Wildlife experts have been urged to fast-track their decision on whether koalas are now endangered, amid the unprecedented bushfire crisis.
A panel will also be established to create a recovery plan for the marsupial which was already considered vulnerable before bushfires destroyed key habitats in NSW, Queensland and South Australia.
“Everything that can be done to rescue and recover koala habitat will be done,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley said at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on Monday.
“Including innovative approaches that look at whether you can actually put a koala in an area that it hasn’t come from.”
More than one billion animals are thought to have perished in the fires, prompting the federal government to give wildlife and environmental groups an initial cash injection of $50 million.
The money will be evenly split with $25 million to an emergency intervention fund and $25 million for frontline environmental groups.
Australia’s threatened species commissioner Sally Box will put together the recovery panel which will meet on Wednesday.
The panel will include university experts as well as Zoos Victoria, CSIRO and state and territory representatives.
Dr Box said the panel would consider the impact the fires have had on Australia’s threatened animals, map affected areas and create a long-term plan to restore habitat.
Unburned areas will also be used to help protect animals, including by ensuring feral predators are controlled around the perimeter of properties.
Environmental groups have welcomed the initial money but say much more will be needed as the magnitude of the devastation becomes clear.
Australian Conservation Foundation’s James Trezise says species will need to be safeguarded for the future.
“That means protecting critical habitats, long term funding for recovery actions and stronger national environmental laws,” he said.
The Wilderness Society says Australia’s approach to looking after vulnerable species needs a complete overhaul to ensure they don’t become extinct.
“For over 20 years, Australia’s wildlife and iconic natural places have suffered a death by a thousand cuts under Australia’s failed nature protection system, and these fires may have pushed many species over the brink,” the society’s Suzanne Milthorpe said.
The Greens say the $50 million is “petty cash” given the environmental catastrophe.
“This can’t just be a fluffy PR exercise from the environment minister because the whole world is talking about Australia’s koalas being burnt and killed,” Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said in a statement.
“Our beautiful environment and wildlife is what makes Australia the place people want to come and visit, it deserves more than this token announcement.”
The public response to the plight of animals has been strong, with the WIRES wildlife rescue organisation receiving close to $14 million in online donations.
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