Kean may be making the running on wildlife issues but he has a long way to go

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Kean may be making the running on wildlife issues but he has a long way to go

Australia holds the dubious and unwanted distinction as a world leader when it comes to nudging species over the brink into extinction, including almost three dozen species of mammals since Europeans arrived.

So it was a welcome move by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean last week to declare a “zero extinctions” policy for the state’s national parks. He also named another 92 species as so-called assets of intergenerational significance to join the fabled Wollemi pine on that list, ensuring extra protections.

It might seem churlish, if not ungrateful, to question the minister’s eagerness to preserve endangered species such as the Botany Bay bearded orchid or the black-tailed antechinus. These are species that few of us would have heard of, let alone seen in the wild.

Mr Kean clearly has an enthusiasm and clout in this vital portfolio, probably unmatched in NSW from either side of politics since Premier Bob Carr led a blitzkrieg of new national park declarations two decades ago.

Nature, however, respects results and not media releases. For those 93 assets of intergenerational significance, we trust plans for their conservation will be rapidly made and properly funded.

We also hope the choice of the list – and the associated 221 locations within the national parks where those 93 species are to be found across the state – has been informed by the best science.

As Rob Pallin, a member of the board of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, noted in our opinion pages, it was curious species such as NSW’s most threatened bird, the regent honeyeater, did not make it to the special asset list while four other birds did.

Similarly, the vulnerable Camden white gum also failed to make the cut, even though there are only two known populations anywhere.

Their exclusion may have had something to do with the fact both species are found in the part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area likely to be subject to inundation should the government ever proceed as currently planned to raise the Warragamba Dam wall 14 metres or higher.

Money usually plays a big role in whether the necessary surveying and monitoring of an endangered species are done to give it a break from threatening processes – think feral predators and pollution – to get back on a self-sustaining survival path.


To that end, we see cause for optimism with the National Parks and Wildlife Service advertising for jobs, including ecologists, to fatten the ranks of experts that have endured years of thinning.

There are also two positions on offer to help accelerate the assessments by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which has long struggled to keep up with the determination of status of the almost 1000 plant and animal species known to be at risk in the state.

Many more species, including less-studied invertebrates from butterflies to beetles, should be on our watch lists for protection, ecologist say. And their protection backed with funding.

Minister Kean has done well to expand the national park estate, adding 350,000 hectares since he took over the role about 30 months ago. He is likely to announce more in coming months.

However, his purview is largely limited to those national parks or the conservation on private land that his department can support.


Why these constraints matter was on display this week when the government finally released its land-clearing tool for landholders. In most cases, they will be allowed to clear 25 metres either side of a fence line for bushfire protection.

At the time of the cabinet’s approval late last year, senior government officials were privately worried the provision would unleash wanton habitat destruction with little science to back the move in terms of improving fire safety. The 25-metre rule was not among the NSW Bushfire Inquiry’s recommendations.

Environment groups are concerned that there will be little appetite within the Rural Fire Service to police the new code, whether it is assessing the width of the swath cut or whether it cuts through an endangered ecosystem.

The price of liberty is said to be eternal vigilance. Such watchfulness – and a dose of scepticism – also seems warranted for our precious wildlife.

Note from the Editor

The Herald editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.

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