One of the cameras set up to capture the native animals that survived the December bushfire. (ABC News: Craig Berkman )
Scientists and conservationists fear bushfire-ravaged areas of Australia are facing a second wave of wildlife deaths unless broader action is taken to control feral animals.
- Environmental groups claim “critical” privately protected reserves are missing out on post-bushfire funding
- Nearly six percent of Australia’s conservation estate is managed by private landholders.
- The groups say the lack of funding for private conservation areas puts local wildlife at risk
Environmental groups say the extra government funding promised pest and predator control, but money isn’t hitting the ground fast enough, and that privately protected areas are missing out.
The Invasive Species Council, a not-for-profit Australian environmental organisation, is leading the call for more funding of the private areas it says are critical havens for threatened plants and animals.
Chief executive Andrew Cox said feral animals posed a constant threat to native flora and fauna, but after a fire was when they did their “greatest damage”.
“They prey on the remaining wildlife [and] aggressively eat all shooting vegetation,” he said.
He said it meant animals had to compete harder for the little food left with their groundcover and shelter burnt, making them easy pickings for predators.
“In some cases, the private land conservation areas may be the last stronghold for some threatened species,” he said.
“They need to get funding similarly to the national park system.”
Green shoots appear
Nearly six percent of Australia’s conservation estate is managed by private landholders.
Bezzants Lease, a 30-square-kilometre reserve on the tablelands of northern New South Wales, is one.
The ABC joined South Endeavour Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that buys and manages land for conservation, on a tour of the Bezzants Lease land hit by bushfire in December.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” the trust’s director, Tim Hughes, said.
“But I keep looking at just how resilient the bush is, and I see signs of life and hope everywhere.”
The reserve, which includes the endangered ecosystem of Montane Peatlands, is home to a vast array of native flora and fauna, including 14 threatened animal species.
Among them is the spotted-tailed quoll and the glossy black-cockatoo.
A spotted-tailed quoll in the bushfire-affected area of Bezzants Lease, in northern NSW. (Supplied: Jannico Kelk)
Both have been seen since the fire, as have wombats, echidna, kangaroos, lyrebirds, as well as one sugar-glider and a lone koala.
“Compared to what we feared, it’s not doing too badly at the moment,” Mr Hughes said.
“[But] if we don’t throw everything we’ve got at the problem now, then we won’t actually have all the species that helped make Australia, Australia.”
Amongst the devastation green shoots can be seen, along with pink and gold sprouts from tree trunks and limbs. While funghi — an important food source for some animals — is returning.
Animals have returned, but Mr Hughes warned it was critical to give the wildlife which has survived the best possible chance.
“Doing something about feral animals is absolutely front and centre to what we have to do right now.”
Money ‘not enough’
South Endeavour Trust has 10 reserves across NSW and Queensland.
Seven of them have been either fully, or partially burnt.
Mr Hughes estimates it will cost $500,000 to effectively trap, bait and shoot feral animals across the fire-affected properties.
“We need funding, as does the public reserve system, because this is a huge challenge for us now,” he said.
In response to the bushfires, Federal and State Governments have pledged millions of extra dollars to step up the fight against feral animals.
The Federal Government announced an initial wildlife and habitat recovery package of $50 million.
Tim Hughes said he had spotted many feral animals on the conservation reserve. (ABC News: Dominique Schwartz)
It said $7 million of that would be provided to Natural Resource Management groups in bushfire-affected areas for predator and weed control.
While welcoming the money, Mr Cox said it was not enough and had been slow in hitting the ground.
“We’re finding that only about a couple of hundred thousand is reaching each of the natural resource management agencies that are going to do the work,” he said.
“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars we need for the effort to get on the ground over the coming months and even years to make sure the pests and weeds don’t prevail over the native wildlife that’s really struggling.”
The New South Wales government has launched what it claimed was the largest feral animal control program ever undertaken in its national parks.
A spokesperson told the ABC the government would implement a “complementary” program on private land.
Mr Hughes said he was happy the problems had been recognised but “we don’t have months, the action has to really happen now.”
“We run the risk that we’ll have an empty landscape, that all the vegetation will recover but they’ll be nothing in it.”