It is the department's expectation that you refer any proposed project that is likely to impact the koala and/or its habitat. This includes disturbance and/or creation of barriers on areas of land that either contains locally important koala trees, or is land that is provides the means for koalas to move between patches of habitat. As an endangered species, even small areas of habitat loss (as little as 1 Ha) can have a significant impact. If you are unsure about whether you need to refer your project, you can find more information at: Referrals and environmental assessments under the EPBC Act, or you can contact the department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 1800 423 135 between 9 am and 5 pm Canberra time.
This guidance has been developed to support proponents, project managers and consultants when deciding how to engage with the referral and assessment of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
This guidance replaces the previous EPBC Act referral guidelines for the vulnerable koala and associated vulnerable listing policy documents.
On 12 February 2022, the koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) was listed as endangered under the EPBC Act. The koala was previously listed as vulnerable.
The impact of prolonged drought, followed by the black summer bushfires, and the cumulative impacts of disease, urbanisation and habitat loss over the past twenty years has led to koalas in QLD, NSW and the ACT being listing as endangered.
The new listing highlights the challenges the species is facing and ensures that all assessments under the EPBC Act will be considered in terms of their local impacts and regarding the wider koala population.
Projects requiring referral
To assist you to determine your project’s potential impact to the koala and how those impacts can be avoided and mitigated, you can access:
- Protected Matters Search Tool – a free, interactive online website application that can help you identify the potential for protected matters to occur on or near your project’s site.
- Significant Impact Guidelines 1.1 – provides overarching guidance on determining whether an action is likely to have a significant impact on a matter protected under the EPBC Act.
- Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) – a free database that provides information about species and ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act. The SPRAT database provides links to the following:
- Our EPBC Act resources webpage has publications and resources including:
- Identifying koala habitat - This document is intended to support the initial desktop review to identify areas in the landscape that may contain habitat and may need to be referred for approval before an action or project can commence.
- Effects of fire on koalas and their habitat – review of the latest information on the effects of fire on koalas and their habitat and to identify knowledge gaps in currently available peer-reviewed literature. The document aims to provide contemporary information on how fire affects habitat values for koalas at different time scales, how fire regime, size and severity affect koalas, and the implications for post-fire management.
- Revegetating koala habitat - guidelines for revegetating koala habitat that incorporate current knowledge of koala habitat requirements and nutritional ecology from peer-reviewed literature. This document is not intended to provide instruction for growing or planting vegetation per se, although we suggest further reading and resources for this information in Appendix A and B. The aim of this document is to outline and discuss important considerations for revegetation where the goal is to restore or improve koala habitat. This information can be used by landscape managers and restoration practitioners to assess or refine the implementation of revegetation initiatives for koala management and conservation.
- A review of koala habitat assessment criteria and methods – provides information on the koala and their habitat that is relevant for determining whether an area is likely to be koala habitat, reviews the benefits and limitations of current methods for assessing koala presence and abundance, and critically assesses the extent that commonly used criteria for evaluating koala habitat are backed by peer-reviewed research.
Determining an action’s impact on the koala
In self-assessing the potential negative impacts of your action on the koala, you must consider:
- the scale of the action and its impacts
- the intensity of the action and its impacts
- the duration and frequency of the action and its impacts
- the environmental context, for example, the sensitivity, value, quality and size of the environment, the site’s connectivity to other habitats in the broader landscape and its importance in the conservation of the environment
- the nature of the potential impacts that are likely to result from your actions
- whether mitigation measures will avoid or reduce these impacts.
These considerations should be analysed in the context of the endangered species criteria outlined in the Significant Impact Guidelines 1.1 In undertaking a self-assessment, you must document your analysis and retain these records.
If you wish to understand these concepts and how they may apply to your proposed action, you should discuss your project with us via a pre-referral meeting or with a suitably qualified ecologist.
You must avoid impacts to the environment wherever possible.
