Kangaroo Island’s endangered species are “looking at extinction” after the deadly summer bushfires unless more is done to eradicate feral cats which are preying on those that survived, conservationists warn.
Kangaroo Island’s endangered species are at more risk after the summer’s bushfires, conservationists warn
Feral cats are preying on the few animals that remain after the fires
Some locals want the eradication program sped up
For more than 20 years, Barry Green — known as the “KI cat man” — has made it his mission to rid the island of feral cats.
He has trapped, killed and skinned about 1,500 feral cats turning their skin into stubby holders, bags and other quirky household items which he sells.
He keeps a record in his notebook of each cat he has killed and turned his American River home into a museum-like shrine to raise awareness about feral cats.
“I’ve spent a lot of money chasing cats around the island,” Mr Green said.
Mr Green has been widely recognised for his two decades of conservation work, including by Natural Resources Kangaroo Island, as the island’s feral cats maim threatened species including the Kangaroo Island dunnart, echidna and bandicoot.
They also cause about $2 million worth of damage to the sheep industry each year.
But he admits he is slowing down and concedes eradicating feral cats was getting harder after recent bushfires.
“They’re breeding faster than they’re dying off,” he said.
“Once bush starts to grow back again, and it has already, they’ll start moving back and start spreading out so I guess now’s the time to really concentrate.”
Protecting the native stronghold
Kangaroo Island is one of five islands in Australia identified by the Federal Government to become feral cat free.
A government-funded feral cat eradication program has been underway since 2015 with the island meant to be free of feral cats by 2030.
But the project leader at Natural Resources KI, Dr James Smith, said he had his “fingers crossed” they would deliver on that plan.
So far, eradication work has taken place on a small pocket on the Dudley Peninsula, on the island’s east.
“There’s been a lot of work done establishing some background information, how many cats there are, what cats do in different landscapes … and what’s the best way to trap them.
“We’ve now removed cats from about 28 square kilometres and we’re slowly expanding that.
“We really need to make sure that we’ve learned all our lessons and we get it right on the Dudley; the rest of the island is about 10 times that size so we’ve just got to take our time and make sure we get it right.”
Part of the work involved building a cat barrier-fence which was meant to be finished in June but Dr Smith said was still some months off being completed.
“There’s been lots of delays, lots of negotiations and renegotiations not only with landholders but also with contractors, to get things right it just takes a long time.”
Locals tired of waiting
Heritage landowner Lara Tilbrook is fed up of waiting and feared it was all too little, too late.
There is currently no feral cat eradication work being done on the western end of the island — an area hit hard by bushfires in January, and where many threatened species, including the dunnart and echidna, live.
“I feel like we’ve just been going around in circles for years now,” Ms Tilbrook said.
“Kangaroo Island is a stronghold for threatened species nationally, not just in this state, obviously they’re predating on the native animals and really putting huge pressure on threatened species.
“We’re just looking at extinction, and extinction is forever.”
Ms Tilbrook, who owns 400 acres of heritage bushland on the north-west end of Kangaroo Island, hired a drone and shooter after the summer bushfires to hunt the feral cats on her and her neighbour’s property.
“After the fires I felt so sad and It was despair that brought me to trial the drones and work with a team to see if we could use the infrared, the thermal drone imaging, to hunt out the cats and really focus in and eradicate that way,” she said.
“We need to use multiple tools to ensure feral cats are eradicated from Kangaroo Island forever.”
Dr Smith it was hard to tell how if cat numbers had been reduced after the fire but there was work being done to try and assess that.
The island’s mayor, Michael Pengilly, said he was “critical of the speed of the program” but still held out hope feral cats could be eradicated from the island if enough work was done.
“There’s just been too much bureaucracy and not enough things happening.
“This is an enormously expensive program, it’s a prototype and we hope it works, it needs to work.”
The same issue has not plagued the larger companies in the Canadian oilpatch, with Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Husky Energy Inc. tapping the debt market with little trouble this year, Chari said.
It’s the smaller producers that are feeling the heat from impatient bankers and financiers.
“In terms of returns for both equity and debt-holders from energy companies has been so poor for a number of years that the market doesn’t necessarily have the confidence that these companies will be good stewards of their capital,” Chari said.
It’s the smaller producers that are feeling the heat from impatient bankers and financiers
As creditors’ patience runs out, a handful of opportunistic acquirers, such as Waterous, are buying up assets at bargain basement valuations.
