200,000 hectares of endangered species habitat approved for destruction

·Environment Editor
·4-min read
  • Koalas lost more habitat than any other species

  • 200,000 hectares approved for destruction in 10 years

  • Government questions accuracy of report

A major investigation has found 200,000 hectares of endangered species habitat has been green-lit for destruction over the last decade by the Federal Government.

Areas supporting koalas, spot-tailed quolls, gliders and swift parrots were among those earmarked to be cleared, a new report by Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) alleges.

Researchers concluded approximately 72 per cent of the approved area was for mining projects, followed by transport, residential development and energy supply.

Left - a mining explosion. Right - a koala crossing the road.
Mining accounted for the greatest loss of endangered species habitat, the report found. Source: Getty (File)

The majority of habitat loss occurred in Queensland, which continues to be one of the world's most infamous logging hotspots.

In December, a report from WWF-Australia found state and federal approved clearing in Queensland has the potential to derail Commonwealth carbon reduction commitments.

Government questions accuracy of habitat destruction report

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley's office struck back at the accuracy of AFC's findings, calling their report a "desktop survey" which only looks at one aspect of their approvals process.

"It does not take into account the final determinations, offset requirements or the provisions put in place to protect species, nor how much clearing may or may not ultimately have taken place," a spokesperson said

They added all land clearing proposals are "fully assessed" and then impacts are either "avoided, mitigated or offset".

Offset strategies and threatened species data improvements are currently under review and will benefit from $128.5 million in government investment earmarked for environmental reform, they added.

Despite this, using mitigation or offsets remains contentious, and ACF argues the mechanisms are used to "facilitate unsustainable development".

Australia lagging behind United States, conservationists allege

Calling Australia a “world leader in annihilating nature”, campaigner Jess Abrahams said stronger laws are needed to stop “rampant wrecking of habitat”.

High profile and lesser known endangered species have had habitat destroyed. Source: ACF
High profile and lesser known endangered species have had habitat destroyed. Source: ACF

He argues that while the United States has had “great success” turning around the trajectory of threatened species, protections in Australia are failing.

“We’re the only developed nation on the list of global deforestation hotspots and we’ve caused the extinction of more mammals than any other nation,” he said.

“More than 6,500 hectares of the habitat approved for demolition in the last ten years was home for species listed as critically endangered at the time of approval – one of which, the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, is now extinct.”

Koalas lose more habitat than any species

In February, ACF released a report which concluded 25,525 hectares of koala habitat had been approved for destruction by the Commonwealth.

Widening their search in March, they found a number of lesser known species have also lost parts of their home range between January 2012 and December 2021.

They charted the impact on 20 endangered species, including the red goshawk (24,270 hectares), southern squatter pigeon (17,622 hectares), ornamental snake (10,066 hectares) and greater glider (743 hectares).

Thousands of hectares of swift parrot habitat has been green-lit for destruction by the federal government. Source: AAP
Thousands of hectares of swift parrot habitat has been green-lit for destruction by the federal government. Source: AAP

While state-based logging projects and agriculture contribute to the most habitat loss, they generally don’t require federal scrutiny, so they were not included in ACF's findings.

With the rate of land clearing increasing, ACF investigator Kim Garratt accused the government of “not taking the extinction crisis seriously enough”.

Having spent four months trawling through and disseminating data, ACF say they are doing the job the government should be doing.

She said the data will now be released as a public resource and this she expects will result in further scrutiny.

A spokesperson for Minister Ley's office, responded, saying they are investing $47 million to improve transparency in project approvals.

They said their "deregulation agenda" will ensure "assessments are based on consistent data" and that an "integrated portal" will align content from the states, territories and the Commonwealth.

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