Bold plan to save six 'wildlife Arks' across Australia

Six key Australian landscapes which provided sanctuary to wildlife during the Black Summer bushfires could receive better legal protection from a new environmental initiative.

Existing laws will be examined and new legal pathways considered as part of a partnership announced today between Wildlife Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF) and the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).

The areas to receive extra attention include Gippsland-Eden, NSW South Coast, Yengo-Wollemi, NSW North Coast, Nymboida and Border Rangers.

They stretch across the east of the country and are home to animals including koalas, lyrebirds, platypus, gliders, quolls and flying foxes.

Comparison between burnt forest and unburnt forest.
A new partnership aims to strengthen laws to protect forest that survived Black Summer bushfires. Source: Getty

Significant portions of these forests survived intense blazes which affected an estimated three billion native animals across the south-east, but now face pressure from logging and climate change.

WWF conservation scientist Dr Stuart Blanch said within the 12 million hectares of burnt habitat across the south-east, they are identifying the parts that did not burn and are valuable because that’s where the wildlife survived.

“Our goal is to improve legal protections over 1.4 million hectares across that range of forest,” he said.

“It’s areas where the animals didn’t get burnt, or they went there because their forest burnt, but they might breed up and go back to their former forests.

“So they’re like Arks, species Arks.”

Farmers are key to habitat protection says conservationist

Dr Blanch said many farmers who were climate change skeptics 10 years ago, are now seeing the impact of climate change and are open to saving native forests on their land.

As protections can tie up agricultural land, Dr Blanch said the new partnership will look at ways in which the government can financially support landholders who sign on to environmental initiatives.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’d like to think everyone out there out of the goodness of their heart would not destroy habitat,” Dr Blanch said said.

“Unfortunately, that’s not true.”

Environmentalists are calling for better protection of key areas which survived the Black Summer bushfires. Source: Getty / WWF
Environmentalists are calling for better protection of key areas which survived the Black Summer bushfires. Source: Getty / WWF

Dr Blanch believes financial pressures on farmers often prevent them being able to lock up large segments of land for conservation.

He has learnt that many are without superannuation and feeling pressure due to faltering trade agreements with countries like China who have increase tariffs on many Australian products.

Other farmers say they want to protect koalas, however the cost of building fences to keep the cattle out is too high without financial assistance.

“If we’re going to end deforestation and protect and grow more forests as the climate worsens, there’s got to be more conservation financing - public and private,” he said.

“I’m a lot less about personal ideology now and a lot more about how to get the job done.”

Wildlife carers fighting to protect unburnt forest from logging

As well as reviewing the use of existing wildlife protections, the initiative will examine how to improve and create new laws to ensure Australia’s flora and fauna can survive into the future.

The partnership aims to support community groups including First Nations people, to know their rights when it comes to protecting their land.

A badly burnt koala which survived the bushfires.
Koala populations across the south-east were significantly impacted by the fires. Source: Getty

Of particular focus are logging coups within state forests, many of which border national parks and while they harbour the same species, they are subject to weaker protections.

Wildlife rescuers fighting to protect unburnt areas of forest from logging that survived the the blazes have welcomed news of the partnership.

One carer living on the NSW South Coast, June Frew, has rallied against the clearing of forest in Manyana, near the Conjola National Park, an area close to where she released animals who survived the fires.

With 80 per cent of bushland in the Shoalhaven local government area impacted by the Black Summer, the idea of losing even more habitat left her feeling dismayed.

“(The bushfires are) still fresh in my mind,” she said.

“I still think about those animals which upsets me terribly and to think more would be destroyed in the block of land at Manyana is just too much for me.”

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