By Richard Bates
Did you know that koalas are extinct in the Shoalhaven, soon to be extinct everywhere except in zoos if we keep on going the way we are? Why? Mostly because of habitat loss caused by land clearing, aided and abetted by all levels of government. Rapacious developers who don’t care how many animals and birds are lost as long as they turn a profit from their investment. Farmers who still think that clearing the land of native habitat is sound economic practise.
Australia has long been known as the country with the worst record of mammal loss in the world; but an emblematic species such as the koala? How can we turn a blind eye to that, how can we allow it to happen? It can truly be called treason to sit back and watch while urban development and rural land clearing wipes out the habitat of Australian native species, species that were here long before Europeans arrived.
The traitors cut down hollow-bearing trees eliminating the homes of animals and birds without a second thought. Koalas are looking at nowhere left to move to, their homes destroyed and the fragments of habitat left to them overcrowded and being eaten out. And now climate change. I fear that the koala is doomed. An iconic species, beloved by all, gone – consigned to the dustbin of history, defenceless against us, the human species with our murderous ways. Does anyone care?
And what about the Gang-Gangs? When was the last time you saw a Gang-Gang cockatoo? With its dark grey colouring and the fiery red head of the male with its punkish crest – it is unmistakeable. On the coast of south-east Australia, the only place in the world they exist, they used to be fairly common. However they need particular habitat, especially tree hollows for nesting, and over the last three generations the NSW south coast population has been depleted by over two-thirds – now with just 30 per cent left.
This is due almost entirely to habitat loss with the fires of two years ago making the situation so much worse. And yet NSW Forestry has resumed logging up and down the south coast despite community protests and the obvious detrimental impact on wildlife habitat of the bushfires. Is the demand for woodchips so great (we know it’s not profitable) that it is worth the destruction of homes for the gang-gang and every other native species that depend on these forests for their lives?
Gang-Gangs are an uncommon sight these days but they were seen just the other day in Huskisson –at the site of land clearing for an apartment development at 4 Murdoch Street, right on Moona Moona Creek. Despite all trees on site being clearly marked as to which were for removal, which to be retained and which had hollows (which sparks a whole raft of environmental protection measures – on paper), wholesale clearing of the site was commenced. Several conditions of approval were seriously breached and in fact a worker was up a tree disturbing two of the cockatoos at their nesting hollow when community members called Council and eventually had work stopped.
These birds were on-site, in their home, and the chance of them returning to nest amidst so much devastation is 50-50 at best. It doesn’t help that environmental protection laws are barely worth the paper they are written on. There is no political will to enforce, politicians beholden to developers.
Is the right to life for a native animal species less than the right of a developer to annihilate the bush for the short-term gain of yet another holiday apartment block? Ask yourself that question and then ask why federal, state and local government will do nothing to protect creatures who have no way of protecting themselves but which are so precious and unique that most of them are found nowhere else on earth. And we are just wiping them out. Make no mistake - whether it be by land clearing, logging, urban development, bushfires or climate change – it is down to us and it is shameful.
To leave it up to an informal group of community volunteers to ensure that environmental legislation and the terms of the development approval itself is adhered to is quite simply an abrogation of responsibility. The workers on sensitive sites can’t be trusted to do the right thing without proper supervision. Fortunately Council staff themselves do take their responsibilities seriously – it is just that they can’t be everywhere at once.
But all is not lost as the example above clearly shows. Ordinary people can make a difference by standing up for the environment like the people of Huskisson are doing. Developers can be held to account by a vigilant community, forestry operations can be halted by protestors, politicians can be educated or at least shamed into action on climate change. It is up to us, it is up to you, it really is.
Update: The tree is still standing and with work on site halted the Gang-Gang pair has returned for now, along with King Parrots also nesting nearby. The vigilant residents keeping watch on the site are hopeful that all the hollow-bearing trees still standing will be left undisturbed for now until breeding season is over. But the reality is that a building is going up here and some of the hollow-bearing trees will have to be removed. These birds will have to find somewhere else to breed next year with an ever-diminishing number of old trees with hollows that this species needs to stay alive.
Feature image: The koala is one of the world’s most iconic animal species and they are found nowhere else in the world but Australia. Photo credit: nyker/Shutterstock.com