IN DANGER: A long-nosed potoroo being released into the wild.
IN DANGER: A long-nosed potoroo being released into the wild. David Milledge

Highway threatens potoroo: ecologist

INTRODUCING the long-nosed potoroo, an animal soon to be sent scurrying from a forest near you.

Like the koala, this endangered critter is believed to be under dire threat from the proposed Pacific Hwy upgrade route between Ballina and Broadwater.

The route, which was signed off by Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt in August, would cut through the middle of the only thriving population of potoroos on the North Coast.

Local wildlife ecologist David Milledge has done regular biodiversity surveys for the Nature Conservation Council on the Ngunya Jargoon Indigenous Protected Area, administered by the Jali Local Aboriginal Land Council.

"We think it's the only one which has any long-term future on the NSW North Coast because of its size and the amount of habitat that's there," he said.

"All the others are very small and fragmented and they're surrounded by development; they're going under fast.

"These little populations are just hanging in, and you get an accumulation of impacts … and they just drop out."

It could also be a new species or at least a sub-species of the animal due its larger size, and researchers are eagerly awaiting the results of genetic analysis to establish this theory.

"They've been isolated for a long time," Mr Milledge said.

His findings were published in the Australian Zoologist journal last year.

As part of the list of 26 conditions imposed by Mr Hunt, Roads and Maritime Services was required to commission an independent study of the potoroo, which was made available on the RMS website earlier this month.

RMS Pacific Hwy general manager Bob Higgins said potoroos were recorded at 15 sites, including Wardell, Tabbimoble and New Italy.

At one site, the potoroo could not cross the highway safely but a land bridge had been proposed to "improve potoroo habitat connectivity".

Mr Higgins said "every effort will be made to ensure management of threatened species is transparent".

But Mr Milledge was scathing of his assessment of the RMS approach to the potoroos when originally planning the route.

"They ignored this population, basically, when they were choosing their route," he said.

"They didn't allow it to influence the route selection.

"Now they're trying to play catch-up. It should have been considered right at the beginning.

"You can't keep on adding these impacts."

At stake is not just a cute animal, but the health of the entire ecology of Ngunya Jargoon, where scribbly gums thrive thanks to the habits of the animal, in turn feeding valuable pollen to bees and flying foxes.