By Rachel Louise Iliffe | Contributor
Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley announced on the 2nd of March that 13 more animal species will be added to the list of extinct species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which now totals 67.
The updated list, released on World wildlife day, saw the Desert Bettong, Great Hopping-mouse and South-eastern Striped Bandicoot join species such as the Tasmanian Tiger, as officially extinct species.
Many of the ‘new’ extinctions, recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), were historic, occurring between 1850 and 1950, yet this should not undermine their importance.
The reasoning for the extinctions is complicated. Direct human impacts through hunting and population growth leading to habitat destruction have impacted wildlife populations for decades. Modern threats such as climate change leading to increased droughts and bushfires are also emerging. The bushfire season of 2019-20 affected nearly 3 billion animals, including the vulnerable Koala. In total, since 1788, 10% of the 386 known Australian mammals have been lost.
Australian environmental laws including those listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation act 1999 (EPBC) have been unable to stem the crisis and reduce the causes of extinction. Professor Graeme Samuel completed an independent review of the EPBC which is blamed for the extinction crisis due to its abundance of failures and loopholes.
Samuel has deemed the EPBC “ineffective”, “duplicative, inefficient and costly for the environment”. He recommended a “fundamental reform” and an “immediate” “comprehensive redrafting of the Act”, which involves establishing national environmental standards.
The lack of allocated resources may be emphasising the failures of the legislation. In terms of pay-out, a 2019 study found that Australia spends a mere $122 million dollars per year on its threatened species conservation, which is trumped by the USA’s annual spending of $2.1 billion.
Rachel Lowry, WWF-Australia’s Chief Conservation Officer, commented on the report’s release. The “report places our current government’s environmental legacy at a precipice. They can choose to cherry pick recommendations and weaken our laws further, or follow the recommendations in full and lead Australia through to genuine reform.”
She added that, “This is the ultimate test for the government. Any changes to our nature laws should come as an integrated package – a piecemeal approach is a risky and potentially damaging way forward,”.
She also highlighted that “Australia is marching mammal species towards extinction faster than any other nation” with populations of threatened species declining at a rate of 1 percent per year. “If we are to turn this around, we must have strong environmental standards and an ‘independent cop on the beat’ to ensure our laws are finally enforced”.