Baird government to axe Native Vegetation Act

Koalas and other iconic wildlife are vanishing from our bushland as the trees they call home continue to be cleared for farmland. They’re plastered across our tourism brochures, yet government policies are putting them at risk.
The NSW Baird government is scrapping the Native Vegetation Act – one of the most important protections for koalas in our state.  While the focus remains on native vegetation, a real and important issue is the wildlife, and ecological systems, that inherently belong to these habitats.  It’s assumed they will just “move on” and re-home themselves conveniently elsewhere!   The “elsewhere” is getting harder and harder to find.

The Native Vegetation Act 2003 (the Act) frames the way landholders manage native vegetation in NSW by preventing broadscale clearing unless it improves or maintains environmental outcomes.

Data collated by the Productivity Commission for their review of native vegetation regulation found that a decline in overall clearance did take place from the early 1980s to the early 2000s in all Australian states and territories (Productivity Commission 2004)  However, of the 74,000 hectares of land cleared in New South Wales in 2005, 40 percent (ie 30,000ha) was cleared illegally (ie without prior approval; NSW AOG 2006).

In 2003, the NSW Government pledged $3.5m to establish a satellite monitoring system in the state (although some parties have claimed the receiving department did not end up using the money for this purpose; The Wilderness Society 2008).

A biodiversity report released last December contained 43 recommendations for significant change, including repealing the Native Vegetation Act and other legislation that had been plaguing farmer productivity for decades.  It also recommended streamlining of development assessment where land use change can occur, which places farming development on an even playing field with other types of development.  It’s commercial interests, of profit-increasing, over conservation and protection of biodiversity.  Instead of a triple bottom-line, the bottom line will be profits, developments and economic progress!

Key to the proposal is the removal of the requirement that land clearing only be allowed if it improves or maintains environmental outcome, and shifting approval for vegetation clearing to the planning system.  North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) spokesperson Dailan Pugh said most rural councils had yet to identify or map high-conservation value vegetation for protection and, where they had ,the National Party had intervened to stop it.

A host of environmental groups, including World Wildlife Fund  and the National Parks Association, condemned the review of the state’s biodiversity legislation for neutering the office of environment and say it will lead to wide-scale land clearing and loss of species.

The review panel report that recommended this backward legislation also recommended conserving habitat at a regional or even state scale. Farmers, it said, had been left to carry an unfair share of responsibility for preserving nature in the state. “Regional or State” level is a way of leaving it up to individuals, who will probably be loaded with conflicts of interests! It’s political abandonment, to make way for housing and urban growth.

Of course the National Party and the farmers will welcome this news, and gives them more license for land clearing and short-term profits.
Mr Evans, chief executive of NSW National Parks Association, said the rate of land-clearing from agriculture had fallen 68 per cent since the Native Vegetation Act was passed in 2003. So, the Act was working!

The Wilderness Society NSW Campaign Manager Belinda Fairbrother said: “Weakening wildlife protection laws will place our threatened species in peril at a time when bold action is required to reverse the ongoing decline in our state’s rich biological diversity… We are resolutely opposed to any weakening of our state’s wildlife protection and land clearing laws”. Backward Australia will be more cleared at a time of multiple environmental and climate change threats, and will be a the cost of long term sustainability, and ultimately more food security threats.

“The Native Vegetation Act is among the most important nature conservation laws in NSW because it protects so much of the state’s wildlife like koalas and gliders from indiscriminate destruction. “If new laws weaken protections for land and wildlife, Mike Baird will be remembered as the Premier who took us back to the dark days of broadscale land clearing” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.

(image: paddock containing remnant native vegetation:CSIRO )

Labor leader Luke Foley said native animals, birds and native bushland would be the losers after the Government said it would implement all 43 recommendations of a review of the state’s biodiversity legislation, completed last year.

Sydney’s urban sprawl had wiped out market gardens on peripheral land since first settlement. The problem now is Sydney’s expansion has reached the last phase, where in 20 to 50 years the sprawl will eradicate unprotected farms. So, instead of containing the limits of population growth, more land clearing will “fix” the problem, and mow down the constraints of trees, grasslands and bush in the path of “progress”.

