The Australian government has pledged to kill two million feral cats and create new safe havens for native animals in an attempt to improve the fortunes of 20 mammal, 20 bird and 30 plant species that are at risk of extinction.
Federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, unveiled a five-year threatened species strategy at Melbourne zoo on Thursday, promising to “halt and reverse the threats to our magnificent endemic species”.
The first 10 mammal species identified for priority action are the numbat, mala, mountain pygmy-possum, greater bilby, golden bandicoot, brush-tailed rabbit-rat, eastern bettong, western quoll, Kangaroo Island dunnart and eastern barred bandicoot.Kookaburra and magpie among Australian birds in decline, says report.
A further two – the leadbeater’s possum, Victoria’s faunal emblem that was recently listed as critically endangered, and the central rock rat – will get “emergency interventions”, Hunt said.
The environment minister, who announced the bird species that will receive help on Wednesday, said that two million feral cats, a major cause of native mammal and bird declines, will be wiped out “humanely” by 2020.
A total of 10 new feral cat-free enclosures will be established, with $750,000 spent, creating one of the largest fenced habitat areas in the Northern Territory. Meanwhile, cats will be targeted in a further 10m hectares of open landscape.
Hunt said that all of the states and territories have agreed to list the feral cat as a harmful pest, with the animal targeted through baiting, shooting and poisoning.
Just $6.6m has been dedicated to the strategy, with the majority of the money focused on cat eradication. Private donations may be required to fund 20 proposed plans, which include the expansion of the breeding population of the numbat in Western Australia and the extermination of feral cats on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
Despite habitat loss being the primary threat to most of Australia’s endangered animals, the new strategy commits to “revegetate” existing habitats, rather than ensure they are completely off limits to developments such as mining and housing.
Australia has one of the worst extinction records in the world, losing 29 mammal species since European arrival on the continent. Feral cats, altered fire regimes, the expansion of the agriculture industry and other pests and weeds have been cited as reasons why nearly 1,800 species are nationally listed as being under threat.
“We are drawing a line in the sand today which says ‘on our watch, in our time, no more species extinction’,” Hunt said. “It’s tough, it’s a challenge, we can do much and we can do better.
“We can do a lot but we can do most if it’s a combination of the commonwealth states and community together.”
Asked about the funding, Hunt said: “What I’d like to see is additional funding from others. The whole idea here is putting out a prospectus. There are other projects we want to encourage. We want to encourage with this prospectus private, philanthropic, NGO and state and territory additional support.”
The strategy was announced at a threatened species summit that featured speeches from John Berry, the US ambassador to Australia, who praised Australia’s “leadership position” on conservation.
Maggie Barry, New Zealand’s minister for conservation, also spoke, calling the efforts to combat feral animals, such as possums and stoats in New Zealand, a “war”.
Environment groups broadly welcomed the federal government’s new strategy, although some questioned the level of funding committed to the plan and also the lack of any stricter controls on habitat loss.
“This strategy’s four actions areas – tackling feral cats, providing safe havens for species at risk, improving habitat and intervening to avert extinctions – are commendable,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“The strategy does fall significantly short in a number of areas. Threatened species recovery work is run on the smell of an oily rag. New money announced today is welcome, but funding remains inadequate. We urge the government to commit more.
“The strategy also fails to meaningfully address the biggest threat to threatened species and ecological communities – the loss and fragmentation of habitat – either through investment in new protected areas or by safeguarding existing critical places.”
The Places You Love alliance, a group of more than 40 environment and community groups, also gave the plan a cautious welcome but urged Hunt to ditch a plan to create “one-stop shops” that would devolve environmental approvals to the states.
“Our legal analysis clearly demonstrates that currently no state or territory major project assessment process that may affect listed threatened species meets the standards necessary for accreditation by the federal government,” said Glen Klatovsky, director of the Places You Love alliance.
“We believe that the ‘one-stop shop’ process will chronically reduce environmental standards and cause irreparable harm to our most critically endangered species and habitats.”
This article was first published by the Guardian on 16 Jul 2015.
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