Hundreds of vulnerable native species could be put at risk under a new government proposal, conservationists warn.
With more than 1900 plants, animals and ecological communities listed as threatened in Australia, 914 are currently protected by legally binding Recovery Plans.
Proposed changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) could see 185 species dropped from the scheme by Environment Minister Sussan Ley if they are approved.
Twenty-eight ecological communities, along with 104 plants, 14 mammals, 19 birds, eight reptiles, six invertebrates, three fish and three frogs, would be affected by the proposed changes, with the Australian Conservation Foundation warning this would just be “step one”.
Decisions regarding hundreds more species will be made with “subsequent public consultation periods” set to be held, the Environment Department confirmed.
If approved, species and entities protected by recovery plans could be reduced to just 238 – or 12 per cent of the 1900 listed.
Not the time to ‘abandon’ protections, conservationists warn
The future of iconic species including the Tasmanian devil, glossy black-cockatoo, and spectacled flying fox is open for public comment, alongside lesser-known species including the giant burrowing frog, golden sun moths and striped legless lizard.
ACF biodiversity policy adviser Brendan Sydes warns that downgrading their protection from Recovery Plans to Conservation Advices, is a "backwards step".
With the government describing Conservation Advices as “flexible” and quick to prepare, he argues they are “not an adequate replacement”, and cannot offer the same “legal clout”.
“Australia has the sorry title of being a world leader in mammal extinctions,” Mr Sydes said.
“At a time when more and more species are coming under threat from climate change, we should be investing more money in recovery planning, not giving up on it.
“It’s true recovery plans are not working as well as they should, but the answer is not to abandon them altogether, but rather to improve the system so it works.”
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Government argues changes will offer 'most appropriate' protections
A spokesperson for the Environment Department said in a statement that the proposed changes were recommended by the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee, to ensure species and entities can recover under the “most appropriate plan”.
“Proposed changes are based on the best planning outcome for the individual threatened entity, and are subject to public consultation prior to any final decision being made,” they said.
Humane Society International (HSI), which has nominated over 70 threatened species and 38 ecological communities for protection, fear the changes will force them “closer to extinction”.
A “war chest” of funding akin to the $90 billion the Morrison government is spending on nuclear submarines is needed to ensure the survival of protected species, the charity’s head of communications Nicola Beynon said.
“For 25 years HSI has freely given our expertise to prepare scientific nominations for the government and we do it with the expectation that the government will invest in their conservation once listings are achieved.
“Today's announcement disenfranchises those efforts.”
Public submissions can be made electronically or in writing and close on November 2.
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