“Consolidation has never been more urgently needed than right now,” Waterous said in a recent interview, noting that small energy companies have been shut out of both debt and equity markets and without access to capital, they are “effectively orphaned businesses.”
“These orphaned businesses need to come together,” he said. “We’ve been very aggressive in doing this.”
Waterous, who divides his time between Banff and Calgary, has been advising energy firms on deals for decades, with his own advisory called Waterous & Co. beginning in 1991. In 2005 he sold the firm to Scotiabank to create Scotia Waterous. He left Scotia in 2017 to set up the private equity Waterous Energy Fund. And after years of watching investments in the Canadian energy sector decline, he says there are major opportunities for consolidation.
The designation would have been extra layer of protection for the bee, on top of its already endangered status.
“This decision weakens the bee’s protection under the Endangered Species Act and will hamper its recovery.”
The rusty patched bumblebee was listed as endangered in 2017.
The battle over the bee continues.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced Monday that designating “critical habitat” is not warranted for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee.
This designation would have been extra layer of protection for the bee, on top of its already endangered status.
The USFWS said the bee could survive without having specific areas managed for its protection. According to the agency, biologists have concluded that habitat loss is not the biggest reason for the bee’s decline. Additional factors include disease and climate change.
An environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, decried the decision: “By refusing to designate critical habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee, the Fish and Wildlife Service is blatantly ignoring threats like habitat loss, pesticides and pathogens that are driving this species to extinction,” said Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist at the Center.
“This decision weakens the bee’s protection under the Endangered Species Act and will hamper its recovery,” she said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the designation of “critical habitat” wasn’t necessary: “The designation of critical habitat plays a very specific role in species recovery and is prudent when a species’ recovery is dependent on specific habitat elements it needs to survive,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for ecological services in the service’s Great Lakes region.
“As a habitat generalist, the rusty patched bumblebee can find the habitat it needs in a variety of ecosystems, including prairies, woodlands, marshes, agricultural landscapes and residential parks and gardens, all of which are abundant across the bee’s range,” she said.
Another environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, also spoke out against the decision: The service’s decision not to designate critical habitat is “shocking” and probably will bring another legal challenge, said Rebecca Riley, an attorney with the council.
“The bee has lost over 90% of its historic range,” she said. “We were expecting the Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job and protect what is left.”
The rusty patched bumblebee was listed as endangered in 2017, the first bee in the continental U.S. ever to make the endangered species list.
Business groups had previously raised concerns about the bumblebee designation, saying it could affect industries such as agriculture, residential and commercial development, and energy production.
“There’s a high likelihood that landowners or home builders would be encumbered” if critical habitat were designated, said Michael Mittelholzer, vice president for environmental policy with the National Association of Home Builders.
Named for the rust-colored marks on its back, the bee was once common and abundant across 28 states from Connecticut to South Dakota. Today, the species is only found in small, scattered populations in 10 states.
It it estimated to be present in only 0.1% of its former range.
Bees are responsible for pollinating most of the plants that require insect pollination to produce fruits, seeds and nuts. Like other bees, rusty patched bumblebees pollinate important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers.
People can help boost the rusty patched bumblebee population by growing a garden or adding a native flowering tree or shrub to yards and minimizing pesticide use, the Fish and Wildlife Service has said.
Leaving some areas of the yard unmowed in summer and unraked in fall can also help, since bumblebees need a safe place to build their nests and overwinter. Additionally, try leaving some standing plant stems in gardens and flower beds in winter, the agency suggested.
Mr Dooley, from conservation group BirdLife Australia, considers the swift parrot one of the victims of the laws.
‘Death by a thousand cuts’
Mr Dooley says the swift parrot is a “tricky devil to preserve”.
They migrate from Tasmania to Victoria and feed on the eucalypt blossoms of blue gum trees. In drought years, when the trees don’t flower, the parrots will head as far as coastal or northern New South Wales and even to Queensland.
He says that range makes them vulnerable to the flaws in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
“The way [the Act] currently works is they don’t really take into consideration cumulative impacts,” he tells ABC RN’s Rear Vision.
But he says it all adds up.
“You see a bit of bush being cleared here, it doesn’t meet the criteria of having a significant impact, and a housing development there, or some logging in another site, and the lights go out for that bird across the landscape,” he says.
“Each incident isn’t deemed serious enough, and so the swift parrot has been declining throughout the period of the EPBC Act.”
Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University, agrees that the Act tends to assess threats to a species in a vacuum.
