Since European settlement in Australia more than 10% of our mammal species have become extinct. The two major drivers of this extinction push still operate. The first is land degradation through large-scale clearing, bad fire practices and the impact of introduced weeds. The second is predation by introduced species - cats and foxes.
While governments at the state and federal level have a major responsibility to ensure that our biodiversity and the habitat it needs is protected in the long term, they often perform very poorly because of the belief that protecting the economy and ensuring its growth is far more important than protecting the natural environment. There is little if any understanding that a healthy economy depends on a healthy natural environment because of the services it provides to humanity.
As a result we hear from politicians a great deal about the need for “balance” which usually means the natural environment misses out. It does not have the same loud voices that developers clamouring for attention from politicians have. Protection of our biodiversity is generally poorly funded and is often poorly targeted. And, furthermore, breaches of the limited regulations which are supposed to provide protection are often ignored or lead to “slaps on the wrist” responses. An example of this has been the dealing with flagrant breaches of logging regulations in State Forests on the NSW North Coast over recent years.
On a positive note, the growth of private not-for-profit groups investing in biodiversity protection is providing some hope for stemming the tide of extinctions of small mammals across the nation.
One of these groups is Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) which started in 1991 with the purchase of Karakamia Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Australia. AWC now owns, manages, and works in partnerships with other groups across more than 12.9 million hectares.
A key part of AWC’s success is based on predator-free enclosures in some of their sanctuaries. These are securely-fenced areas where foxes and cats have been removed as well as feral herbivores such camels and goats.
At Scotia the 8,000 ha feral free enclosure has enabled AWC to re-establish self-sustaining populations of four nationally threatened mammals – the Greater Bilby, Numbat, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby and Burrowing Bettong. At Yookamurra’s 1,100 feral free enclosure Bilbies, Numbats, and Burrowing Bettongs as well as the Brush-tailed Bettongs have been successfully re-introduced.
AWC has a project partnership with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service in the Pilliga in north-western NSW. The 35,632 ha project area is in the northern Pilliga forests in the Pilliga National Park and the Pilliga State Conservation Area where a 5,800 ha fox and cat free area has been established. Bilbies (extinct in the wild in NSW since about 1912) from Scotia were released in the fenced area in December 2018. In 2019 Bridled Nailtail Wallabies from Queensland’s Taunton National Park were also released there. Other releases planned include Western Quoll, Western Barred Bandicoot, Brushtailed Bettong and Plains Mouse.
While organisations such as the AWC are undertaking important conservation work to save threatened species from extinction, it is Australia’s three levels of government (federal, state and local government) that have the major responsibility to effectively protect the natural world on which we as humans rely for the services it provides us and all the non-human life forms whose survival also depends on healthy ecosystems.