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Australia targets zero-extinction with promise to conserve land

Government says it will aim to conserve 30 percent of Australia’s land mass in attempt to protect its unique wildlife.

Australia has set a target of zero extinction for its unique plants and animals, promising to preserve at least 30 percent of its land amid severe pressure on the country’s environment.

Unveiling the Threatened Species Action Plan: Towards Zero Extinctions on Tuesday, Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek said the 224.5 million Australian dollar ($145.9m) plan offers a pathway for threatened species conservation and recovery over the next 10 years.

It prioritises 110 species and 20 places where action is most needed and includes a commitment to prevent any new extinctions of plants and animals.

Plibersek said the government was “determined to give wildlife a better chance” amid increasing threats from climate change, natural disasters, feral predators, and human activity.

She accused the previous government, which lost power in May’s elections, of having its “head in the sand” over the environment.

“Our current approach has not been working,” she said in a statement, describing Australia as the mammal extinction capital of the world. “If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same results. The need for action has never been greater. I will not shy away from difficult problems or accept environmental decline and extinction as inevitable.”

A landmark government report that was released after months of delay in July, found that the state of Australia’s environment was “poor and deteriorating” and that it had lost more mammal species than any other continent in the world.

The report said many of the worst changes had occurred in the past five years, with 202 animal and plant species declared “threatened” over the period. Australia also had more introduced foreign plant species than native ones, it said.

 

Conservation groups welcomed Plibersek’s announcement but said the government needed to do more considering the challenges facing the Australian environment.

Almost half the country is now used for grazing sheep and cattle, and about 6.1 million hectares (15 million acres) of primary forest have been cleared since 1990.

“Stopping the destruction of wildlife habitat is the key to achieving this objective,” the  Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature programme manager Basha Stasak said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, Australia has a woeful record when it comes to protecting our unique species. Australia is a world leader in sending mammals to extinction and it is largely because we keep destroying their homes.”

Among other measures, the foundation says deforestation and land clearing need to end, and the government should stop approving damaging fossil fuel projects.

Extreme climate events such as the bushfires that ravaged southeastern Australia in late 2019 and early 2020 have also taken a severe toll on wildlife, with World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia estimating some three billion animals — from frogs to mammals — were in the path of the flames. Later analysis found some 60,000 koalas had died in the fires. The animals were designated an endangered species in February.

The fires that swept southeastern Australia caused enormous damage to wildlife populations [File: Tracey Nearmy/Reuters]

In her statement, Plibersek said independent scientists had helped identify the species and places for priority assistance on principles including the risk of extinction, multiple benefits, and uniqueness.

She added that 15 species and three ecological communities had also been added to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act list of threatened species, while four species had been upgraded to a higher threat category.

Among the newly-listed species are the Western Beautiful Firetail, a bird with a distinctive red tail that was severely affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, the Parma Wallaby, which also faces threats from bushfires, and the grey snake, which is at risk from habitat loss as a result of agriculture.



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