Footage has emerged showing a koala leaving a NSW construction zone after developers began removing forested areas surrounding his tree.
While some conservationists have been quick to slam the developer, others trace the situation to a string of "failures" by federal, state and local governments to protect the species.
Categorised as surplus to requirements in 2015 by the department of education, the NSW Government sold the Lake Cathie bushland site, near Port Macquarie.
The decision to sell the land was made two years after koalas were declared vulnerable to extinction.
In 2020, a state parliamentary committee warned koalas would be extinct in NSW by 2050 if habitat loss continued.
Koalas were upgraded to endangered in NSW, Queensland and ACT in 2022.
Local government rejects call to buy koala habitat
Community calls for the land to be given to or purchased by Port Macquarie Council were rejected, for reasons it said it could not confirm as the decision was made seven years ago.
After a four-year assessment of the developer's proposal, council approved a section of land to be cleared.
The decision was made around a year after Port Macquarie made global headlines after its koala population was decimated during the 2019 / 2020 Black Summer bushfires.
Mayor Peta Pinson acknowledged community concern but added the decision has “gone through a process and that process happened some time ago”.
“Everything is above board, as per the legislation we work under,” she said in a statement.
A council spokesperson highlighted that when assessing development applications they must adhere to state legislation.
"We of course wish to maintain koala habitat. Koalas are extremely important to both our community and our natural environment," they said.
Habitat flattened as environment minister addresses nation
Trees began being bulldozed at the site on Tuesday as Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek addressed the National Press Club, touching on the demise of koalas.
“When we destroy these habitats — and when we don’t restore them elsewhere — endangered creatures lose their homes,” she said.
“And that has consequences.”
Her speech followed the Commonwealth’s long-awaited State of the Environment report, the release of which had been delayed by the Morrison government.
“The previous government was no friend of the environment,” Minister Plibersek said.
“Too many urgent warnings were either ignored or kept secret. But there were other failures too.”
Koala flees to suburban front yard following clearing
While Minister Plibersek was speaking, Lake Cathie resident Susan Monkley was at the development site watching the land clearing begin.
The koala she later filmed climbing down from the tree was resting in the front yard of a nearby house on a residential street as she spoke to Yahoo News Australia.
“Unfortunately, around here, that's where you see them. Which is really sad,” she said.
“It's good that we're seeing them, but it reflects that a lot of the trees they use are actually on streets now.”
While Ms Monkley has praised the conduct of developer Jojeni Group for putting fences up around the koala to protect him and hiring two ecologists, she remains concerned about land clearing across NSW.
“You get a little bit of loss here, a little bit of loss there, a tree here, a tree there,” she said.
“But I don't see any sense of councils, especially around here, actually taking that step back and going: What's the cumulative effect of all of this? And that’s the state government as well.”
Developer tried to give land to council
The state government had originally planned to turn the entire site into a school, however Jojeni Group has permission from the council to develop just 40 per cent of land.
Of the 165 koala feed trees growing among the bush, the company will remove 23 deemed as non-critical.
The remaining 60 per cent of land will be rehabilitated by the company and three feed trees will be planted for each one removed.
While these eucalyptus trees will likely take decades to reach maturity, Jojeni’s Jason Bignell said the company is complying with conditions placed on the site.
He said Jojeni are the only group who have shown “any interest in rehabilitating the site” and “coming up with a balanced result”.
“We’ve caught a myriad and a barrage of hate over this, and we're the only ones who are actually trying to give the koalas a good outcome,” he said.
“If it was left as a school site, they would have had no outcome.”
Mr Bignell said Jojeni offered to gift the ecological section of the site to the council for the enjoyment of the community, but it rejected the offer.
NSW Environment Minister James Griffin, the NSW Department of Planning and the NSW Department of Education have been contacted for comment.
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