Australia continues to have a net loss of biodiversity and the United Nations reports that we are entering an extinction crisis. What does this government and some farmers have against a healthy environment?
Contradictorily, at the same time as the government is establishing a $100 million survival fund to stop a ‘race to extinction’! The commitment was made after Opposition Leader Luke Foley promised $150 million to create new national parks including a Great Koala National Park on the north coast — as a nod to the NSW Labor Party’s preference allies the Greens. It’s easy to make political promises, throw out spin, and money to environmental problems, but actually have tight laws and policies protecting native vegetation and wildlife is far to holistic and intrinsic for slippery politicians who pander to lobby groups.


End of the line for the tiny Mallee Emu-Wren?

Inappropriate fuel-reduction could see more losses of threatened species.

In late January, 2014, after wildfires tore through two conservation parks in South Australia, researchers scoured the charred terrain for signs of life.  Tragically, they found nothing; only the charred silence of an empty, burnt landscape!  The 60 remaining breeding pairs of Mallee emu-wren (Stipiturus mallee) in South Australia had been lost and the species was now extinct in the state.

The fires ignited in two conservation parks in South Australia’s Mallee region that were home to the only remaining South Australian populations of the endangered Mallee Emu-wren, and another fire in the Victorian mallee, 12 kilometres southwest of Ouyen, burnt the entire 13,000-hectare reserve that was one of two small populations in Victoria of the endangered Black-eared Miner.

The only remaining population in the world of Mallee Emu Wren occurs at a single area in north-western Victoria. They became extinct in South Australia last summer after wildfires burnt them out.


The fact that we lost several significant bird populations in fires linked to a single heat wave event highlights just how vulnerable many of these species are,” says ecologist Dr Rohan Clarke from Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences.

(image: Mallee Emu-wren)

There is nothing left of an emu-wren after a fire, not even a pile of ash,” says Professor Michael Clarke, head of Life Sciences at La Trobe University. These tiny birds are unable to flee an approaching fire, and any that survive the flames have nowhere to live after the fire has passed. He says that “the Mallee region, which is home to less than 3 per cent of the state’s at-risk population, has been repeatedly targeted for planned burns in recent years, with up to 17 per cent of the program being held in that area. Ironically, the Mallee does not have high human populations! Government agencies will choose the least risky areas and the more convenient areas to burn, to complete their target, rather than protect human lives and property.

According to Birdlife Australia, the Victorian Government (Lib) stands accused of all but guaranteeing the extinction of threatened Mallee birds as a consequence of its bushfire prevention policy. The Mallee emu-wren, in particular, was just one fire away from being wiped from the planet. At the end of last year, 2014, there were at total of 314 in Australia – and five of them, including the Victorian Murray Mallee, are in danger of losing the species for which The Mallee was one of the most important sites for birds in the world!

In 2006, it was estimated that less than 3000 Mallee Emu-wrens remained and are mainly restricted to conservation zones. With a highly fragmented habitat, each of the five or six isolated populations is particularly vulnerable to being wiped out by fire.

After the devastation of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission set a yearly target to burn five per cent of public land to reduce bushfire risk across the state.

Birdlife Australia’s head of conservation, and Guy Dutson, a world authority on birds of the south-west Pacific region, says “cannot be reburnt for at least 15 to 20 years”.

The Mallee Emu-wren is about 10 to 15 cm in length and has a mass of 4 to 6.5 g. The adult male has a black bill and the adult female has a dark brown bill, but both sexes have dark-brown irides and pinkish-brown legs and feet. The Mallee Emu-wren occurs in mallee regions south of the Murray River, in south-eastern South Australia and north-western Victoria. The decline of the Mallee Emu-wren has mainly been due to the extensive loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat caused by broad-scale clearing and fire.

