Sad reason behind Australia's five-fold increase in threatened species listings

In 2019 and 2020 extreme bushfires destroyed thousands of hectares of bushland. The nation's wildlife is still recovering.

More of Australia’s wild places, creatures and plants were added to the nation's threatened species list than ever before in 2023. The total of 144 was five times the yearly average, and twice as high as 2019, the previous record year, analysis from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has revealed.

Yahoo News understands the surge of listings is linked to the processing of a backlog of species applications caused by the Black Summer Bushfires. That event impacted 3 billion animals, including 60,000 koalas, and likely killed 6 trillion invertebrates which are essential for healthy ecosystems.

Although listing species on the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is designed to boost protections, some animals have found themselves slipping closer towards extinction.

Background - a kangaroo sign that's been burnt during the Black Summer bushfires. Inset - a graph shows 2023 EPBC listings compared to other years. Dark green is ecological communities, light green plants, and orange animals.
A graph shows 2023 EPBC listings compared to other years. Dark green is ecological communities, light green plants, and orange animals. Source: ACF/Getty

One of them was the southern emu-wren, which was up-listed from vulnerable to endangered in July, with habitat destruction and fragmentation, bushfires and climate change all listed as threats. The Department of Environment is currently considering an application to build a rocket launching site on one of its last remaining strongholds near Port Lincoln in South Australia.

In 2022, high profile species including the greater glider and koala were listed as endangered, but those protected in 2023 were no less interesting.

Listed as critically endangered in November, the Pedra Branca skink lives at a tiny island that separated from Tasmania 15,000 years ago. The island itself is 2.5 hectares, but only 0.14 hectares of it are suitable habitat for the lizard. No more than 600 remain and climate change, and increased predation by silver gulls are both threats to their survival.

Also included among the 144 are 17 species that were added in December, including the Mertens’ water monitor and Mitchell’s water monitor which have been impacted by the spread of cane toads as well as habitat destruction from agriculture, mining and housing developments.

Urgent call for Australia's nature laws to be overhauled

Australia has the worst mammalian extinction record in the world, ACF nature campaigner Peta Bulling said the high number of listings shows Australia’s nature protection laws are failing.

Habitat destruction has been raised as a particular concern in Queensland, which is recognised as one of the worlds’s deforestation hotspots.

ACF’s Peta Bulling noted 10,426 hectares of habitat destruction was approved under Australia’s nature protection laws, but much more was likely cleared without approval.

“We urge Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to make sure the reform of the national environment law deals with the problem of habitat destruction, which keeps pushing unique and much-loved Australian species towards extinction,” she said.

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