Animals are disappearing and dying, while Liberal governments sit on their hands, writes Sue Arnold.
Late December, the Federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, pops up in the mainstream media claiming that 8,400 koalas and 30 per cent of their habitat have been lost in the NSW mid-north coast fires.
That’s just guesswork from only one area of a burned state where koalas struggle to survive under the smorgasbord of threats which are the results of the policies of the Berejiklian and Morrison governments.
Ley doesn’t mention that on December 12, when the fires were raging in prime koala habitats, she signed off on a koala management plan for LendLease’s massive urban development at Mount Gilead in southwest Sydney. A development which will have catastrophic impacts on the last healthy remaining population in the state.
Have we seen Ley visiting the wildlife shelters? Has anyone seen NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean? He has said that“we’re not doing enough about climate change”.
What about Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny, have they sent their “thoughts and prayers” over the burned, injured, starving, dehydrated wildlife taken into hospitals and shelters?
Maybe "Creation" doesn’t rate a mention among Pentecostal worshippers. Certainly, there’s a deafening silence about the plight of Australia’s iconic wildlife from its primary devotee.
Or are we living in a world with a God who only deals with humans?
Silence pervades. There’s so much community anger. If there’s any karmic legacy, these Coalition politicians will soon be history. Australians take a long while to get angry and their monumental concern for the suffering of wildlife has reached millions of people globally.
Australians are outraged over the failure to plan for climate change impacts. There’s a complete lack of any national parks or refuge areas for koalas. Throwing money at wildlife organisations doesn’t cut the mustard.
In the face of the ongoing loss of habitat to out of control fires, drought impacts and unbearable heat, Berejiklian refuses to stop the logging of forests, particularly those identified as primary koala habitat which are still intact and could be refuge areas. She recently announced plans to sell sections of the forest. Berejiklian has also approved the burning of forests for energy.
With no state or federal government acting on climate change, the bushfires are creating massive emissions which will create disastrous impacts on the environment and economy.
According to a senior research CSIRO scientist, Australia's bushfires are believed to have spewed as much as two-thirds of the nation's annual carbon dioxide emissions in just the past three months, with experts warning forests may take more than 100 years to absorb what's been released so far this season.
Until recently, Australia's forests were thought to reabsorb all the carbon released in bushfires, meaning they hit net-zero emissions, but scientists say climate change is making bushfires burn more intensely and frequently.
No mention is made by any Coalition politician that forests bring rain and their loss is one of the causes of the current drought.
The commercial slaughter of kangaroos continues unabated with zero concern for the thousands and thousands of kangaroos dying of thirst and starvation. The South Australian Liberal government has generously made wallabies available to the industry to shore up their quotas.
In South Australia, where wildlife carers estimate 50 per cent of the koala population has been killed by fires, heat and drought, the Liberal government has allowed female koalas with joeys to be dragged out of trees and sterilised.
Animal carers in the Adelaide Hills are witnessing horrific suffering. One carer told IA that:
The heat has been so intense birds are dropping out of trees, haemorrhaging, with blood coming out of their mouths, their organs shutting down.
In one day 3,000 flying foxes dropped dead from the heat.
Given the massive mortality of flying foxes across Australia, the loss is likely to be catastrophic for any repair and regeneration of forest ecosystems. Flying foxes are a key pollinator and seed disperser.
In the Warwick area, southwest of Brisbane, carers say that thousands of hectares of forests burned for nine weeks, killing the wildlife. They say that the Queensland government refused to send aerial water bombers – the only way to get to the fires – because it was “too expensive".
In Tenterfield, NSW, wildlife carers are hand feeding hundreds of kangaroos, wallabies and joeys, many of them covered in ticks. They’re also caring for gliders, possums, echidnas, birds, and bettongs.
Let’s not forget insects, frogs and the crawly creatures, are a vital part of functioning ecosystems. Every wildlife carer organisation IA has contacted in SA, NSW and Queensland tell the same story.
“We haven’t seen bees, snails, slugs, ants, beetles, insects, frogs, toads, millipeds, for months. There’s only bare earth.”
Some of the volunteer firefighters and carers have told IA that the fires have been so intense the flames have burned down through two metres of the earth.
One of the biggest fears that carers share is that the fires will continue to burn and the ongoing impacts of drought and high temperatures ensure there are few release sites.
Arboreal folivores such as koalas, gliders, possums, have little chance of surviving on brittle leaves with no moisture or nutrients.
There’s no substitute food.
Kangaroos and wallabies are being fed what little hay is available and pellets.
Meantime, whilst we all wait for the blessing of rain, the firefighters have told IA that, because the entire landscape has been burned, it will regenerate at the same time. And that could take a very long time.
They say that the lack of a fuel management strategy has meant there are few places where wildlife can retreat to.
Money is pouring in for the NSW Rural Fire service, but there’s little accountability.
The public has no idea how major donations being made by millionaires and international organisations are being spent or who is in charge of any distribution.
As IA reported in November: in the 2019-20 NSW State Budget, Fire and Rescue had its capital expenditure budget cut by $28.5 million or 35 per cent. The Rural Fire Service has its capital expenditure budget cut by $49.9 million or 75 per cent.
Are donations going towards the government reversing this loss? To the firefighters?
New tankers, planes, trucks, equipment, masks?
Wildlife hospitals are also receiving mega dollars but the issues which have left wildlife so drastically unprotected are ignored by governments.
Morrison removed emissions reductions from the Department of the Environment in December, incorporating the department with a new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Great timing ScoMo.
No effort has been made by any Coalition government to address the ramifications of the ongoing critical loss of wildlife, forests, rivers, and water. Or solutions.
“We shouldn’t panic,” is the Prime Minister’s mantra.
Australia is running out of time to address desperately needed measures to set up feeding stations and water for wildlife. Remaining forests must be kept intact, the commercial kangaroo slaughter must be stopped.
Every animal that survives is a genetic treasure.
The essential question remains. What country can afford to be run by ill-equipped politicians in a time of planetary crisis?
Sue Arnold is an investigative journalist. She heads up Australians for Animals NSW Inc and the U.S. California Gray Whale Coalition. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.
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