Queensland could look to creating more state parks or setting aside large tracts of vegetation from development as it looks to save the dwindling south-east koala population.
A University of Queensland report found the state had all but lost the battle to save koalas using existing protection measures – which essentially worked on protecting small pockets of habitat within urban areas – with populations continuing to decline.
In announcing $12.1 million in funding over four years to help protect koalas – with the spending to be determined by an expert panel which will include Associate Professor Jonathan Rhodes who led the report detailing the failures – Environment Minister Steven Miles said it was time for a change in thinking.
Part of that change is the set down of on-going funding, which means panel members can count on $2.6 million a year even once the $12.1 million over the next four years runs out – at least until there is a change in government.
But it could also mean a re-think in how we set aside land for koalas, including changes to what land is made available for development moving forward.
"...What we know is the way we have accommodated that increase in population [to date] has seen a very significant drop in koala numbers, we know that," Dr Miles said.
"This is about saying what we can do differently, what can we do differently from a conservation perspective, what can we do differently from a town planning perspective.
"It could well do [mean more State Parks]. Again, I don't want to pre-empt those processed [from the panel] but I think we are likely to focus our effort and investment into larger tracks of what we know is good habitat that can sustain lots of koalas, rather than trying to enforce sparse and stressful habitat protections that aren't, frankly, good for koalas."
Professor Rhodes said a re-think was necessary if koala populations would continue to survive in the south-east.
The koala population dropped by about 80 per cent between 1996 and 2014, the UQ report found, lending an "urgency" to finding an evidence-based solution.
"If you just look at the maths and we see a population decline, if that population keeps declining, keeps continuing, there is only one place we can get to and that is no koalas," Professor Rhodes said.
"We need to arrest that decline to make sure koalas persist in south-east Queensland."
The panel will be put together in the coming weeks, donating their time for the cause, to ensure the $12 million in funding is spent where it is needed most – ensuring the survival of south-east Queensland koala populations.