Michelle Reed


Tue, 14 Jul, 2015

Threatened Australian wildlife at grave risk from habitat loss, study finds

Threatened Australian wildlife at grave risk from habitat loss, study finds

A new study shows that successive governments have failed to protect the habitat of our most endangered species. At present 90 per cent of the 120 most endangered animals have no safeguards in place to prevent the loss of their homes.

Environmental groups have analysed the data and found that just 12 of the 120 most endangered animals in Australia have plans in place that limit the future loss of their natural habitats. This is despite the fact that habitat loss due to housing and mining is seen as the main threat to the majority of these endangered species.

The report, compiled by the Australian Conservation Foundation, BirdLife Australia and Environmental Justice Australia, found that governments consistently avoid giving limits for habitat loss.

James Trezise, policy coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the report’s findings are “worrisome”.

“Recovery plans can bind future decision making for governments,” he said. “We’ve seen examples where scientific advice has been given to governments on habitat loss, such as the swift parrot in Tasmania, and it has been ignored.

“We know that land clearing is a key threat and recovery plans need to state unambiguously that the best bits of remaining bush should be left intact.”

Even more evidence was found that the recommendations for protection of habitats are being ignored for specific at-risk species. Habitat loss is clearly outlined in the recovery plan for the endangered southern cassowary, however no action was taken to reduce the amount of land cleared. At the same time, threats to habitat loss are outlined in the recovery plan for the Carnaby’s black cockatoo, yet a focus on providing offsets for cleared land has in fact caused its numbers to decline, the report finds.

With almost half of Australia’s forests having been cut down or severely disturbed since Europeans arrived, much of the natural habitats of a wide range of species have disappeared or been devastated.

Australia is home to over 5 per cent of the world’s plant and animal species. Of these, 87 per cent are found nowhere else in the world.  It’s worth noting that Australia also has one of the worst extinction rates in the world, having lost 50 species in the past 200 years.

At present the federal government lists 1,764 Australian species as being threatened to some degree.

“Extinction is a choice,” said Samantha Vine, head of conservation at BirdLife Australia. “Where we’ve tried in the past, Australia has been remarkably successful at recovering threatened species. In many cases averting extinction has been straightforward and relatively inexpensive.

“Securing and improving existing habitats for threatened species is one of the most powerful and cost effective conservation tools at our disposal.”

A threatened species summit is being held by the federal government in coming weeks to discuss options for turning these statistics around. Topics of discussion for the government ministers and conservationists include the predation of mammals by feral cats.

Gregory Andrews, the national threatened species commissioner, said the government is set to launch a threatened species strategy that will finally look at habitat loss and improving recovery plans.

“Given the animals and plants at risk, and losses we have already endured, a strategic response is required,” he said.

“And by working on the basis of science, focusing on practical action and partnering as broadly as possible, I’m confident that it’s possible.”

Mr Trezise summed up the issues by saying: “Threatened species protection isn’t just about feral cats. It’s about a diverse range of pressures and the biggest threat is habitat clearance. We have a choice – we either accept that we put developments in less environmentally sensitive areas or we will have species go extinct.”

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