NSW is losing native animals at the rate of 10 million a year from tree clearing, a pace that has doubled after the Berejiklian government eased vegetation protection laws in 2017, WWF-Australia says in a report.
Using government figures, 517,956 hectares of native bushland were cleared in 1998-2015. Using measured animal densities, that destruction would have resulted in the deaths of at least 9.1 million mammals, 10.7 million birds and 67.1 million reptiles, the report found.
Extrapolating from a region of intense habitat loss for farming in the Moree region in northern NSW where land clearing has tripled since 2017, the pace of animal mortality is likely to have risen to more than 10 million a year.
"We used the most conservative figures" for land clearing, Chris Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney, said.
The reluctance of the government to release data on what has happened to vegetation destruction rates in recent years was "really quite embarrassing", he said, adding that NSW was heading back to the 40,000-hectare annual clearing rates that existing in the early 2000s before tighter controls began.
"NSW now has the weakest woodland and forest protections," Darren Grover, WWF-Australias head of living ecosystems, said. "It is the worst place to live in Australia if you are a wild animal that needs trees to survive."
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton discussed the report with WWF staff on Wednesday. "The minister has heard the Funds concerns and will respond to the report in due course after its findings have been considered," a spokesman said.
The accumulated destruction of habitat on private land is pushing more species towards threatened or endangered status, such as the greater glider or even koalas.
"We're seeing fewer and fewer species that we once thought were common," Professor Dickman said.
Animals die because even if they can escape the bulldozers to adjoining habitat, those areas are hardly vacant.
"We really have to start taking our biodiversity seriously," Professor Dickman said. "It's our life-support system as well as all the things that interact in it – we're all part of the living world."
Cate Faehrmann, the Greens environment spokeswoman, said the scale of the native animal losses should come as a shock even if the outcome of weakening protections was predictable.
"This important report should be a wake-up call for Premier [Gladys] Berejiklian that her governments anti-environment agenda has gone too far and she should reintroduce protections for native wildlife and vegetation," she said.
Illegally cleared land up for sale
Separately, the Office of Environment and Heritage said it was monitoring the sale of the Colorado property in northern NSW where Glen Turner, an OEH inspector, was murdered in 2014.
Mr Turner had been investigating illegal clearing on the block when he was shot by its owner Ian Turnbull, who died in jail a year later. The Turnbull family were ordered to rehabilitate the property, which they have now put on the market.
"No matter what happens to the property, the Turnbull family remain responsible for remediating the property and will continue to be subject to the [Land and Environment] court orders until complied with," an OEH spokesman said.
"The property will continue to be monitored by OEH regional staff."
Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.