We need to tighten the law to protect wildlife homes

The vulnerable koala is just one of Australia's animals threatened by habitat loss

The vulnerable koala is just one of Australia’s animals threatened by habitat loss

Three recent reports make clear that we should be saving habitat in order to save species. It is pretty simple. Destroy a species’ habitat and you destroy its home.

The first report was issued last week by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Birdlife Austrlia and Environmental Justice Australia. Its take away message is that in Australia we will do little to halt the continuing threat to and extinction of species here until we get serious about providing effective legal protection to habitat.

The second report accompanied an update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species at the end of June. It highlighted that the main threat to 85% of the 22,784 known and assessed species threatened with extinction (1,839 in Australia) is the loss and degradation of habitat.

The third study, also published at the end of June, was even more disturbing. It found that over the last century the extinction rate for many species was 100 times faster than usual and that we are heading into a human-created sixth mass extinction on Earth. It blamed this on habitat destruction, as well as climate change, trade, and pollution.

Without an adequate home, a species cannot survive. Of course, stressing the need to protect habitat is much easier said than done. Why is that? It largely comes down to three obstacles that have been intractable so far.

Where threatened species are found in Australia
Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN), Department of Environment

Protecting species, but not their homes

First, the law in Australia does not protect habitat per se. It only protects species. It does this through a process of listing and then making it an offence to kill or take the listed species. Listing species alone, however, does nothing to protect habitat.

It is true that it is possible to list critical habitat under Commonwealth law and various state laws. That has largely been ignored. The problem has been a persistent lack of political will.

Politicians are reluctant to list habitat because it means that parcel of land will be off limits to development. That is something most politicians seek to avoid in pursuit of short-term economic benefits.

Second, protecting habitat is subject to politics. Even when a species is listed, it is possible for governmental decision-makers to exercise discretion and permit a development, even if it will threaten the species.

A decion-maker will be required to consider a number of factors (ordinarily environmental, economic, and social impact) in exercising his or her discretion.

However, if these factors are appropriately ventilated, then the law allows the discretion to be exercised against a threatened species. What we have in these sorts of cases is environmental law without necessarily environmental protection.

It becomes a matter of right process and the only remedy for those dissatisfied when the process has been followed is at the ballot box.

Third, protecting habitat is economically tough. David Attenborough, the famous environmental documentary presenter, has highlighted that humans are in competition with the other species for space on this finite planet.

He correctly observed that it will take a great deal of willpower and economic strength to fix things. The questions for us is, do we have what it takes? Or, will we leave future generations with an environment less rich, less diverse than the one we inherited?

Tighter regulation, more money

The ACF report recommends that in Australia we start by improving recovery plans for species. In particular, ACF maintains that recovery plans must contain “measurable and targeted restraints on the destruction of threatened species habitat and outline restorative outcomes that any approval decisions must work toward”.

The ACF recognises this will not be cheap. It calls for an annual investment of A$370 million to implement recovery plans and purchase land for protected areas.

To follow the recommendation would be to start to seriously protect habitat. It would only be a start though.

Much would depend on whether the new recovery plan arrangements deprived decision-makers of discretion to allow the destruction of habitat despite protection.

Much would depend on where and how much habitat was set aside. Much would depend on the sufficiency of funding. Still, it is a start and you have to start somewhere. One thing is certain, we should start now.

Don Anton is Professor of International Law at Griffith University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Republished by Redlands2030 – 21 July 2015

Please note: Offensive or off-topic comments will be deleted. If offended by any published comment please email thereporter@redlands2030.net

8 thoughts on “We need to tighten the law to protect wildlife homes

  1. Saving habitat to save a species is a no-brainer but do those in power get it ?? Still fiddling around the edges with studies, surveys, reports….. while our wildlife is becoming extinct ! Protect habitat, not species, and all wildlife will be protected from extinction.

  2. It came as a terrible shock to me to read comments about our today desperately needed environmental levy no longer kept separate from general revenue which means the money could be spent recklessly on whatever Council heavyweights decide they need it for. This is wrong..I do know during the Seccombe Administration, a wildlife corridor in Ormiston, never to be built on, was An angry resident who moved there for that reason, moved away, shocked and saddened at the loss. Any developer with deep pockets, can buy any land for wildlife he wants it seems. A tree, said to be over 100 years old in Capalaba, that had a fence around it, was destroyed. Why! Residents tell me the kookaburras after more than a decade, still encircle the spot where their home was. This Council has no respect for wildlife, nor the concerns of local people no matter how hard they try to save areas of wilflife habitat that makes, for many people, life worth living in the area they chose to retire to.
    As Toni says, bushland purchased with our environmental levy, could be flogged off to the highest bidder by newly formed Redland Council Development Company. Is there no respect by the present administraton for protecting, today and into the future, all bushland purchased with our environmental levy fund, that’s been plundered to please a developer run local Council? They should hang their heads in shame.

