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WWF: Deforestation Puts Koalas at Risk for Extinction by 2050
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=50171"><span class="small">Evan Young, SBS News</span></a>   
Saturday, 16 February 2019 09:24

Young writes: "World Wildlife Fund International President Pavan Sukhdev has written a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, asking him 'to commit to urgent and effective action' to halt the rate of deforestation."

Koalas are now facing an emergency. (photo: Natural Life)
Koalas are now facing an emergency. (photo: Natural Life)

WWF: Deforestation Puts Koalas at Risk for Extinction by 2050

By Evan Young, SBS News

16 February 19

The President of World Wildlife Fund International is urging Australia to better protect forests and koalas, saying “the international community is closely watching”.

orld Wildlife Fund International President Pavan Sukhdev has written a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, asking him “to commit to urgent and effective action” to halt the rate of deforestation.

In the letter, Mr Sukhdev said he had particular concern for the koala population in New South Wales, which according to WWF, are headed for extinction as early as 2050.

Koalas are facing an emergency comparable to that experienced by orangutans, Mr Sukhdev said.

"These are both iconic species and the imminent disappearance of both is a huge concern - not only for me, but for everyone around the world," he told SBS News.

"The rates of deforestation here are relatively high for such a developed nation, and as such, the risks of losing species that depend on those forests are equally high."

Tree clearing in NSW has caused koala numbers to decline by one third over the past 20 years to an estimated 20,000 across the state, according to WWF.

Scientists estimate over 100,000 orangutans have died due to deforestation in Borneo over the same period.

The international community is "closely watching" Australia's response, Mr Sukhdev said.

"Australia has a whole range of issues it needs to act on very quickly because people and environmental groups around the world are closely watching . They expect leadership from Australia in this area."

While Australia has its own arm of the WWF predominantly acting independently from WWF International, Mr Sukhdev said he felt compelled to make a direct appeal about a number of environmental concerns affecting Australia.

"I‘m not just talking about koalas in NSW," he said.

"I’m also worried about the Great Barrier Reef, the fish kills in Menindee and the continual mismanagement of the Murray Darling Basin."

Australian government: "Committed to protecting threatened species"

The Australian government has responded to WWF's letter, with a spokesperson for the Minister for the Environment saying, "The Government is absolutely committed to protecting our threatened species, and is currently leading the development of a national recovery plan for the listed koala in collaboration with the relevant range states – QLD, NSW and the ACT.

"Recovery plans developed under the EPBC Act set out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of a listed species."

The government adds that the draft koala recovery plan will be released for the statutory three-month public consultation period in mid-2019 with the plan to be finalised by the end of the year.

"State governments have primary carriage of planning and development decisions within their jurisdiction, including for land clearing. 

Any decision to reform state land management laws is a matter for the relevant state government."

Where to from here?

Mr Sukhdev's letter comes two months after a joint report by WWF Australia, the National Parks Association of NSW and the North East Forest Alliance found the New South Wales government’s $45 million Koala Strategy is "ineffective, inadequate and expensive".

The strategy ignores the main cause of koala deaths – the destruction of habitat, the report said.

New South Wales repealed the Native Vegetation Act 2003 in August 2017, sparking backlash and concern from conservationists.

"We can’t save koalas if their homes are being bulldozed," WWF Australia forest conservation manager, Dr Stuart Blanch, told SBS News.

"Climate change is having a major impact by leading to drought and bushfires. But the single cheapest, most effective conservation measure for koalas is to pass strong laws at state and federal level that prohibit the clearing of koala habitat.

"I hope NSW and federal politicians want to save koalas, so they can look back on it as part of their political legacy."

If people want to help they can join environmental groups, plant trees, sign petitions and write to their local MPs, Dr Blanch said.

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