route bisects the Blackwall Range, home to a nationally significant population of just approximately 200 koalas, as well as other threatened wildlife species and sacred aboriginal sites.
Those behind the petition said concern for the fate of the koalas was significant enough for federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to insist that before starting work on this section of the highway upgrade, the RMS must demonstrate that the work will not cause the extinction of this population.
Lorraine Vass, the president of Friends of the Koala said time was running out for Ballina's koalas.
"Even while Minister Hunt's conditions are keeping the bulldozers at bay, we know that already seven koalas have been killed or died since Christmas," Ms Vass said.
"The actual number is probably higher. This koala population is very likely already in decline. The last thing it needs is a national highway running through it. RMS needs to get serious about looking at alternative routes."
Matthew Collis, Campaigns Manager at IFAW said the koala is an "international icon for Australia's unique wildlife but in NSW the situation is dire, with numbers plummeting in recent years."
"The NSW government has a responsibility to protect this nationally significant koala population and koalas across the state, and we need to see them taking that responsibility seriously.
"At the very least, we need transparency from the government about how they intend to prevent their preferred route causing this population of koalas going extinct."
Windbreaks are helping our koala population
FRIENDS of the Koala president Lorraine Vass is urging landholders to consider the impact the destruction of their windbreaks has on highly endangered koalas.
Ms Vass said native species windbreaks, particularly eucalypts, did more than protect farms from erosion.
She said many were crucial and protected corridors for animals, such as koalas, to travel from one area to another.
Ms Vass said some native windbreaks even supported permanent koala colonies.
"In Ballina Shire for example, the third of the koala population which isn't living in the relatively intact southern reaches, depend for their existence on windbreaks planted around macadamia orchards," she said.
Flossie is just one example of a koala who's found itself in Friends of the Koala after being found wedged under the felled trees of a windbreak at Rous Mill.
Ms Vass said Flossie was most likely carrying a joey because she was lactating. However the koala carers were unable to find the joey.
"She was very frightened and stressed," Ms Vass said.
"We feared for her survival, but she appears to have got through that okay."