Article by: Jane Marsh, Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co
Australia’s updated Threatened Species Action Plan is a welcome step forward for conservation. By adding several new objectives to its 2022-2032 plan, the country is prioritizing wildlife restoration, which could prove critical to animals affected by invasive species, habitat destruction by humans, and the devastating effects of the recent Black Summer bushfires.
Here’s what Australia allocating 30% of its land mass for endangered species means for the recovery of these animals.
What’s the Plan?
Australia’s Action Plan for 2022 to 2032 outlines several key strategies for species conservation, including the following:
- Adding 10 new species to the priority species list, bringing it to a total of 110
- Setting aside 30% of the country’s land for conservation
- Continuing to tackle the issue of invasive species such as house cats, foxes, and gamba grass
- Adding 14 new priority locations to the list of places to protect, bringing it up to 20
The plan’s list of priority species is contentious because some people believe every threatened species should be included on it. The list includes animals like the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea), and the growling grass frog (Litoria raniformis).
However, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek pointed out that while there is a stronger focus on certain species, those plants and animals share the same ecosystems as Australia’s other threatened organisms, so conservation measures to protect them will have wide-reaching benefits. In other words, helping keystone species creates a halo effect.
Australia’s Extinction Problem
Australia has the unfortunate claim of losing more mammal species than any other continent, and its alarmingly high extinction rate has long been a cause for concern.
In the last 200 years, the country has lost 30 mammal species, 29 species of birds, and several other amphibians and invertebrates. Many of these extinctions could have been prevented with proper land management and wildlife surveys.
For example, nobody knew the forest skink (Emoia nativitatis) was critically endangered until it was assessed for the first time in 2010, but by then it was too late to save it. The forest skink died out four years later.
Other extinctions are driven by events partly outside of human control, such as wildfires. However, climate change contributes to the severity of extreme weather events like the 2019-2020 bushfires, so in the grand scheme of things, human activity contributes to extreme weather events that cause Australian species to go extinct.
Still other animals have been killed by invasive species that people introduced, like cats, cane toads, and black rats, which the country has been trying to control.
Why Is Land Conservation Important?
Currently, only about 22% of Australia’s landmass is dedicated to conservation. Though setting aside another mere 8% of the land might not sound significant, it translates to over 235,000 square miles. That’s a lot of protected habitat.
A recent study concluded that protected areas have more biodiverse mammal populations than those without protection. This is significant because habitat loss has been linked to biodiversity loss for a long time, but this study shows that designating some areas as protected is an effective solution.
Areas set aside for conservation aren’t always earmarked for preservation – think national parks, where hunting, logging, and other developments aren’t allowed – but rather as multi-use areas with special protections in place that encourage coexistence.
The Way Forward
Hopefully, the ambitious Threatened Species Action Plan in Australia will reverse the trend of widespread extinction in the country and encourage similar efforts elsewhere. Setting aside land to work on species conservation is a step forward for Australia and brings the country closer to meeting its goal of preventing any new extinctions from occurring.
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