The koala death toll from weeks of bushfires in NSW could be more than 2000, a parliamentary inquiry will hear on Monday.
Scientists will provide new evidence that thousands of the native marsupials have perished and huge tracts of habitat lost.
“Hearing that we have lost up to a third of koala habitat and more than 2000 koalas on the North Coast is utterly devastating and should be a wakeup call for this government that they must take action to protect koala habitat,” said Port Macquarie Koala Hospital’s clinical director Cheyne Flanagan.
North East Forest Alliance president and ecologist Dailan Pugh will front an urgent hearing by the upper house on Monday to discuss the extent of damage to koala populations which had previously been estimated at hundreds.
It comes as recent blazes have destroyed thousands of hectares of their habitat across northern NSW and southeast Queensland.
In addition to the thousands of koalas which may have burnt to death, up to one-third of their habitat on the NSW north coast may have also been lost, Mr Pugh is expected to say.
For example, a single bushfire in Crestwood is estimated to have killed at least 350 koalas based on a predicted 60 per cent mortality rate, according to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton.
Meanwhile Queensland is taking steps to conserve land, announcing that vital habitats will not be subject to any new developments.
“There’ll be allowed some limited clearing for fire breaks, but that’s basically it,” Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC.
“This is about the continual survival of a vulnerable species.”
A Conservation Strategy developed by the Queensland government identified 150,700 hectares of suitable public and private land for restoring koala habitat.
“We need to create these corridors where koala population can thrive … not in small pockets,” Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said.
“These pockets of areas are really important areas to sustain, but also they need to find connection to the rest of the corridor,” Ms Enoch said.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, chair of the NSW inquiry, said the loss of koalas should be a wake-up call.
“Today’s hearing is timely and necessary. We will be hearing from some of Australia’s leading experts on koalas, bushfire and climate change,” Ms Faehrmann said in a statement.
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital’s clinical director Cheyne Flanagan and Indigenous fire practitioners will also give evidence, as well as representatives of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.
“We will also hear recommendations that must be urgently taken to ensure these fires don’t lead to the irreversible decline of koalas in NSW,” Ms Faehrmann said.
On Sunday evening, the Rural Fire Service said there were 91 bush and grass fires in NSW, 48 of which were not contained.
Koalas are listed as vulnerable in Queensland, NSW and the ACT, largely a result of habitat clearing.