Outrage over plan to bulldoze 'Bear Hill' koala habitat amid bushfire crisis

As bushfires decimate koala populations across Australia, an area that was once so thick with koalas it was known as “Bear Hill” is set to be flattened. 

Only one breeding pair and a number of juveniles remain on the Queensland hill now known as Mount Lofty but the federal government has it earmarked for demolition.

Defence Housing Australia (DHA) plan to construct a 344-building housing estate in its place, but critics argue the habitat is essential for rehoming koalas displaced across the country as a result of bushfires.

James Trezise from the Australian Conservation Foundation called the plan “hugely irresponsible”.

With so much koala habitat already destroyed, he believes key forests such as Mount Lofty in Toowoomba must be preserved as part of the koala’s recovery plan. 

Only one breeding pair remains on the mountain, but the area is key habitat for bushfire affected animals. Source: Rachelle Patterson
Mount Lofty was once so thick with koalas it was known as Bear Hill. Source: Supplied

“The Morrison government should stop this proposal to bulldoze more koala habitat and fully evaluate the situation for koalas and other species devastated by bushfires,” Mr Trezise told Yahoo News Australia.

“The government is presently reviewing our national environmental law. To avoid more extinctions, the government will need to massively ramp up protection and funding for our amazing wildlife.”

Water supply to be turned back on for drought-affected koalas

Earlier this week, environment minister Sussan Ley announced her government would spend $50 million on helping wildlife after the bushfires.

Last month, in an interview with Yahoo News Australia, she singled out development as a key contributor to their destruction in southeast Queensland and northern NSW.

“We need to respond to its needs, we can’t expect it to adapt too much to ours,” she said.

“And one of the issues is that we have been expecting the koala to adapt to our needs over time, because the koala likes to live where people live, or I should say people like to live where the koala likes to live.”

The 53-hectare Toowoomba site is marked to be developed by DHA, a federal government business.

Residents have been fuming that the organisation turned off water supply to the area, leaving drought-affected koalas without a regular supply. 

Thousands of koalas have been displaced by bushfire and drought and are in desperate need of water. Source: Paul Stanton - Paul's Place Wildlife via Reuters

Following an enquiry by Yahoo News Australia, DHA confirmed water would be returned to the area, but the plan to bulldoze the hillside appears unchanged.

DHA General Manager Property Provisioning Group, Brett Jorgensen issued a statement outlining his department’s position. 

 “DHA shares the concerns of all Australians in the aftermath of the bushfires across the country and their impact on our fellow Australians, our flora and our fauna. We take our responsibilities in this regard very seriously,” it read.

 “Throughout the planning process we worked closely with Toowoomba Regional Council and the Department of Environment and Energy.  

“We will continue to do so in light of recent bushfire events to ensure that DHA continues to meet both our legislative and operational requirements and community expectations. 

“We are currently taking steps to reinstate the water supply at the site.”

‘You don’t have to destroy it’

Save Mount Lofty’s president Penny Claringbull said the plan to develop the site is “reckless profiteering” from a federal government agency that “paid nothing for the land.”

She said local wildlife carers who take in injured koalas are running out of habitat to release displaced animals after bushfires went through nearby Ravensbourne National Park last year.

“To destroy (Mount Lofty) when you don’t have to destroy it is wilful really,” she said.

“You’re not a developer, you didn’t buy it, it’s not having to return on its investment.

“The government announced the sum of $50 million o help rehabilitate species, they don’t have to do anything here, but do nothing to the land.”

As people around the world focus on the plight of the koala, the community group’s Change.org petition jumped to 8,500 signatures this week.

Fires like this one in the Blue Mountains, NSW, have destroyed key habitat across Australia. Source: Getty

Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio advised Yahoo News Australia that the development application is still at the assessment stage. 

He said the council will follow all government legislation regarding the protection of koala populations. 

“It is understood that this referral to the federal department is still under assessment and no decision has been issued at this time,” he said.

“As the Development Application is under assessment, Council is unable to advise when a decision will be made at this time.”

Environment minister Sussan Ley has been contacted for comment.

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