At the Threatened Species Summit held in Melbourne on 16 July 2015 the Australian government released its Threatened Species Strategy, an action plan to achieve the long-term goal
of reversing species decline and supporting species recovery. The government is partnering with states, territories and non-government organisations to deliver $6.6M for species projects that contribute to the targets and actions identified in the Strategy, with a focus on tackling feral cats, creating safe havens, protecting and recovering habitat, and emergency interventions to avoid extinctions.
The Action Plan 2015-16 is the first instalment of a five-year plan and is the Australian government’s response to the risk of species extinction. Based on principles outlined in the Strategy, the best available knowledge and technology and the immediate needs of Australia’s threatened species, the Plan includes key action areas and targets to measure success. It is flexible and adaptive and will be monitored and reviewed annually by the Department of the Environment in consultation with delivery partners.
The Action Plan identifies 10 threatened mammals and 10 threatened birds whose populations will be increased by 2020. A further two mammals and two birds are identified for emergency intervention. And an additional eight mammals and birds will be identified through community consultation.
With feral cats reported to be putting 124 Australian animals at risk of extinction, the Summit focussed strongly on addressing this threat and the Action Plan sets out to tackle their numbers. Wildlife Queensland has been aware of this issue for many years and recently ran a successful appeal to reduce the feral cat threat to the bridled nailtail wallabies of Taunton National Park.
There is no question our battle with feral cats is a challenging one, with population estimates ranging in the millions (20 million is quoted frequently) and female cats having kittens up to three times per year. But lessening their impact on our wildlife can be achieved by focussing on priority areas and using all the tools at our disposal. There is still need for investment in new, more cost-effective and efficient technology, and it is Wildlife Queensland’s understanding that the Palaszczuk government will invest in this area.
The Australian government has allocated four million dollars for feral cat control and an ambitious program has been announced, with an Australia-wide goal of culling two million feral cats by 2020 and achieving five new cat-free islands, 10 cat-free enclosures on the mainland, 10 million hectares of feral cat management across the country and an additional two million hectares on Commonwealth land. To assist, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy is developing a national network of feral-free areas where endangered species can survive without threat from feral animals.
Any action to address the current existing decline in our biodiversity and threatened animals is applauded by Wildlife Queensland, and a more focussed strategy is welcomed as there is no doubt the current approach is simply not working. The majority of recovery plans produced are rarely fully implemented and simply gather dust on government shelves. It is further pleasing still that efforts will be directed to some species that call Queensland home, such as the bilby and the eastern bristlebird, with the opportunity for other species such as the mahogany glider to be added in time.
However, despite these steps in the right direction, Wildlife Queensland questions the adequacy of investments that governments of all political persuasions direct to protecting the environment and its biodiversity. The Palaszczuk government recently made $5M over three years available to the addressing of wild dogs and feral cats in Queensland; yet the same government has made $100M available for a football stadium in Townsville. Such action raises questions as to the value placed on the environment and its wildlife by our government.
It is difficult to view the current onslaught on our environment and its biodiversity and not feel compelled to seek change. However, investment in the environment as a percentage of Commonwealth and state budgets continues to decline. What happens without clean water to drink, clean air to breathe and the intricate network of species so necessary for essential ecological services? In the early 1900s, renowned naturalist John Muir stated, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it is attached to the rest of the world.” That was over 100 years ago and the lesson has still not been learnt. Investment in conserving and protecting our natural heritage must increase.