  3. Thank you for the Post, a well written and researched piece, I would suggest that the community just looks closer at the land in the City identified for development. Yesterday I spoke to a woman who lives in a new subdivision near Unwin Road Redland Bay, there are dams in the area and she says that all the turtles are dying, EPA is supposed to be now investigating the issue.
    Drive along Boundary Road Thornlands and just before the roundabout on both sides of the road people will see large stands of habitat trees, when the subdivisions are lodged these areas need to be a no go area. We tried to save a large stand of trees in a corridor from Eprapah Creek to Boundary Road, sadly Stirling Hinchcliffe the then Minister of Planning allowed the developer to ignore the environmental values of this area. Governments on all levels need to understand the major loss happening everywhere and make some difficult decisions, or it will be too late. Our grandchildren will never have the pleasure of seeing a koala, wallaby, bandicoot, platypus or any of the amazing animals living in Australia especially Redland.
    I have been to many countries overseas and in many countries the only wildlife to be seen other than in a zoo are birds. Let’s learn by mistakes of others
    The environmental levy was introduced in 1993 and up until the last election in 2012, the levy had increased yearly land was purchased to be protected forever and money to do replanting.
    I am now concerned that the newly setup Redland Council Development Company will start looking at land that has bushland and sell it off, especially land purchased by the environmental levy and flog it off to the highest bidder.

    • Worrying things raised in your comments Toni.
      State Govt supposedly leaves things to LG to handle and look at the posts and local goings on. People are saying enough is enough.
      Does it need more representation like Don Brown’s to the Minister that got a SWO put on the Willard farm? That takes understanding and political will. It’s got a long way to go yet though.
      But State Govt has to take a measured look at what is going wrong and why? Are there things that need to be tightened up to guide LG? Or rather, demonstrate how outcomes can and will be achieved.
      The sad part is that with all the red tape cut and jobs, jobs, jobs, it’s really all about return, return, return…
      Toni, I don’t know enough about it, but I see a house now built on the corner of a space always regarded as a considerable green space between established areas. It looks right out of place.
      Then I see another one where the new houses seem to have absorbed into their yards the extra land that had been kept as green space around the trees. Of course it provides some space for what are McMansions.
      Residents, be aware of your parklands particularly what used to be the pocket handkerchief ones at the end of the development.
      A case of WATCH THIS SPACE

      • Checking the planning maps, I find the two instances I mentioned above are actually correctly zoned as residential block, so I was jumping at shadows. But I still agree that greater clarity and transparency are required so that homes for wildlife do not disappear.
        Note news report last week on the diminishing numbers of even the common birds such as magpies and kookaburras.

    • Toni is concerned the newly setup Redland Council Development Company will start looking at land that has bushland and sell it off..especially land purchased by the environmental levy & flog it off to the highest bidder. Are these local developers some known environmental vandals of the worst kind?. We have seen their work here in Capalaba causing extinction of koalas along Coolnwynpin Ck corridor.
      Since Mayor has put the brakes on giving Winter Memorial Park back to locals (opp Rhodes) Mt Cotton Rd Capalaba, no longer needed for meetings on Rhodes six 6-storey bldgs, and no longer needed by BoysTown, who in the past had ‘teen mentoring sessions in an old eyesore caravan dumped onto it by Cr Williams in dead of night, locals are petrified member/s of this new development company may have plans for the peoples’ park? They want it back as it rightfully belongs to them..and not for love nor money, must it ever, as Toni puts it, be flogged off to the highest bidder.

  4. Our environment levy needs to come out of general funds, the councillors who moved to put them there should look very closely at this report, and our environment spend should incorporate koala corridors, wildlife friendly crossings that are viable, and efficient follow up on the offset plantings of quarry extensions and other developments. Are there council penalties for non-successful offset plantings to ensure no net loss to the community as well as clauses to ensure the successful planting season occur within a certain timeframe? Offsets are only a very poor second best condition as we lose all of the hollows in the old growth trees that so many of our birds and mammals rely on. As a community we should also see in budget papers at the end of each year what our environment levy has been spent on.

    • Thank you Jan for the eyebrow raising information that the environment levy is not kept separate from general funds. Many people myself included do not know that the environment levy is tossed into another fund thereby assuming another name and therefore another purpose.
      I am both shocked and saddened by the relentless drive of our should be representatives to achieve their own agenda and I and others would like to know which of our councillors moved to approve this travesty.

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