If environmental impacts resulting from your project are unavoidable, you will need to tell us about your proposed mitigation and offset strategies as part of the assessment process.
The National Recovery Plan for the Koala provides information on direct threats and ecologically threatening processes for the koala.
Following avoidance and mitigation of impacts, any unavoidable significant residual impacts must be compensated for through environmental offsets in accordance with the EPBC Environmental Offsets Policy.
- Offsets are typically designed to improve habitat values, create new areas of habitat and/or improve the connectivity of habitat in the landscape.
Note: While beneficial impacts, such as offsets, cannot be considered at the referral decision stage, considering offsets early can assist in your planning. If it is determined during the assessment stage that offsets are required, early planning for the collection of information, such as baseline data, potential offset options and costs can streamline the assessment process.
What constitutes a ‘significant impact’ on the listed Koala?
The Significant Impact Guidelines 1.1 provide overarching guidance on determining whether an action is likely to have a significant impact on a matter protected under the EPBC Act.
To determine if an action is likely to have a significant impact on an endangered species, you must consider if there is a real chance or possibility that it will:
- lead to a long-term decrease in the size of a population
- reduce the area of occupancy of the species
- fragment an existing population into two or more populations
- adversely affect habitat critical to the survival of a species
- disrupt the breeding cycle of a population
- modify, destroy, remove, isolate or decrease the availability or quality of habitat to the extent that the species is likely to decline
- result in invasive species that are harmful to a critically endangered or endangered species becoming established in the endangered or critically endangered species’ habitat
- introduce disease that may cause the species to decline, or
- interfere with the recovery of the species.
If you think that your project has the potential to result in a significant impact, or you are not sure, it is best to contact us early to discuss your project via a pre-referral meeting.
When might my project not require referral?
Types of actions that involve clearing of koala habitat but which do not generally need to be referred include:
- an action that has been granted an EPBC Act exemption on the grounds that the action is being undertaken to preserve human life or property or prevent those risks
- clearing land for fire emergencies (see Bushfire and national environmental law guide)
- clearing works to reduce the risk of bushfire outside of emergency situations, where the impact is not likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance (see Bushfire and national environmental law guide)
- clearing of individual or small groups (less than 10) of paddock trees, provided that these are not the only dispersal link between patches of habitat (see paddock trees guide)
- certain agricultural activities (see agricultural exemptions guide)
- other minister issued exemptions (see public register).
Under the EPBC Act, an action does not need approval if it is taken in accordance with a Regional Forest Agreement.
For more information on the referral and assessment process under the EPBC Act, visit the Step-by-step guide to our assessment process under the EPBC Act.
If you are new to the EPBC Act process, or require further information, our Stakeholder Information Kit provides information about the EPBC Act and how it may apply to your project.
Learn more about current programs aimed at supporting Koala conservation. This includes establishment of a National Koala Recovery Team, chaired by the Threatened Species Commissioner, to implement the Recovery Plan and coordinate actions by all levels of government, environmental non-government organisations, researchers and the community.
The Australian Government recently committed to $50 million for Koala Conservation and Protection. This investment will support the delivery of many of the actions in the Recovery Plan.
You can request a pre-referral meeting in person, via video or over the phone, to discuss your project.
This will help you to ensure that you understand the assessment process and what you will need to provide.
A pre-referral meeting may assist if:
- you are unsure of the assessment and approval process
- you want to know what type of information and support documents you will need to produce as part of your referral
- you want to discuss possible options available for your project that may reduce the potential for significant impacts on a protected matter, for example planning design and timing or investigate opportunities to pursue an outcomes-based approval.
A pre-referral meeting can occur early in your planning process or when you have a draft version of your referral that you would like an assessment officer to consider.
For information on how to work with us to achieve a smoother, faster referral process and to arrange a pre-referral meeting please refer to Summary information to assist with pre-referral meeting - guidance for proponents and consultants.
Otherwise, you can refer your project directly to us via the EPBC Act Business Portal.