Conservation group launches legal fight to protect Australia’s unburnt landscapes
21 April 2021 at 4:27 pm
WWF are fighting to protect six key landscapes that provide sanctuary for threatened plant and animal species following the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires
A legal fund to help communities protect pockets of unburnt land from development projects will set a strong precedent for conserving fragile environments well into the future, conservationists say.
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF) announced it was teaming up with the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) to help communities use existing environment laws to protect six habitats that could provide sanctuary for threatened animals and plants following the 2019-20 summer bushfires.
The six areas are the Border Ranges in Queensland and NSW, Nymboida, the Yengo-Wollemi, the north and South Coasts of NSW, and the Eden-Gippsland region across NSW and Victoria, and were identified in WWF Australia’s latest report as needing increased protection and restoration following the fires.
Rachel Lowry, WWF Australia’s chief conservation officer, said that despite these areas of intact habitat being “more precious than gold”, they were still under threat from forestry operations and land clearing.
“Logging in priority areas should cease for at least two years while threatened species and ecological communities are assessed,” Lowry said.
It’s not the first time EDO has been involved in such matters. In 2020, the firm provided legal assistance to Manyana residents wanting to protect an area of the town’s last remaining areas of unburnt bush from a housing development.
The federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, then agreed to put the proposal on hold until further notice.
EDO’s CEO, David Morris, said the new partnership would continue important work.
“The EDO is proud to be continuing its strategic work as part of this new partnership to increase protection of these critical areas in the aftermath of the fires,” Morris said.
A mirror into the future
Stuart Blanch, a conservation scientist with WWF Australia, told Pro Bono News that he hoped the partnership would set a precedent for protecting fragile environments.
“This is a window into the future because climate change will cause more of these terrible fires and we need to quickly protect forests, particularly from logging and land clearing because that’s where wildlife will be left,” Blanch said.
“We hope to set precedents for governments to follow and for communities to realise the power they have to use existing laws.”
As well as educating communities on the existing environmental laws available to them, WWF Australia would advocate to strengthen environmental protections.
“It is also about advocating to governments to strengthen weak laws and to improve the environmental assessment of developments that are proposed to destroy forests,” he said.
In total, the six priority landscapes WWF Australia and EDO are seeking to protect are home to at least 62 plant and 21 animal species and 18 ecological communities listed as threatened under the national conservation law.
These include koalas, lyrebirds, platypuses, grey-headed flying foxes, spotted-tailed quolls, greater gliders, and regent honeyeaters.
The collaboration is part of WWF-Australia’s Regenerate Australia plan – the largest wildlife and nature regeneration program in the nation’s history – which includes the ambition to save and grow two billion trees by 2030.