State of the Environment Report: an urgent call for effective conservation

20 Jul. 2022
Wayne Lawler/AWC

The Australian State of the Environment Report 2021 was released on Tuesday 19 July by the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek. The five-yearly environmental scorecard paints a bleak picture of decline in Australia’s native animals and ecosystems, emphasising the lack of coordination and investment in environmental management.

Since the release of the previous report in 2016, there has been an 8% increase in the number of threatened species and more extinctions are expected. There are now over 1,900 species and ecological communities listed as threatened. Of these, according to the report, there are 42 critically endangered species that have no protection in the National Reserve System. Key threats – including habitat loss, invasive species, resource extraction, climate change and pollution – have increased in intensity over the last five years. These threats are putting intense pressures on our natural environment.

Numbat Wayne Lawler/AWC
The Threatened Species Index for mammals cited in the report indicates that where feral predators have been removed, such as across AWC’s network of safe havens, mammals have increased by more than 700%.

Beyond all the bad news, the State of the Environment Report also identifies some ‘bright spots’; reasons to remain hopeful for the future of Australia’s environment. Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is cited as a shining example, recognised for our investment in feral predator-free safe havens, approach to practical management of ecosystems, and commitment to working alongside Traditional Owners and Indigenous ranger groups to improve conservation outcomes.

AWC wholeheartedly supports the Government’s commitment to doubling the number of Indigenous rangers and increasing support for Indigenous Protected Areas across the country. We welcome the $224.5 million pledged towards threatened species protection and support the commitment to increasing the area of land and oceans set aside for conservation, in line with the global movement towards 30% by 2030. However, as discussed by Minister Plibersek, simply providing protection for an area is inadequate and effective conservation requires active management, including removing feral predators, restoring healthy fire regimes, removing invasive weeds and monitoring and reporting on the success of these programs.

Bilby Release Brad Leue/AWC
The report included clear recognition of the important role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in land management and decision making. Pictured, Ngalia-Warlpiri Ranger Christine Ellis and Nyirripi students Mick, Michael, Geoffrey, Pauly and Kieran release a Bilby at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary (NT).

As stated by Minister Plibersek during the launch of the report, ‘Australian scientists are world class. We know how to restore landscapes, repair coral reefs, and recover threatened species.’ AWC exemplifies how science-informed land management is restoring ecological health.

The urgent work of protecting, restoring and managing Australia’s environment requires all of us to work together: governments, First Nations people, pastoralists, private conservation groups and everyday citizens. AWC shows what can be achieved when we get it right. Across our network of sanctuaries and partnership sites, we are rebuilding populations of threatened species, dealing with threats like feral animals and weeds, improving fire regimes, restoring ecological health, and using data and evidence to assess management actions and remain accountable. Since the last State of the Environment Report was released in 2016, AWC has:

  • increased the area in which AWC’s model for effective conservation is delivering high impact results from 4 million hectares (~9.9 million acres) to more than 12.9 million hectares (~31.9 million acres);
  • established three new feral predator-free safe havens and one soon to be feral predator free, increasing the cat-free area AWC protects from 17,000 hectares (~42,000 acres) to almost 42,000 hectares (~104,000 acres);
  • undertaken 50 reintroductions and supplementary translocations, involving more than 1,500 individuals from 16 mammal species across four states and territories;
  • restored seven locally extinct species to NSW;
  • treated more than 480,000 weed plants and established a national strategy for weed management;
  • removed more than 2,000 feral cats and foxes;
  • removed more than 35,000 large feral herbivores;
  • launched eight new partnerships – with the Department of Defence (WA), NSW Government (NSW), Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation(WA), Bullo River Station (NT), Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation (WA), Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and local landowners (SA), North Australian Pastoral Company (NT, QLD), and Ngalurrtju Aboriginal Land Corporation and the Central Land Council (NT).

This has been achieved thanks to our hard-working field teams and partners, and incredibly generous supporters and volunteers.

Imagee Waynelawler Wayne Lawler/AWC
Monitoring data for reptiles is incredibly poor and programs that do measure and monitor these animals – such as AWC’s Ecohealth program – are critical for effective conservation.

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Wayne Lawler/AWC
Wayne Lawler/AWC
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