THE kangaroo is perhaps the only Australian animal more readily identified than the koala. Yet despite its status as an icon of this nation, the species is dealing with far more than it can continue to bear.
Now, the Australian Koala Foundation is questioning the data upon which both major parties are building their election promises. They say it fails to identify habitat at a fine scale, which is crucial for an animal that has found its traditional home splintered through clearing and housing.
In Port Stephens local government area, where the creatures are slipping into critically endangered status, the government's vegetation mapping downgraded primary habitat by 80 per cent versus the Koala Habitat Atlas, a peer-reviewed map produced by the foundation. Prime habitat has also been omitted.
That is not a small variation.
"We simply cannot and will not incorporate this incorrect data," Foundation chairwoman Deborah Tabart said. "By severely under-mapping primary koala habitat, the NSW government is essentially falsely highlighting areas where koalas cannot survive, potentially paving the way for devastating habitat clearing."
It may not be glamorous, but the incumbent government after Saturday's election should make an effort to get the maps as accurate as they can be. Without a clear understanding of the problems the koala faces, what hope is there of a solution?
As this newspaper has reported in recent days, housing pressure continues to mount. But unchecked clearing is also not a viable solution from that angle, particularly given Hunter Community Environment Centre researcher Paul Winn's report that has found half the plants within a corridor between Barrington and Hawkesbury could be extinct within 50 years due to climate change.
Australia's unique fauna demands a unique place in our efforts to protect the environment. Such an approach begins with a foundation of accurate data about the scale and extent of the problem. The longer we wait, the fewer options will likely remain for us and the koalas.
There are few easy answers when conservation and the demands of the modern world collide, but it has become evidently clear that what has been done to date has failed to turn the tide. If we cannot protect a creature emblematic of our country, what chance do lesser-known animals have?
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