WARNING: Distressing image in photo gallery
Wildlife group advocates say six koalas have been killed on Heathcote Road in the last year, including two within a week just last month.
The mounting toll, blamed on “a terrible coincidence of threats”, has led to calls for measures to be taken to protect a colony of koalas in the upper Georges River who move as far as the western fringe of Sutherland Shire.
Members of Georges River Environmental Alliance, Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society and groups from the south-west gathered near Deadmans Creek, Sandy Point, to highlight the situation.
They said the state government, including Roads and Maritime Services, the Army and Sutherland Shire and Liverpool councils all needed to take action.
The campaigners were delighted by an election promise on the weekend by Labor leader Luke Foley to establish a Koala National Park in the Campbelltown area and construct wildlife protection measures such as overpasses, underpasses and fences on Appin Road and Heathcote Road.
Secretary of Georges River Environmental Alliance Sharyn Cullis said the Labor promise needed to be matched by the Liberal Party.
“The future of koalas should not be politicised,” she said.
”Securing the habitat along the upper Georges River would be brilliant, but koalas don't respect lines on maps, so a carefully crafted strategy to allow them to cross roads like Heathcote Road safely is also essential.”
Ms Cullis said the upper Georges River (around Wilton) colony of koalas, which is the only one in NSW free from disease, was believed to number about 400, with hundreds more in the Holsworthy military reserve.
“The population was healthy and growing until this last couple of catastrophic years,” she said.
“There have been at least 23 roadkill koala fatalities on Appin Road since 2010 and we are aware there have been another six deaths on Heathcote Road in the last year or so,” she said.
Ms Cullis said the number of deaths on Heathcote Road was due to “a dreadful coincidence of threats all at once”.
“The vast koala 'safe' habitat of Holsworthy military training area was devastated at its northern end by a fire in April this year,” she said.
“The Rural Fire Service backburn during that emergency, to protect people and properties, unfortunately burnt out further koala refuge areas, and, in August, another vast swathe of land was burnt at the southern end of the military training area.
“We are in drought, the bush is not recovering quickly and koalas appear to be dispersing everywhere in search of sustenance.”
Ms Cullis said one of the two deaths last month occurred on the Deadmans Creek bridge and the other close by on Heathcote Road.
“I have been involved in environmental causes since the early 1990s and I have never felt so sad and so angry,” she said.
Ms Cullis said there should be a natural fauna underpass of Deadmans Creek bridge, flashing warning signs for motorists and the the Army should replace a section of broken fencing.
A spokeswoman for Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) said the authority engaged with WIRES and the NSW Wildlife Council on animal connectivity measures when planning new projects.
“As part of the proposed upgrade of Heathcote Road between Holsworthy and Voyager Point, RMS is investigating measures to increase fauna connectivity within the upgrade area,” she said.
The spokeswoman said, when a replacement bridge was constructed across Deadmans Creek, a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) was carried.
The REF assessed potential impacts on surrounding environments within the project area.
“All stages of project planning considered impacts to flora and fauna and it was determined the replacement bridge maintains fauna access and connectivity along Deadmans Creek underneath the bridge and its approaches,” she said.
The spokeswoman said, in locations where known wildlife corridors existed, RMS was supportive of local councils providing wildlife warning signs to alert drivers to the likely presence of animals.
The Department of Defence said it had “extensive environmental policies and guidelines in place pertaining to threatened fauna such as koalas”.
“Defence’s land management includes the implementing and monitoring of controls on Defence activities to minimise any risk to threatened species,” a spokesman said.
“Defence also participates in the regional koala survey coordinated by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
“Defence uses a variety of boundary control measures depending on the asset being protected, location and terrain.
Boundary control measures are not designed to impede movement of fauna.
Most fencing along the Heathcote Road Training Area boundary is the 2.4-metre cyclone type, topped by barbed wire.
“In the inaccessible steep terrain sections of the boundary a lower three strand cattle fence is used.
Liverpool City Council chief executive Kiersten Fishburn said the council was working with RMS and the Australian Defence Force to support koala populations on land they managed.
“Measures would include the provision of signs warning motorists in areas koalas are most likely to cross,”she said.
“As Heathcote Road is owned and managed by RMS, council does not maintain records of wildlife injuries and fatalities and is only made aware of them when told by members of the community or council staff.”
A spokeswoman for Sutherland Shire Council said the council had been working proactively to learn about and protect the population of koalas that occupied the Wollondilly, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Wollongong, Wingecaribee and Sutherland Shire LGAs.
“Our Environmental Science unit are currently co-supervising a University of Wollongong honours student who is studying local koalas and their movements,” she said.
“We are hopeful that this koala study will provide supporting information that can be used by the RMS when assessing road crossing structures along Heathcote Road.
“At present, Heathcote Road has existing signage to warn drivers that there are koalas in the area.
“However, given Heathcote road is managed by RMS, council has no jurisdiction to increase signage on this road.
“Council considers threatened species in development assessment.
“State government also undertakes habitat mapping which is utilised by local governments when considering development applications.
“ Furthermore, council has mapped key areas of habitat and wildlife corridors which have been incorporated into our innovative Greenweb program.
“This green web helps guide Council decisions throughout the Sutherland Shire regarding development, street tree planting and bush regeneration, to ensure our unique wildlife is protected and conserved.
“Council is open to working collaboratively with local environmental groups, other agencies and surrounding LGAs to protect our local flora and fauna.”