Despite the listing of the Mallee emu wren under the Flora and Fauna Act, the Victorian Coalition failed to develop an action plan for its protection despite a massive expansion of native forest burning under the banner of “hazard reduction” burning! In fact most of the Mallee burning in remote areas contributes little to improving the safety of lives and property, but is about fulfilling government targets!

BirdLife Australia welcomed the announcement in February this year that the Federal Government will fund a program to protect the birds. The announcement builds on the outcomes of an Emergency Summit which BirdLife Australia hosted last year. The program will create an insurance population could be a lifesaver. Mallee Emu-wren and Black-eared Miner (VIC) got $110,000! However, a captive “insurance” population can’t replace species living where they naturally live, to further be extinguished on release by fires! It’s a band-aid, politically-motivated token, rather that the holistic approach of actually protecting the birds in their natural habitats!

Australian wildlife, along with insects, and fungi,once played a key role in ensuring ‘cool’ burns rather than the all-devastating wildfires. The loss of leaf eating moths, dung beetles and a variety of leaf and coarse woody debris recycling insects is contributing to a potentially high frequency fire cycle. The torching of wildlife, assumed to be collateral damage to keep “us” safe, is barbaric, anthropocentric, and will fuel more fires by working against Nature, rather than with it.

Habitat clearance and degradation has been the major threat to Black-eared Miners. Old growth mallee is the preferred habitat of Black-eared Miners, and they prefer habitat that has not been burnt for 40 years or more.


Burning to stop more burning” could give Victorian residents a false sense of security that their State is fire-safe, when the burning has occurred in environmentally-sensitive areas without contributing anything to protect human lives and their assets.


(image: Black-eared Miner)


1 in 10 wild bees faces extinction in Europe, study warns

Nearly 10 percent of some 2,000 species of European wild bees face extinction, says a recent study, adding that the drivers behind such a mass disappearance of nature’s top pollinators include the use of insecticides, fertilizers, and climate change.

“Overall, 9.2 percent of bees are considered threatened in Europe, while at the EU-27 level, 9.1 percent are threatened with extinction,” says a new report published as a part of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) European Red List of Bees project.

Each year, the service of crop pollination that bees provide, helping plants reproduce, is worth billions of dollars in Europe alone. Around the world, a third of food people eat comes from plants pollinated by wild bees and other insects. Now, at least 9.2% of Europe’s wild bee species now face extinction; another 5.2% will soon join them. Bees are critical pollinators: they pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops.

The spread of large-scale farming—both of crops and livestock—is depriving more and more wild bees of their natural habitats.

In recent decades, an average of 2.4 mammal and bird pollinator species annually have moved towards extinction in the IUCN Red List category, which represents a significant increase in extinction risk across this set of species.

The IUCN paper said that sources of food and forage for pollinators have been hit hard by intensive silage production at the expense of hay-cropping. The widespread use of insecticides and herbicides has also reduced the availability of flowers and promoted rank grassland, which is low in flowering plants and legume species.

On the other hand, a disappearing North American bumblebee species has reemerged in Washington state, stunning scientists and conservationists who long feared that “Beemageddon” would cause the collapse of the agriculture industry. Scientists have attributed bumblebee declines to parasites, pesticides and habit fragmentation. They now wonder whether the species has developed a resistance to a deadly fungus, thereby repopulating the Pacific Northwest. With the reemergence of the Bombus occidentalis in Washington state, “Beemageddon” might be delayed?

Along with climate change, the spread of large-scale farming—both of crops and livestock—is depriving more and more wild bees of their natural habitats. Increasing intensification of livestock farms that have led to large-scale loss and degradation of habitat for bees. We are getting mono-cultures of species, for human food production, which is destroying biodiversity, the “rivets” that hold our ecosystems together! The system feeding humanity keeps growing, but it keeps growing more precarious.

The varroa destructor is a parasitic mite that attacks honey bees. Around the world it has already reduced honey bee numbers and affected food crop pollination.

