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A portion of Australia’s koala population is currently at risk of extinction, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia revealed.

The environmental nonprofit has urged the Australian government to change the listing for koalas from "vulnerable" to "endangered" in both New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. The decline, WWF and other environmental groups stated, is due to loss of habitat thanks to excessive tree-clearing for urban development.

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"In NSW it is still perfectly legal to bulldoze millions of hectares of koala habitat under permissive state laws," said WWF Forest and Woodland Manager Stuart Blanch in a media statement. "Koalas could be extinct in NSW by 2050."

Loopholes in NSW and Queensland construction limitations continue to allow “essential infrastructure” to be built on hectares of eucalypt forest. To gain permission to clear land, building developers must choose between paying a financial settlement or providing new habitats for the marsupials.

In 97% of cases, building developers are allocating to pay.

This month, WWF Australia, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and additional leading environmental organizations released Australia’s first independent plan to save koalas from extinction. Spearheaded by ecologist David Paull, the plan recommends strengthening state and federal laws, ending native forest logging on public lands, and establishing a new federal Environment Act.

While Deborah Tabart, CEO of the Australian Koala Foundation, agrees that koala populations desperately need protection, she told Global Citizen the new WWF campaigning is misfocused.

"Successfully listing koalas as endangered is a several-year process," Tabart told Global Citizen. "Koalas were already listed as vulnerable in 2012. Due to this listing, they should already have significant protection. This campaigning is just regurgitating what was done seven years ago."

In 2011, a Senate Committee delivered a unanimous report that called for koala populations to urgently be protected under federal laws. A Federal Recovery Plan was supposed to have been written and finalized by 2014. It was never completed.

"The bottom line is we should recall for the Recovery Plan to be written. Regardless of an endangered or vulnerable listing — the plan will be the same," Tabart added. "Better still, the Australian Koala Foundation already has a Koala Protection Act. The relevant ministers already know this act is ready to go and that it would save koala habitats. The law is already in place; it is just not being enacted."

Since European settlement, 80% of Australia’s eucalyptus forests have been cleared. Forests have a significant role in curbing climate change by absorbing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. However, when forests are bulldozed down, the carbon stored in the trees is released back into the atmosphere. Globally, deforestation accounts for around 15% of emissions, second only to fossil fuel burning.  

Beyond koalas and other animal species, 1.6 billion people rely heavily on forests for their food, shelter, and medicine.


Defend the Planet

Koalas Should be Listed ‘Endangered’ in New South Wales and Queensland, Environmental Groups Announce

By Madeleine Keck