The Australian government has announced a new strategy to protect iconic koalas around the country.
Sussan Ley, the minister for the environment, said that a national koala population census will be undertaken to identify critical habitat areas and protect them under the new strategy.
“This is a line in the sand; we’re ruling a line under where we are on koalas right now,” she said on Monday.
“We are doing this because it needs to happen. I have been so frustrated that no one could give me the data I required… It’s just not there – only in patches.”
“I don’t think there’s been enough national leadership on this iconic species before.”
The policy includes 14 million Australian dollars (10.2 million U.S. dollars) in funding for habitat restoration and 4 million for koala health research and the census.
It will also make it mandatory for state and territory governments to report on koala populations and conservation strategies annually.
The government will use the data collected in the initial census to prevent state and territory governments from weakening habitat protection, potentially putting the federal government on a collision course with state planning regimes for agricultural land clearing and urban development.
Helene Marsh, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee chair, described the census as a “very significant move,” saying that there were “lots of places where koalas occur where we know very, very little” about the population.
“It will enable us to have the empirical data on what are the most important populations in the region, and will set a firm baseline for trends,” she said.
“It will put the whole koala strategy at the national level on a completely different footing than it’s been in the past.”