New koala protections for South East Queensland

19 March 2020
Stafford Hopewell, Partner, Brisbane

Koala populations have been in long-term decline in South East Queensland with estimates that koala numbers have decreased by 50-80 percent in key habitat areas over the last 20 years.

To address this situation, the Queensland Government released the draft Koala Conservation Strategy (KCS) in December 2019 and has followed this up with a range of supporting legislative amendments that commenced on 7 February 2020.

The changes made by the Government affect the:

  • Environmental Offsets Regulation 2014
  • Planning Regulation 2017
  • Nature Conservation Plan 2017
  • Vegetation Management Regulation 2012.

A fundamental objective of the KCS is to stop the clearing of koala habitat and ensure that development does not adversely affect koala populations in Koala Priority Areas (KPAs) and Koala Habitat Areas (KHAs).

The new framework is now applied consistently across the South East Queensland region and establishes:

  • where clearing may be prohibited
  • where it is assessable by the State
  • where koala conservation outcomes will be considered by local governments
  • exemptions that may apply.

Inside a KPA, clearing of koala habit areas will be prohibited. Development that does not involve clearing, will be assessed by local governments for koala conservation outcomes, such as safe koala movement. Outside of a Koala Priority Area, developments involving the clearing of koala habitat areas will be assessed by the State Government.

The new koala conservation protections also contain exemptions for the clearing of koala habitat areas in order to balance the need to protect koala habitat with the need to allow some clearing to cater for growth and essential services.

Exemptions for clearing of koala habitat are listed in Schedule 24 of the Planning Regulation 2017, and include, but not limited to the following:

  • a one off exemption of clearing up to a total of 500m2 per lot, which allows landholders to build a house on their block, if no other existing cleared area is available
  • authorised clearing under a development approval for applications made prior to 7 February 2020
  • clearing a safety – establishing a necessary firebreak or management line, and removal of dangerous trees
  • For clearing that is shown on a Property Map of Assessment Vegetation, made before 7 February 2020, as category X vegetation.

From a review the KHA and KPA mapping generally goes far beyond the existing Koala Assessable Development Area mapping that was previously in place. To identify whether your proposed development and or parcel of land falls within a protected area, the State Government have released koala habitat mapping to assist. This mapping uses regional ecosystem and high-value regrowth mapping provided by the Queensland Herbarium. Please refer to the link below or alternatively give us a call to identify if your property is affected by the new mapping.

(https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/living-with/koalas/mapping/koalamaps)

Key takeaway

New clearing controls and development assessment requirements now apply to koala habitat in South East Queensland.

Landowners and developers need to consider the impact of these changes on future development, including whether relevant exemptions may apply to clearing.

Landowners also have a limited ability to seek changes to the mapping of koala habitat areas if they believe that their land has been wrongly mapped.

 


Authored by:

Stafford Hopewell, Partner
Ben Leong, Solicitor

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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