There are over seven billion people living on Earth at this very moment. In Earth’s history five mass extinctions of species have occurred, the most famous extinction is thought to have been caused by an asteroid, but the present sixth extinction is caused by none other than human-beings. Across the board, livestock production is the number one cause of global climate change. Animal agriculture is responsible for 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia is not immune! Intensifying and expanding agriculture, biodiversity loss, and more people and goods moving around the world are the “megatrends” driving what we have called “megashocks” new outbreaks of diseases and pests. Australia’s agriculture sector is already constrained by limited soil and water resources and future intensification will bring its own challenges through herbicide resistance and more intensive animal production systems. We rely on some species for the services they provide, such as the European honeybees which pollinate our largely non-indigenous crops.

Sadly our bee populations are decreasing. As we clear land for urban develop, remove plants and use pesticides we are causing our bee populations to be under threat of extinction. By sheer luck (and remoteness), Australia is yet to report the presence of the varroa mite destructor. It has not yet appeared in Australia but scientists have warned the mite has the potential to devastate Australia’s agriculture sector.


Albert Einstein prophesied that, were bees to become extinct, humans would follow within four years.

By removing animal products from your diet, or at least lowering your consumption of these products, you can help to reduce the demand for livestock and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production.

Farewell Shorebirds: Are you up for the challenge?


Right now over five million shorebirds are migrating from Australia to breed in the Arctic – for some that’s the equivalent of doing 309 consecutive marathons with only one or two drink stops along the way. And what’s more, once they have nested and raised their young, they turn around and do it all again.

From 21 March – 19 April, BirdLife Australia will be celebrating its annual migratory shorebird event, Farewell Shorebirds We are challenging Australians to join the birds, by registering their human-powered kilometres against the bird-powered kilometres. Do we as a nation have what it takes to walk, jog, cycle or swim as far as these incredible birds?

As well as registering your kilometres for the shorebirds, we are encouraging Australians to follow the departure of eight popular shorebirds through our online Departure Lounge. It includes the Bar-tailed Godwit from the Hunter Estuary in NSW, the Curlew Sandpiper from Point Cook in Victoria, the Eastern Curlew from Queensland’s Moreton Bay, the Greater Sand Plover and the Red Knot from the Broome Bird Observatory in WA, the Great Knot from Lee Point in Darwin, the Red-necked Stint from Barrow Island in WA, and the Ruddy Turnstone from South Australia.

(image: Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis) winter plumage, Marion Bay, Tasmania, Australia.)

To be a part of this exciting event head to the website, log your distance travelled each day, help reach the national target, learn about shorebirds and go into the draw to win some incredible prizes!

Click Here- Farewell Shore Birds  


David Packham, former bushfire CSIRO scientist, urges increase in fuel reduction burns

After the devastation of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission set a yearly target to burn five per cent of public land to reduce bushfire risk across the state.

According to former CSIRO bushfire scientist, David Packham, forest fuel levels have worsened over the past 30 years because of “misguided green ideology”, vested interests, political failure and mismanagement, creating a massive bushfire threat.

He is arguing that unless the annual fuel reduction burning target, currently at a minimum of 5 per cent of public land, “is doubled or preferably tripled, a massive bushfire disaster will occur”!

Rather than Victoria’s “failed forest management” being a threat, our State’s excessive and draconian response of 5% to be burnt each year is itself a threat to forest environments. He said forest fuel levels had climbed to their most dangerous level in thousands of years. We must live with Nature, not destroy it with draconian “management”.

This expert is failing to see the forests for the trees, and seems to think that the wholesale destruction of forests, with more burning, will “save” them – in a maligned effort to protect human lives and assets?

Many academics are promoting fire for forestry and mining. The Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre shares a chairman with the cooperative Research Centre Mining and the forestry Co-operative research Centre based at Tasmania University.

State agencies will choose the easiest route of randomly burning sensitive environments, to fill quotas, and in the process kill off flora, fauna and habitat features as mere collateral damage!

Reports published by the CSIRO and BirdLife Australia cite “inappropriate fire regimes” as threatening more than 50 Australian mammal and 50 Australian bird species.