“It’s the classic death by a thousand cuts. You could lose the species because each of those threats have been assessed independently rather than at the same time.”
Mr Dooley says the Act should also restrict logging of the swift parrot’s habitat, but instead other agreements between state and federal governments can take precedence.
“As long as the states say that they are considering the impact of an endangered species like the swift parrot, then there is literally nothing that the EPBC Act can do to intervene.”
‘A state of steady decline’
When the laws were passed by the Howard Government in 1999, not all environmental groups were happy — but for others, it was better than nothing.
James Pittock, an environmental scientist at Australian National University, says after decades of “environmental wars” many wanted the Commonwealth to step in and regulate logging, but it was something neither side of politics would sign up to.
“My view and the view of other groups was that it would be very regrettable if logging operations weren’t regulated, but if we got an improvement by having the other 90 per cent or more of the country better protected, then that was a compromise worth accepting in the interim.”
Ten years later the first independent assessment of the Act was scathing.
Rachel Walmsley from the NGO the Environmental Defenders Office says the review — which is required every decade under the law — actually recommended the EPBC be repealed and rewritten.
“The 71 recommendations that the Hawke review came up with, unfortunately, never really saw the light of day. They have languished on a dusty departmental shelf.”
She says the law is fundamentally flawed.
“We have an Act that doesn’t prevent extinction, even though that is the primary national Act to conserve our unique biodiversity,” Ms Walmsley says.
“There have been about 6,500 projects referred under the Act in 20 years, but there has only ever been a handful of refusals, and the Act has been really ineffective in actually delivering environmental outcomes.”
University of Queensland environmental scientist Martine Maron says the Bramble Cay melomys was lost to storm surges and sea level rise on the small Great Barrier Reef island where it lived.
The Christmas Island pipistrelle, a small insect-eating bat, and the Christmas Island forest skink have also disappeared.
“We knew they were in trouble but we didn’t act in time, and so it’s too late for them,” she says.
“But there are so many more species that are really on the brink that we can still act for and we need coordinated national action to achieve.”
Professor Maron says island species are especially vulnerable.
“The species that are in trouble on the mainland have been able to hang on longer, but for how much longer is the question,” she says
“Unfortunately every tree we put back, every bit of habitat we restore … is undone many times over by land clearing, by ongoing loss of habitat, and those of the sorts of situations that the Act has simply not been able to get a handle on.”
Other countries, it seems, have done better.
The Wilderness Society’s Suzanne Milthorpe says the United States’ Endangered Species Act has been remarkably successful, compared to Australia’s efforts.
“Ninety per cent of species are meeting their recovery milestones … and it is estimated that 227 extinctions have been prevented, which is incredible, compared with Australia where you’ve only really got one or two animals that have ever come off the EPBC because they’ve been recovered by conservation action.”
She says the US law has strong safeguards, and the ability for communities to force the government to the table “and actually say to them we’re going to take you to court to make sure you do your job”.
“They’ve [also] got this really strong threshold that basically says once a species is endangered, you can’t harm it and you can’t harm its habitat or the places that it needs to survive, to breed, to feed, to thrive,” she says.
“And importantly they define its habitat as not only the place that it needs to live now, but also the habitat that it needs to recover.”
Doing the work
Professor Hughes says one area where the laws fail is actually ensuring the work to save the species gets done.
She says when a species is listed as threatened a recovery plan is supposed to be written.
“What has happened is that we have many, many species and communities listed that don’t have plans written at all.”
But she says even when there is a recovery plan, there’s then no obligation for it to be funded.
“The Act looks after the first part of the process, but it doesn’t actually oblige the government to mandate the actions and to resource them effectively to mean that the species actually recovers,” she says,
“Over the years, especially over the last decade, the amount of real dollars spent on saving threatened species in particular and environmental protection more generally has continued to decline.”
Mr Dooley says there have been instances where recovery plans have saved threatened species.
“We know that conservation actions work, but they have to be resourced, they have to be based on good data, based on good monitoring, and we just don’t even get that for most of our threatened species,” he says.
“Currently of the 71 threatened birds on the EPBC Act, only six of them have up-to-date recovery plans that are resourced.”
Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the Government didn’t want “additional layers of bureaucracy”.
“The Government will take steps to strengthen compliance functions and ensure that all bilateral agreements with states and territories are subject to rigorous assurance monitoring,” she said.
The Government does support a move to devolve federal approvals to the states to create a “one-stop shop”, something that concerns Professor Hughes.
