Koalas in danger of being killed as government's $1m fence falls apart

The NSW government funded the koala protection barriers in 2018, but images reveal sections are now falling apart.

Fears are growing that endangered koalas in southwest Sydney will be killed as gaps emerge in a dilapidated road barrier.

The fence's demise is just the latest issue for koalas which face "death by a thousand cuts" from habitat loss, vehicle strikes and dog attacks. They are expected to be extinct in NSW by 2050.

While that might seem a long distance into the future it's actually just over 26 years away. If we look back the equivalent time into the past, it's 1996 — Romeo + Juliet is number one at the box office and the Spice Girls are ruling the charts.

Fences designed to keep koalas off Picton Road are falling apart. Source: Supplied
Fences designed to keep koalas off Picton Road are falling apart. Source: Supplied

'Really dangerous' road a threat to koalas

Construction of barriers along more than 5km of Picton Road began in 2018, with a projected cost of around $1 million. But images taken in February show a number of the fences have collapsed. Prior to construction, the state environment office said the fence would help protect "two of the most important koala corridors in the region".

With the barrier now deteriorating, local resident Keith Edwards is warning koalas could die. He believes the crucial barrier is suffering from a lack of maintenance and “poor workmanship”.

Having inspected the area himself, Mr Edwards describes the stretch where vehicles are permitted to drive at speeds of 100km/h as “really dangerous”. “It’s pretty hairy. I’ve walked part of the road and you’re taking your life in your own hands doing that with semi-trailers roaring past.”

Government agency plans to fix road defects

State government entity Transport for NSW told Yahoo News Australia damage to the fence primarily occurs from fallen trees and vehicle accidents, but added it “has recently identified defects in sections of fencing which will be repaired within the next two months, weather permitting".

It inspects the Picton Road koala fences an average of two times per week, and three assessments have already occurred in February. “Repairs to fences are carried out as required with the most recent repair work undertaken in November, 2022,” it added.

But it’s not just the fencing falling apart. Images supplied by Mr Edwards show some sections of the fence are dwarfed by two-metre-high trees and undergrowth, providing an easy opportunity for koalas to climb over barriers onto the road.

In some sections the fence has fallen away (left) while in other areas trees are growing above it (right). Source: Supplied
In some sections the fence has fallen away (left) while in other areas trees are growing above it (right). Source: Supplied

Koala extinction warning for NSW

Western Sydney is home to the state’s only disease-free colony of koalas. Despite their significance, there is growing concern they will not survive.

The government permitted Lendlease to build its Figtree Hill housing development near Campbelltown where members of the koala colony reside. While the developer says it is protecting and restoring some habitat, critics say construction and increased road usage will devastate the animals.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry warned in 2020 koalas will be wiped out across the state in less than 30 years unless urgent action is taken to protect their habitat. Alison Waters, the Animal Justice party’s lead candidate in the state election, wants to see an end to native forest logging as well as more underpasses and overpasses to help wildlife cross roads. "They are well and truly on track for extinction by 2050 in NSW, that's undeniable," she said. "Possibly sooner than 2050 in some areas."

Ms Waters notes a report this month found the Shoalhaven’s last remaining koalas were likely destroyed in the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires. Local extinctions have also occurred in Pittwater and on the South Coast.

Accusing the government of having “failed koalas,” she fears its re-election could prompt “koala wars part three” — a reference to the rift between the Liberal and Nationals over habitat clearing.

While she applauds Labor for backing the Great Koala National Park, which would see roughly 20 per cent of the state’s koala habitat protected, she does not think it alone will stop the species going extinct.

“If I’m elected, I’ll bring forward a bill that would end all logging in native forests,” Ms Waters said.

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