"The wrong decision by council ... wrong decision for koalas," said Total Environment Centre (TEC) Executive Director, Jeff Angel, following Hawkesbury City Council's decision to adhere to the Rural Boundary Clearing Code.
Before council's Ordinary Meeting on Tuesday, June 20, the Sydney Basin Koala Network (SBKN) - established by the TEC and WIRES - asked council to pause the code before it moved forward with the first steps in establishing a Koala Plan of Management for the region.
Introduced in 2020 following the Black Summer Bushfires, the Rural Boundary Clearing Code allows landowners to clear certain vegetation along the boundary of their landholding to reduce the potential for the spread of bush fires.
In the last few months SBKN has held community briefings in the Hawkesbury - the only metropolitan LGA that has opted in to the code - where residents raised issues with the code being exploited for development.
"The spirit of the Rural Boundary Clearing Code was that koala habitat be protected," said Manager of the Sydney Basin Koala Network, Stephanie Carrick.
"It is protected in councils where a Koala Plan of Management is in place. Unfortunately, Hawkesbury is not one of those councils."
Ms Carrick said koala habitat corridors around the region were under threat.
"What the Rural Boundary Clearing Code does is fragment those corridors. So that's why we're so worried about it," she said.
"Because there's only so much koala habitat left there and it's really important for koalas to move from one place to the next, to be able to find a new mate, find a new habitat and for that population to recover."
A motion was moved by Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett at last week's meeting, in relation to the Rural Boundary Clearing Code and the threat to habitat due to the removal of vegetation, and the mapping of koala populations.
Council was against considering opting-out of the code.
SBKN were encouraged to see there was more support than at the previous month's meeting - where a similar motion was raised and voted against.
"Hopefully people are realising that it's a serious issue and that the really important koala population up there are exposed," said Ms Carrick.
"We know that council have committed to doing [a Koala Plan of Management], but so far, they haven't found an avenue for funding for that. We know that it's going to be a lengthy process.
"We just really want to protect the koala habitat ... for a very important koala population that lives there."
Mr Angel said SBKN will be further investigating the legal implications of continuing with the code and will continue to work with the community to raise the issue and convince councillors to suspend the code.
"The code states there must be protection of koala habitat, but in the absence of council providing up to date information and a management plan for koalas, the code is not being properly implemented," he said.
Part of Cr Lyons-Buckett's motion was endorsed. A fine scale map of the koala habitat will be drawn.
"I think there is a willingness from council to protect koalas, but I don't know why they cannot recognise what the issue is.
"How much habitat will be lost in the time it takes them to push through those issues, especially when it's unregulated, and people are exploiting it because they are so close to urban areas, said Ms Carrick."