Threatened species that escaped Australia’s devastating bushfires are under threat from land clearing and logging, but a powerful new partnership aims to protect them.
In a new report, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has identified six landscapes on the east coast that include areas of unburnt habitat serving as vital refuges for threatened plants, animals, and ecological communities.
Such is the importance of saving these intact areas of forest, WWF-Australia and the Environmental Defenders Office today announced the ‘Defending The Unburnt Six’ signature partnership.
The collaboration is part of WWF-Australia’s Regenerate Australia plan – the largest wildlife and nature regeneration program in the nation’s history – which includes the ambition to save and grow two billion trees by 2030.
WWF-Australia is funding EDO solicitors to help the community use existing federal and state laws to protect the six landscapes identified in the map below, as well as working to improve those laws.
“WWF is pleased to partner with the EDO to defend intact habitat. Areas of unburnt forest are now more precious than gold. They should be safe havens for surviving threatened species,” said Rachel Lowry, Chief Conservation Officer, WWF-Australia.
“Yet despite the impact of fires on wildlife habitat, media reports highlight that unburnt landscapes are under threat from forestry operations and land clearing. Logging in priority areas should cease for at least two years while threatened species and ecological communities are assessed,” she said.
Ms Lowry said while the EDO focuses on legal avenues for protection, WWF-Australia will advocate for up-listing of threatened species and ecological communities that have an increased risk of extinction after the fires.
“Some threatened species have had more than 90% of their mapped known or likely-to-occur habitat impacted by fire. So protecting what remains is crucial, particularly for areas outside national parks or not yet with regulatory protection,” Ms Lowry said.
EDO’s CEO, David Morris, said the EDO has already taken a strong stance since the fires in helping the community protect important habitat, citing Manyana on the NSW South Coast as a prime example.
There, the EDO has provided legal assistance to locals fighting to protect one of the last remaining areas of unburnt bush from a housing development after 80% of the Shoalhaven Local Government Area burned at a very high intensity.
A new video released today, shared by WWF, shows how passionately locals are advocating to save this precious intact bushland.
The 20-hectare site falls within the WWF-identified South Coast priority landscape and has been home to threatened greater gliders and vulnerable grey-headed flying foxes. The critically endangered swift parrot and scrub turpentine shrub have also previously been recorded on site.
“We are dealing with unprecedented fire damage on the east coast and a wildlife emergency for dozens of threatened species. The EDO will assist the community to use every appropriate legal mechanism to protect these priority landscapes. All decisions must factor in the new reality that fire damage has pushed many threatened species to the brink,” he said.
Mr Morris said Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s decision to declare the Manyana proposal “a controlled action under the EPBC Act”, was a promising sign. It means the proposal is being further assessed for its impact on threatened and vulnerable species.
“Minister Ley’s statement of reasons makes it clear that the extent of fire damage in the area will be a consideration,” said Mr Morris.
“The EDO is proud to be continuing its strategic work as part of this new partnership to increase protection of these critical areas in the aftermath of the fires,” he said
In total, the six priority landscapes are home to at least 62 plant and 21 animal species and 18 ecological communities listed as threatened under the national conservation law.
These include koalas, lyrebirds, platypuses, grey-headed flying foxes, spotted-tailed quolls, greater gliders, and regent honeyeaters.
Join WWF-Australia and EDO by finding out more about the Partnership and how you can contribute at: https://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/2-billion-trees/defending-the-unburnt-six