Lorraine Vass is a koala conservationist and past president of Friends of the Koala, a community group dedicated to protecting koalas and their habitats in the Northern Rivers since 1986. Her work focused on forming partnerships and alliances to help educate people about koalas, and she has helped build the organisation into what it is today.
Congratulations to Lorraine who was acknowledged in the 2021 Australia Day honours for her significant service to koala conservation.
"I’m really an accidental koala conservationist.
When Rick and I bought our retirement property at Wyrallah near Lismore we discovered the majestic trees surrounding the house were koala food trees. Weeks later we saw our first koala and decided to join Friends of the Koala, the local koala rehabilitation group.
Rick was more interested in hands-on koala rescue and care than me. But when we were entrusted with caring for orphaned koala joeys I was happy to help. However, the more I talked to people, and the more I read and learned, it became clear that my skills were more suited to building the organisation and opening hearts and minds to the koala’s plight.
In 2002 I was elected president and over 15 successive terms, I worked with Friends of the Koala’s committees to develop the strategic, holistic approach to koala conservation that has become the group’s strength.
So, what have we achieved?
We haven’t saved the region’s koalas – yet.
Some sub-populations have declined or disappeared altogether in the face of urbanisation and agricultural activity while others appear to have stabilised and may even be thriving.
We’ve worked hard at forging partnerships and alliances so that locals and community leaders know a lot more about the koalas we live with.
Friends of the Koala has helped to shape comprehensive koala management plans or strategies that are now being implemented by Lismore, Tweed, Byron and Ballina councils.
In early 2017 we presented our Regional Koala Communication Plan to the mayors and general managers of the six member councils of the Northern Rivers Joint Organisation, asking decision-makers in all levels of government to stop habitat destruction and to help fund the recovery of viable populations.
This type of work involves gathering and presenting factual information, respect, goodwill, patience and optimism. Developing research findings into management policy is challenging and disappointments are inevitable – the important thing is to hang in; chip away.
More than ever, koala conservation is highly political because in so much of the koala’s remaining habitats we humans are competing for space.
Working with governments is a vital part of harnessing the resources necessary to encourage and support local communities to come together and save their koalas. Political will and a strong policy framework are needed to make long-term progress in conserving koala populations.
Across the Northern Rivers region, local koala conservation groups like Friends of the Koala and others are flourishing.
With help from councils, more landholders are planting trees now.
So many people are finding ways to help: taking more notice of the koalas living around them and feeling proud of their effort in the conservation of a national icon.”