Koalas: 2000 feared dead in NSW fires

More than 2000 koalas may have died in NSW bushfires.
More than 2000 koalas may have died in NSW bushfires.

Fires burning around NSW have razed koala habitats so extensively "we will probably never find the bodies", an ecologist has told a parliamentary inquiry.

The NSW upper house inquiry on Monday held an urgent hearing into the state's koala population and habitat after this season's unprecedented bushfires burned millions of hectares.

Some 90 fires continue to burn across the state with almost half uncontained.

Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham told the inquiry that koalas in most instances "have no capacity to move fast enough to get away" from running crown fires.

"The fires have burnt so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, but there is such a big area now that is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies," Mr Graham said.

The crown fires which have torn through broad expanses of NSW north coast forest - a known biodiversity hotspot - were unprecedented.

"We've lost such a massive swathe of known koala habitat that I think we can say without any doubt there will be ongoing declines in koala populations from this point forward," Mr Graham said.

Science for Wildlife executive director Dr Kellie Leigh told the hearing there was no resources or planning in place to save koala populations in the Blue Mountains from fires currently threatening the region.

"We're getting a lot of lessons out of this and it's just showing how unprepared we are," Dr Leigh said on Monday.

"There's no procedures or protocols in place ... even wildlife carers don't have protocols for when they can go in after fire."

The Blue Mountains fires have already hit two-thirds of the northern population the organisation has studied and one-third of the Kanangra-Boyd National Park population, Dr Leigh said.

"We're just helpless at the moment. (With) business as usual we have no way to deal with this, no way to manage it."

While 20 koalas have been taken into care "hundreds and hundreds" are being lost to fires in the Blue Mountains.

North East Forest Alliance president and ecologist Dailan Pugh says more than 2000 koalas may have died in the fires with up to one-third of the koala habitat on the north coast lost.

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital president Sue Ashton in October estimated at least 350 koalas would have died in a bushfire in Crestwood based on a predicted 60 per cent mortality rate.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, chair of the inquiry, argues the loss of koalas should be a catalyst for stronger conservation efforts.

"Hearing that we have lost up to a third of koala habitat and more than 2000 koalas on the north coast is utterly devastating and should be a wake-up call for this government," Ms Faehrmann said in a statement on Sunday.

Australian Associated Press