SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Koalas in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) could become extinct by 2050 unless the government immediately intervenes to protect the species and its habitat, the final report of a year-long parliamentary inquiry said on Tuesday (June 30).
Land clearing for agriculture, urban development, mining and forestry had been the biggest factor in the fragmentation and loss of habitat for the animals in NSW, the country's most populous state, over several decades.
A prolonged drought-fuelled bush fire season that ended earlier this year was also devastating for the animals, destroying about a quarter of their habitat across the state, and in some parts by up to 81 per cent.
"The evidence could not be more stark," the 311-page report says. "The only way our children's grandchildren will see a koala in the wild in NSW will be if the government acts upon the committee's recommendations."
The report, commissioned by a multi-party parliamentary committee, makes 42 recommendations, including an urgent census, prioritising the protection of the animal in the planning of urban development, and increasing conservation funding.
The report, however, stopped short of unanimously recommending a moratorium on logging in public native forests, it said.
Mr Stuart Blanch, manager of land clearing and restoration at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia, called on the government to heed the recommendations and strengthen protections for the animals' habitat.
"WWF calls on the NSW Premier to rewrite weak land clearing laws to protect koala habitat, greatly increase funding for farmers who actively conserve trees where koalas live, and a transition out of logging koala forests and into plantations." Mr Blanch said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Ms Gladys Berejiklian, the state premier, said the government would consider the report and respond "in due course", adding it had already committed A$44 million (S$42.17 million) on a strategy to protect the animals.