State emergency for native species

Every time a tree is cut down in the inner city, it is a trauma for everyone whose life it enriched. The losses of nature that city people have suffered over the past eight years have been terrible: century-old figs and bushland remnants swept away for motorways, trams and housing blocks. These losses are, of course, traumatic and unacceptable and we condemn the NSW government for allowing this to occur.

Developers are now allowed to bulldoze 99 per cent of identified koala habitat on private land. Photo: Nature Conservation Council of NSW

But these crimes against nature – and in the end against the people – pale in comparison with the wholesale destruction of bushland and wildlife habitat that is happening beyond the fringes of Sydney.

The shocking truth is that deforestation rates in one part of the state tripled last year. Research we conducted with WWF-Australia in 2018 found bulldozers had wiped 8,194ha of wildlife habitat off the map around Collarenebri and Moree.

In one year in just one small part of this very big state, bulldozers ripped up 5,200ha of koala forest and habitat for 247 native species, including nine that are listed as being of national environmental significance. That’s equivalent to 14 football fields of koala forest cleared every day for 365 days.

And the devastation is continuing.

This month we released another report that shows the carnage we found in the northwest is widespread – it’s happening in regions right across NSW. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are living through an environmental emergency.

Many people don’t appreciate that the koala, one of our most iconic and surely our most beloved native animal, is on track to become extinct by mid-century if deforestation does not stop.

Deforestation is not new – it has been going on for generations in NSW. We have already removed native bushland from about 40 per cent of the state since Europeans arrived just a short 230 years ago. Eastern Australia has been named as one of the world’s top 11 deforestation hotspots, and the only developed nation to appear on the list. Of the bushland and forest that’s left in NSW, only 9 per cent is in a healthy and near-natural state.

While some of that bushland and forest is in national parks, a lot is on big agricultural spreads where it has virtually no protection and where the drive to bulldoze more bushland is most intense. Rather than stopping or slowing these losses, the NSW coalition has dialled up the damage.

In 2017, it legalised a new wave of destruction, winding back environmental protections, removing controls on land clearing and forestry, and renewing agreements to allow unsustainable logging of our public native forests to continue for another 20 years. Agricultural and urban developers are now allowed to bulldoze 99 per cent of identified koala habitat on private land, and loggers don’t even have to look for koalas before they cut down their forests.

These crimes against the environment are happening out of sight, but they are not out of mind. Nature Conservation Council will not cease to hold governments and the big agribusinesses that are driving this destruction to account.

To learn more, visit nature.org.au/savekoalas.

Kate Smolski is CEO, Nature Conservation Council of NSW.


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