More than one million hectares of threatened species habitat has been lost due to unauthorised clearing by agriculturalists who have failed to follow the law, according to a new analysis by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia.
WWF-Australia said the federal environment department had failed to ensure compliance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which requires anyone having a significant impact on a threatened species to first seek authorisation.
“The destruction of such a large area of threatened species habitat amounts to a huge loss for Australia,” said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor, who conducted the analysis.
Dr Taylor examined the clearing of threatened species habitat in NSW & Qld from 2004 to 2017. The key findings show:
- 1,194,008ha of known or likely threatened species habitat was cleared by all industries
- 1,043,701ha (87.4%) was cleared for agriculture without EPBC referral.
- 1,499ha (0.12%) was cleared for agriculture after a referral.
The EPBC Act, designed to protect biodiversity and species, is undergoing a once-in-a-decade review with an interim report due by 30 June.
Dr Taylor said the interim report must tackle the massive scale of unauthorised destruction of habitat as its highest priority.
“These figures show our environment laws are failing to protect our most vulnerable wildlife. When their forest homes die, the animals die.
“Under the EPBC Act, developers are required to get approval for actions that have a significant impact on threatened wildlife.
“If we allow people to break the rules at this scale, the loss to Australia will be irreversible.
“It is time for everyone to start following the rules, and it is the government’s job to make sure they do so.
“All developers – whether agricultural, mining, urban, or the timber industry – should be held to the same standard of protecting our threatened species from significant impact resulting from their actions.
“There needs to be a level playing field that is fair to all,” Dr Taylor said.
Maps prepared by Dr Taylor show the extent of the unauthorised loss of threatened species habitat caused by agricultural developers, and contrast that with the fraction of a percent that is authorised.
“Little wonder we have so many species like koalas heading towards extinction with so much habitat being destroyed without any authorisation,” Dr Taylor said.
With many habitats having burned during the summer bushfire catastrophe, preventing the destruction of remaining habitats is now more critical than ever.
The Government’s own Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel has highlighted that protecting unburnt refuge areas within burnt landscapes is now a priority.
WWF-Australia is calling on the federal government to introduce a national independent Environmental Protection Authority to ensure that every person, business and industry is doing the right thing by nature.
Note on the data:
Dr Taylor used the state governments’ SLATS detection of forest clearing and their designations of purposes of clearing as the indication that the habitat destruction was for agriculture as opposed to forestry or other purposes.
Threatened species habitat was identified by using habitat maps produced by the federal environment department.