“What we are all concerned with is that the Government will cherry-pick those recommendations that they can use to make things easier for developments to take place, which will actually give us worse environmental conditions than before,” she says.
“Things could actually get worse rather than get better.”
Professor Pittock says there should be stronger national standards and that the states should change their laws to match.
“We need better information systems so that it is clearer to everybody where the places are of environmental importance that should be left alone versus those where development activities should occur,” he says.
“There is a need for more matters of national environmental significance to control things like the clearing of native vegetation. Australia is one of the top five countries undertaking deforestation in the world, it’s a disgrace.”
Professor Samuel’s final report will be published in October.
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Four teenagers caught drifting and doing circlework on a possible sacred Aboriginal site near the Australian War Memorial in Canberra have been fined and had their cars impounded.
Four school boys were caught on Friday driving dangerously on land near the Australian War Memorial
The grasslands are important for several endangered species, and a potential sacred Indigenous site
Residents say teenagers regularly use the land for drifting as the government has not intervened
The boys, three from Daramalan College and another from Dickson College, were caught by police on Friday as they attempted to leave the site.
Locals said they had called police at least a dozen times in the past year warning that P-platers were using the grasslands near the for dangerous driving, damaging an endangered habitat and risking their own safety.
On Friday, a resident told the ABC that he saw several boys were once again at the site, drinking and swapping cars as they took turns skidding across the wet grass.
He said he became concerned when a car scraped a tree.
“It came out off Quick Street … it spun around on there and went onto the footpath,” he said.
Police officers caught the cars as they were leaving, and fined four of the boys for driving on a nature strip, not displaying P-plates, failing to stop at a stop sign, and improper control of a vehicle.
“Police interviewed all the occupants of the vehicles, and after receiving assistance from the occupants, four of the drivers were issued with Traffic Infringement Notices,” a spokesman for ACT Policing said.
“Further investigations into similar activity identified another driver who has been responsible for similar behaviour in the same area between November 2019 to August 2020.”
Police said none of the identified drivers returned positive alcohol breath tests.
The resident, who had made multiple complaints to police in the past 12 months — including the previous Friday when a separate car was seen drifting — said government inaction had led to more teenagers abusing the site.
“When one of them, the white four-wheel drive, starts to show it off, the others say ‘well okay, that’s where you can do this kind of thing’, because the ACT Government does nothing, basically.”
ACT Policing said it was investigating other reports into similar behaviour at the site.
“The area is identified as an area of significance to the traditional owners,” the spokesman said.
“Police are urging members of the public with any information regarding dangerous driving of vehicles in this area to contact Crime Stoppers.”
‘Deep-seated frustration’ at destruction of claimed Aboriginal site
The site has been identified by the ACT Government as an important habitat for several endangered flora and fauna, but the grasslands have been significantly damaged by vandalism.
Earlier this year, the ABC reported that claims the land was also a sacred Ngambri site, used for men’s business, had been ignored.
“It’s a deep-seated frustration, it’s an intergenerational frustration. The land really does need to be cared for,” Mr Mortimer said.
Daramalan College said it could not comment on issues concerning individual students.
However Mr Mortimer said the school had agreed to organise for its Year 12 students to visit the site and learn about its significance.
“We really have to look now for that opportunity out of adversity,” Mr Mortimer said.
The ACT Education Directorate told the ABC that because the incident was outside of school hours and off school grounds, it had not been involved.
Minister agrees to investigate installing bollards
Residents said they had been calling for the ACT Government to do more to protect the site for some time.
In June, ACT Greens leader and Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury wrote to the City Services Minister Chris Steel asking for them to be installed urgently.
“Last week, I became aware that there has been regular illegal driving on a piece of ACT land adjacent to the CSIRO site in Campbell,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“The area is natural temperate grassland with significant geological features onsite. It is an important ecosystem incorporating significant Aboriginal heritage [and] susceptible species such as the Canberra spider orchid, sunray daisy, golden sun moth and button wrinklewort.
“I write to request that you consider asking City Services to erect a series of bollards on Quick St in Ainslie, where vehicles are gaining access to this site in order to protect the significant ecology and cultural significance as a matter of urgency.”
A spokesman for the ACT Government said it would undertake an assessment of vehicle access through the section, and work with the owners of the adjacent land, now Doma Group, on options to limit access for vehicles.
Mr Rattenbury said it was disappointing to hear the site had been damaged again since he first raised the issue.
