The campaign to stop the proposed route of the Pacific Highway upgrade from devastating the nationally significant Lower Richmond River Koala population is well advanced. There being no further opportunity for public participation in the formal consultative processes, concerned community members are joining forces with Friends of the Koala Inc., the Ballina Environment Society Inc. and Ballina Councillor, Jeff Johnson to move the route for Section 10 of the upgrade (Richmond River to Wardell) away from the Blackwall Range and the area occupied by the koalas.
The Save Ballina’s Koalas Campaign was launched in mid-February 2014 with a public meeting held in Ballina which was attended by 100 people. A rally outside the office of Member for Ballina, the Hon. Don Page was held on 4 March. Several petitions in circulation are capturing thousands of signatures.
Regional media and conservation and animal welfare groups including the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the NSW Wildlife Council, the NSW National Parks Association, and the North Coast Environment Council are all supporting the campaign.
A number of members of the NSW Legislative Council are also active supporters. They are Greens spokesperson for the Environment and Roads, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, MLC, North Coast Liberal, Catherine Cusack, MLC, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Roads, Walt Secord, MLC and Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Environment, Luke Foley, MLC.
The Save Ballina’s Koalas Campaign is about to become more visible. Your donation will help that to happen.
The Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrading of the Pacific Highway has been on the drawing board for at least a decade. The project was assessed a “controlled action” for the purpose of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in June 2012.
During the mid-2000s several route options for Section 10: (Richmond River to Coolgardie Rd, Wardell), were vigorously contested by numerous community organisations including the Blackwall Highway Action Group, Friends of the Koala and the Ballina Environment Society.
Widespread concerns are held about the route that was decided upon by the NSW Roads & Maritime Service because it deviates from the existing route into the biodiversity hotspot of the Blackwall Range.
This route, if it goes ahead, will traverse the area occupied by the Lower Richmond population of around 200 koalas, separating three areas of known koala activity, and the construction will require the clearing of over 300 hectares of Koala habitat
A study commissioned by Ballina Shire Council, funded by the State Government and undertaken by Biolink ecological consultants has given a rare insight into our local Koalas. The report, Koala Habitat & Population Assessment: Ballina Shire Council LGA, written by respected ecologist Dr Steve Phillips, identifies the Meerschaum Vale, Blackwall Range and Coolgardie koala population as “a key source population for breeding and dispersal” and “it’s a population that is necessary for maintaining genetic diversity.” Thus it meets the criteria of an “important population” under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act.
Dr Phillips’s research suggests that koalas have been in the Lower Richmond locality since at least the beginning of the 20th century. They may be the source population for the Byron coast’s koalas and possibly Lismore’s as well.
The proposed Upgrade has been poorly informed in terms of potential impact on koalas and is giving only lip service to the conservation and management needs of a nationally significant population. What’s more RMS has ploughed ahead with planning this route (including land acquisition) without the necessary approvals.
It’s a tragedy that the scientific evidence has come so late in the process. The NSW State Minister for Planning and the Federal Minister for the Environment will be making their determinations on whether or not to approve the contentious route very soon. They will both be required to take into consideration the recent evidence. The question is to what extent, given the considerable investment that has already been made in developing the preferred route?
Please join us in Saving Ballina’s Koalas, by donating here and sharing the link with your friends.