Market News

 July 09, 2015
Threatened Australian wildlife at grave risk from habitat loss, study finds

 Successive Australian governments have failed to protect the habitat of the country's most endangered creatures, with 90% of the 120 most endangered animals having no safeguards to prevent the loss of their homes, a new study has found.

An analysis by environmental groups of the official recovery plans for Australia's endangered wildlife has discovered that just 12 of the 120 most endangered animals were covered by plans that placed limits on the future loss of their habitat.

This is despite the fact that habitat loss due to developments such as housing and mining is considered to be the primary threat to nearly 70% of these at-risk species.

The report, compiled by the Australian Conservation Foundation, BirdLife Australia and Environmental Justice Australia, states that recovery plans consistently avoid any measures to limit habitat loss and that successive governments have "entrenched the process of extinction".

James Trezise, policy coordinator for the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the 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."

The report highlights how habitat loss is discussed in detail in the recovery plan for the endangered southern cassowary, only for the plan to fail to direct any curb on land clearing. Similarly, directions on habitat loss aren't clearly articulated for the swift parrot or Proserpine rock wallaby.

Meanwhile, the Carnaby's black cockatoo does have a recovery plan that stresses the danger of habitat loss, but a focus on providing offsets for cleared land has exacerbated its decline, the report finds.

Around half of all of Australia's forests have either been cut down or severely disturbed since European arrival on the continent, meaning the habitat of a vast array of species has become fragmented or vanished.

Australia contains more than 5% of the world's plants and animals, with 87% of them endemic, meaning they aren't found anywhere else on Earth. However, the country has one of the worst extinction records in the world, with 50 species vanishing in the past 200 years, including 27 mammal species.

A total of 1,764 Australian species are listed by the federal government 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."

The federal government is holding a threatened species summit in Melbourne next week to look at how to turn around Australia's worrying loss of fauna and flora. The gathering of government ministers and conservationists is expected to focus on a range of threats, most notably the predation of mammals by feral cats.

Gregory Andrews, the national threatened species commissioner, said the government will also launch an ambitious threatened species strategy that will 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."

Trezise said: "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."