Achieving fauna conservation on private land: Reflections on a 10-year project
Lunney, D, Matthews, A, Moon, C & Turbill, J 2002, Ecological Management & Restoration, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 90 – 96.
A group of wildlife ecologists completed an extensive plan detailing conservation outcomes for koalas living on private land in the Coffs Harbour local government area in New South Wales. The Coffs Harbour City Koala Plan of Management, that was published in 1999 and officially launched in 2000, was the result of ten years of work. The authors of the Coffs Harbour City Koala Plan of Management plan documented their difficulties and triumphs in its production and implementation.
A state-wide survey of koala populations in 1986 and 1987 revealed that koalas were declining in New South Wales. The last stronghold of koalas was identified to be at the NSW north coast, near the expanding city of Coffs Harbour. Around Coffs Harbour the majority of koalas occurred on private or council-managed land; therefore, a plan for the conservation of koalas living on private land was required. The legally binding plan detailed how the Council should manage and respond to applications to develop on koala habitat and more general threats such as vehicle collision, dog attack and fires.
When developing the plan, the authors began by seeking the support of the Council to conduct a survey on koala numbers and create a management document. A postal survey was sent out to Coffs Harbour residents, to not only gauge support for koala conservation, but also to establish if the community perceived the koala population to be declining. Two years later, a koala summit was held in Coffs Harbour and the resolutions that emerged from this summit were formalised into a draft plan, which was submitted to the council. The plan was stalled by several bureaucratic delays, such as the Council not believing it was sufficiently reviewed, but managed to avoid being voted down as one councillor had been extensively briefed on its value to the community. After a Council election five years later, the plan was finally passed. Changes in state environmental planning policy and an independent economic study that concluded that koalas were a valuable asset to the local tourism industry appeared to have aided the passage of the plan. The authors also acknowledge the contribution of increasing public support of wildlife conservation to their plan’s successful implementation.
Producing plans such as these are very valuable to conservation, but they are less beneficial for the professional development of the individual ecologists and researchers who produce them. About ten years of work were necessary to publish this document, and there were several instances when political or bureaucratic manoeuvring delayed, stalled or threatened to end it. It is apparent from the difficulty of publishing the Coffs Harbour City Koala Plan of Management that projects which require political or cultural change need more time, money and effort to complete than purely science-based projects. Despite these difficulties, initiatives that partner science with practice have been and will continue to be essential in koala conservation, especially on privately-owned land.
Summarised by Alexander Hendry
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