Australia's most "at risk" koala populations will now be protected under national threatened species legislation, federal environment minister Tony Burke announced this morning.
Mr Burke said koala populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT will be listed as a vulnerable species under national environment law. But the listing will not include koalas in South Australia and Victoria, where populations "are eating themselves out of suitable foraging habitat and their numbers need to be managed," he said.
One of Australia's top koala scientists University of Central Queensland ecologist Professor Alistair Melzer has welcomed the listing as " a big step forward" but warned more will need to be done to protect koala habitat and deal with threats such as roadkill and dog attacks in urban areas.
"The listing alone will not save the koala," he said.
"It's basically a label that says we've got to a point where koalas are in serious trouble and need careful management if they're going to survive."
Professor Melzer has previously called for the introduction of a federal report card to rank progress made in koala conservation and ensure koala research is properly funded. He said the report card would present a state-by-state analysis of habitat loss, roadkill statistics, data on dog attacks and a progress report on scientific research in areas such as climate change and disease.
Mr Burke's announcement follows almost a decade of lobbying by scientists, local landcare groups and wildlife carers to have the koala listed under federal threatened species legislation. Last year, a Senate environment inquiry into the conservation status of the koala called for a $36 million funding boost for koala disease research. The inquiry, chaired by NSW Labor Senator Doug Cameron, was the first of its kind in Australia - a comprehensive parliamentary report on a single species.
Mr Burke said his decision to list the koala under national environment protection law followed a rigorous scientific assessment by the federal government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee which gathered information from a variety of experts over the past three years.
"People have made it very clear to me that they want to make sure the koala is protected for future generations," he said.
"'Koala populations are under serious threat from habitat loss and urban expansion, as well as vehicle strikes, dog attacks, and disease. However, koala numbers vary significantly across the country, so while koala populations are clearly declining in some areas, there are large, stable or even increasing populations in other areas."
Mr Burke said the government had allocated $300,000 of new funding under the National Environmental Research Program Emerging Priorities to find out more about koala habitat.
"This funding will be used to develop new survey methods that will improve our knowledge of the quality of koala habitat using remote sensing, and help fill important data gaps to enhance our understanding and ability to protect the species," Mr Burke said.
"The new funding is in addition to more than $3 million we have invested since 2007 to ensure the resilience and sustainability of our koala population."