They concede that to some extent the old adage ‘fight fire with fire’ applies. Used well, fire is an effective, economical tool for land managers.
Reintroduction of occasional fire into some landscapes, and return to a finer mosaic of burning, will not prevent wildfires; it may, however, reduce their impact, by maintaining fire-dependent habitat and
protecting fire-sensitive birds. Kakadu National Park, subjected to decades of management burning, has all but lost its fauna from too frequent fire, which is likely the cause of the loss of the hollow dependent Gouldian Finch from vast areas of its frequently burned former range.


(image:”GouldianFinches” by Nigel Jacques (Kris) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

The original forests of Gippsland were not flammable, settlers of Fish Creek were not able to burn the forest to clear land until the railway line was cut through, bringing in a ‘draft’. This is a common story Australia wide in formerly wet forested areas.

Climate change is also said to be playing a role, with the biennial Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO State of the Climate Report 2014 finding that rising greenhouse gas emissions are causing fire seasons to lengthen and are contributing to an increase in the number of fire risk days, particularly in the south-east of Australia.

Bill Gammage is an Adjunct Professor at the Humanities Research Centre, studying Aboriginal land management at the time of contact. He has convinced quite a few environmentally concerned people through his book ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ that regular burning is needed. It contains many fundamental flaws and represents ‘blind advocacy’ for repeated burning’ because ‘Aboriginal people did it’. Mooney et. al. examined over 200 sediment cores of 70,000 years or more of age to determine fire frequency. They found that fire frequency increased 50 fold with the arrival of Europeans.

However, more fires to fight fire is like using a sledge hammer to drive in a tack, or killing fleas on a dog with a shotgun!

Joel Wright, a Gunditjmara Linguist, has found no evidence of landscape burning in the Victorian western district but outlined the use of fire for smoke signals, and as an effective weapon against settlers. Research shows that fires have increased 50 fold since European settlement, so “fuel reduction” to make the bush less flammable seems to be having the opposite effect.

Natural ecological functions have always existed to limit fires, such as fungi, bacteria, insects, native species, high forest densities and tree canopies.

The Andrews government will review the minimum 5 per cent burning target in response to a Inspector-General’s report. Five years ago, both major parties backed the “minimum of 5 per cent” target, a key recommendation of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission held after Black Saturday.

Fire management needs to be multidisciplinary, and not simply about human welfare, stock and property assets. The timing of the burns should also take heed of breeding times and seasons for the species present, particularly those that are already rare or threatened due to the loss of habitat, food or human encroachment. We need to work out how we carry out our works without disturbing the nesting, roosting and breeding times for those animals in that immediate areas near human settlements.

Fire management needs to be optimised and based on where the greatest risks are, not on the metrics of hectares or percentages of Victoria’s landscape.


IFAW- Action Alert for Victoria’s koalas

You were probably deeply saddened at the news recently that nearly 700 koalas had been euthanased in Cape Otway, by the previous Victorian government.

Ask the new Victorian government to improve its approach to protecting koalas!

The tragic end for these koalas could have been avoided by better management. The high number of koalas in Cape Otway is a direct result of a long series of well-intentioned but ultimately misguided earlier translocations from small islands.

Sadly, this is just one example of how we’re letting down our national icon.

Another koala catastrophe is unfolding in the south west of the state. If not addressed now, it could result in a far worse situation on a much larger scale. Many thousands of koalas inhabit timber plantations there and many are killed or suffer horrific injuries in logging operations.

When the plantations are harvested, these koalas are then left hungry and homeless with nowhere to go.

We need a new approach to koalas in Victoria and across the nation. It’s not just about ensuring that each plantation is logged carefully to protect wildlife.

We desperately need to build a system of secure koala habitats and connectivity between habitats, so that animals can move between areas as logging happens so that they don’t end up marooned.

The new Victorian government is promising a new more transparent approach and a special koala management plan.

Let’s hold them to that promise. We need urgent action to help our national icon.

Thank you so much for your support.

Best wishes,

Isabel McCrea
Director, IFAW Oceania

Take Action Now

(featured image: “Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala resting in tree fork)”.jpg Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons)