Australia to stop being a world leader in 'mammal extinction'

Under the new policy, 110 "priority species" will be protected over the next 10 years. PHOTO: TOURISM AUSTRALIA

SYDNEY - Australia has revealed a plan to avoid new extinctions in the next decade and protect more than 30 per cent of its land mass, as the government looks to reverse the country's reputation as a global leader in environmental degradation.

An additional 50 million hectares of land will be protected by 2027 under the government's new Threatened Species Action Plan, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Tuesday.

Under the new policy, 110 "priority species" will be protected over the next 10 years, including the koala, the quokka and the northern hairy-nosed wombat

The government has also pledged no new extinctions.

Among the plants and animals listed as threatened are the endangered mildly venomous grey snake of Queensland, the vulnerable small parma wallaby - threatened by bushfires and predators - and the endangered small, wingless matchstick grasshopper, which is sensitive to drought and frequent bushfires.

Listing a species as threatened offers it protection under environment conservation law

'Extinction capital of the world'

Ms Plibersek said Australia was the "mammal extinction capital of the world" at a press conference announcing the new plan in Sydney, adding the country's environmental laws were "not fit for purpose".

"The need for action has never been greater," she said in the statement ahead of the launch. "I will not shy away from difficult problems or accept environmental decline and extinction as inevitable."

Australia has one of the highest rates of species' extinction in the world, driven by the spread of feral animals, climate change and widespread deforestation.

It is estimated that more than a billion animals died in the bushfires that blanketed Australia's east coast in smoke during the summer months of 2020 and 2021.

In February, koalas were officially listed as an "endangered" species by the government for the first time.

Wildlife groups welcomed the government's goal of preventing any new plant or animal extinctions.

The objective "is ambitious but essential if future generations of Australians are to see animals like koalas, mountain pygmy possums, greater gliders and gang gang cockatoos", said the Australian Conservation Foundation's nature programme manager Basha Stasak.

"Stopping the destruction of wildlife habitat is the key to achieving this objective," she said.

She called on the government to strengthen national environment law, saying it had failed to protect animals, plants and ecosystems.

Winners and losers

Scientists have estimated the cost of tackling Australia's "extinction crisis" at A$1.69 billion (S$1.57 billion) a year, Ms Stasak said.

WWF-Australia called for investment in recovery plans for all threatened species.

"Australia's wildlife and wild places have been on a dangerous downward spiral," said WWF-Australia chief conservation officer Rachel Lowry.

She welcomed Australia's target of zero new extinctions, saying it matched the goals of New Zealand and European Union member countries.

Ms Lowry pressed the government to set out and fund a recovery plan for the more than 1,900 threatened species in Australia.

"This plan picks 110 winners," she said. "It's unclear how it will help our other 'non-priority' threatened species such as our endangered greater glider for example." BLOOMBERG, AFP

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