“This area should be protected, and the solution here isn’t complicated. Bollards along the border of the site could have prevented this unnecessary damage from taking place,” he said.
A respected field naturalist who received an Order of Australia medal this year says she was “extremely distressed” to learn what she knows as the Westbury Reserve will be razed in favour of a second Tasmanian prison.
Sarah Lloyd has been visiting the land for about 15 years, and has spotted several threatened species on the site
The Tasmanian Government wants the first stage of the prison completed within five years
Field naturalists will lobby the Government to find a new site
Sarah Lloyd has been visiting the Birralee Road site, about five kilometres from the northern township of Westbury, for about 15 years.
She has documented more than 30 species of bird, including endangered species such as grey goshawks, wedge-tailed eagles and masked owls.
“It has dead and dying trees, it has a lot of fallen branches and logs on the ground, and it has really messy understorey,” she said.
“So, while most people might think it’s degraded forest it’s actually really important for a lot of bird species.
“I must admit I was extremely distressed to hear that they were building a prison on what I regard, in fact what I’ve always known, as the Westbury Reserve.”
Instead, Attorney-General Elise Archer said the $270 million project would be situated on thickly forested Crown Land just three kilometres further away from the town centre and without access to water, sewage or gas.
The original plans drew the ire of vocal Westbury residents worried about the potential impact on house prices and the township’s reputation.
They have this week indicated they were opposed to the new site too.
Speaking on Tuesday, Ms Archer said the Government was now doing its due diligence on the new site with plans to have the first stage of the Westbury prison up and running by 2025.
“This vital project alone will support more than 1,000 jobs and deliver an economic boost of $500 million to the region, according to the recently completed and independently conducted Social and Economic Impact Study,” Ms Archer said in a statement.
Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff wants the Government to go back to the drawing board.
She noted the land was listed on the Government’s own records as purchased under the Tasmanian Private Forest Reserves Program, suggesting it was once assessed as having conservation values.
“There is no way this site is appropriate for a prison,” Dr Woodruff said.
“It’s appropriate to be protected as the reserve land it is already protected to be … it’s meant to be there for perpetuity.”
An Environment Department spokeswoman said the land had been reassessed about 10 years ago and found it was not needing protection.
“The site has been surveyed several times in the past decade … a preliminary assessment was conducted by DPIPWE prior to the announcement and no impediments have been found that would prevent the building of the prison on this site,” she said.
Ms Lloyd, a prominent member of the Central North Field Naturalists, said she and other members of the group would lobby the Government to find a new site that wasn’t “this special bit of bush”.
“We know based on other surveys around northern Tasmania that these birds are declining,” Ms Lloyd said.
“I just couldn’t believe that they could point their finger at a bit of Crown Land and probably not regard it as having any value at all.”
The critically endangered Smoky Mouse has been found alive and well in the Kosciuszko National Park, right after it was feared the native species experienced been wiped from the place all through the summer time bushfire disaster.
Motion-sensor cameras set up about the past 5 months have recorded images of the mouse at 7 burnt-out internet sites in southern NSW.
The NSW Place of work of Surroundings established up 58 cameras to check wildlife following the Dunns Street hearth which devastated the region about the summer months.
The sighting of the 50g rodent arrives as a aid to conservationists.
It is only found in two sites in NSW – in the Nullica region on the considerably south coast and in Kosciuszko National Park – as perfectly as pieces of Victoria and the ACT.
“We are relieved and delighted by this news as we ended up fearing the worst … as extra than 90 per cent of their habitat was burnt,” Environment Minister Matt Kean explained.
“Immediately after such a confronting and complicated begin to the calendar year, it was a quite content moment to know a native animal previously threatened with extinction has survived.”
The critically endangered Smoky Mouse has survived the enormous Dunns Road fire in early 2020.
Equipped/New South Wales Govt
More than the summer time, there was issue for the species amid the bushfire crisis soon after 9 mice – uncovered 50 kilometres from the nearest bushfire – died because of to smoke inhalation.
The federal government has recognized a captive breeding prepare under the Preserve our Species method which has bred 47 mice to maturity in the very last four several years.
“Long run strategies are to re-introduce the mice again to the wild to raise the Nullica populace which has been dwindling simply because of predation by feral cats,” Dr Linda Broome reported.
“Breeding happens in spring with one or two litters producing up to four youthful, so we are hoping to have much more superior information for this distinctive tiny mouse.”