Koala habitat bulldozed by developer for new car park leaves locals 'shattered'

Locals are wondering where the koalas are going to live after the government allowed developers to 'pave paradise, and put up a parking lot'.

Residents are furious after Queensland authorities mapped a forest as “koala habitat” then subsequently bulldozed it to make way for a new car park at a Brisbane hospital.

The project decision followed ongoing complaints about a lack of available spaces, but locals have questioned why planners didn't simply solve the problem by converting one of two existing open air car parks into a multi-story one.

Responding to criticism of the state's efforts to protect koalas, Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Linard told Yahoo News the Miles Government’s policies strike “the right balance” between wildlife protection and delivering infrastructure to the growing southeast region.

But local wildlife rescuer John Knights shot back, saying koalas can’t afford to lose any more habitat and another solution should have been found to solve the area's parking woes.

A bulldozer at the site west of the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital which has been cleared.
Endangered koala habitat has been destroyed by Queensland Health to create a new car park. Source: Dominic Geiger

“I'm devastated to hear the news, absolutely shattered,” he said after hearing the site had been bulldozed in February. “I work every hour, every minute of every day trying to save our wildlife and some f***wit comes along and destroys it to park a few cars.”

Knights believes the destruction will have a severe impact on the area’s koalas as forest territories are largely already full, and juveniles have limited options when they grow up and need to establish their own range. “That habitat was a sanctuary area. And with a likely increase in the number of dispersing koalas this year, they will be dead,” he said.

Australia's koala management under fire

It's not just Queensland that's raised eyebrows by paving a koala paradise to put up a parking lot. Nationwide, Australia is increasingly in the spotlight over its destruction of the marsupial's habitat, since they were listed as endangered in NSW, Queensland and ACT after the 2019-2020 Black Summer Bushfires.

Earlier this week the federal government was slammed for parading a captive koala in front of foreign journalists at the ASEAN summit in Melbourne, while allowing the “wholesale destruction of habitat by developers”. The criticism followed allegations koalas on Kangaroo Island were being routinely killed and injured as their plantation tree homes were felled to make way for farmland.

The new P2 carpark (right) is being built on mapped koala habitat which is indicated in green (left).
The new P2 carpark (right) is being built on mapped koala habitat which is indicated in green (left). Source: QLD Globe/Queensland Health

Developer claims little sign of koalas at site

Queensland Health’s car park project underwent environmental assessment and consultation before contractors began clearing land to the west of Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital in outer Brisbane. Around a quarter of the site has now been cleared but Queensland Health maintains its project will have “minimal environmental impact”.

Ecologists paid to survey the site reported little evidence of koala activity and no sightings. But wildlife rescuers say they are routinely called to help koalas around the wider hospital campus, including the area which has now been destroyed.

They claim the site is used as a corridor by several of the 400 species known to live in the sprawling 260-hectare Toohey Forest which lies on the other side of busy Kessel Road. Despite being the most prominent koala rescuer in the area, with site specific knowledge of how it is utilised by wildlife, Knights says he wasn't contacted by anyone connected with the project.

I work every hour, every minute of every day trying to save our wildlife and some f***wit comes along and destroys it to park a few cars.Wildlife rescuer John Knights

Other community members, including Dominic Geiger, have been frustrated by what they see as a lack of consultation with residents before the trees were removed. "The area is sizeable for an inner city patch of vegetation. And because it supports wallabies, koalas, bandicoots, and a host of other species, one would have thought that there would have been more thought given before they simply bulldozed it," he said.

Local man Brad Lambert, who campaigned against the project on a social media page that documents wildlife living in Toohey Forest, questioned why the government bothers to map koala habitat if it’s still subject to destruction. “What’s the point? You may as well go back to saying it’s just national parks and conservation areas that are protected,” he said.

How developers can bulldoze koala habitat

Minister Linard said the car park project was required to undergo environmental assessment and consultation. It was assessed under the state’s Koala Conservation Policy which requires developers to either offset destruction themselves or pay a levy.

In Queensland, mapped koala habitat is frequently earmarked for development by the state government. It’s planning to bulldoze habitat on the Gold Coast to build a new public hospital as well as a freeway to cut travel time for motorists visiting Brisbane. But government plans to develop mapped koala habitat aren’t always completed — in Toowoomba aspirations to build a new highway were scrapped after a community outcry.

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