Joe Stammers manages Wingecarribee Shire Council’s Southern Highlands Koala Conservation Project which aims to better understand the local koala population and help inform local land management activities.
"Until we started the koala data and tracking program in 2014 many people, including long-term residents, didn’t realise that koalas lived in the Southern Highlands.
However, four years after we established the program, we now have an engaged community proud to live side by side with wild koalas.
Following a series of devastating bushfires that occurred in the north of the Shire in 2013, Council began receiving calls from residents surprised to see koalas on their property or in public spaces.
We thought: ‘Now is the time to develop a comprehensive understanding of the koala population in our region.’
With the backing of Council and support from the Office of Environment and Heritage, we embarked on a comprehensive koala and vegetation survey that included over 700 spotlight searches across a 2700-kilometre area the size of the Sydney basin.
The results of the survey were astounding, and we now estimate the Southern Highlands is home to around 3700 koalas – approximately 10% of the NSW wild koala population.
When we announced the results of the survey to the community it generated considerable excitement throughout the Southern Highlands and continues to encourage us in our work.
What the Southern Highlands Koala Conservation Project highlights is the value of data.
Our data has been fundamental in the development of the Green Web, a project which maps high-value environmental land across the Shire, including important wildlife corridors. The Green Web project will help us identify the habitat that koalas and other wildlife need to survive and thrive.
This project wouldn’t have been possible without support from Government and the private donations of local residents who love the koala. Our Council also introduced an Environmental levy almost 20 years ago that helps support a team of environmental professionals. Not only does the levy provide support for environmental projects, but it means ratepayers now encourage and expect that the Council plays a leading role in conserving our local environment.
I’m proud of the work we are doing in the Southern Highlands. We want the Wingecarribee Shire to become a koala haven and ensuring we have robust data on our local koala population means we will be able to make more informed decisions about planning and future development.”