‘Slashed’: Morrison government delays assessments for threatened species
Almost two dozen threatened species and habitats have had their threat updates postponed by the federal government, in one case for three years, raising concerns about extinction risks and a lack of departmental funding.
Melissa Price, the environment minister, has granted extensions sought by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee for 13 species – including the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum and the vulnerable Australian sea lion.
One ecological community, Tasmania's eucalyptus ovata or swamp gum woodlands that are home to the critically endangered swift parrot, has had its assessment extended since 2016 "to allow adequate time for technical analysis and consultation", the environment department said.
The Poplar box grassy woodland has also had its assessment pending since October 2016.
The assessment of bushfires as a "key threatening process" for biodiversity "throughout Australia" was originally extended from September 2010 to March 2011. It was further extended again until November 2013 – after the Coalition took office – with no further update reported.
David Lindenmayer, an ecologist at the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, said delayed assessment updates mean some species or ecological communities don't have their threat ratings increased. That could mean certain development projects get the nod in the meantime when they might not otherwise have been permitted to proceed.
Professor Lindenmayer cited the example of the Leadbeater's possum – Victoria's animal emblem – which is "in a really bad way”.
Bushfires and forestry have reduced the marsupial's preferred habitat in the hollows of old trees, with their presence in long-term sites halving over the past two decades.
"Our field data for this year suggests that the drop is even more substantial in the last couple of years as the number of big trees decline dramatically,” he said.
Cuts to the federal environment department – calculated to be 40 per cent since 2013, by the Australian Conservation Foundation – appear to be one reason for the delayed assessments, Professor Lindenmayer said.
"The complexity of some of these issues has increased substantially yet the resources to meet these problems have been slashed," he said.
"The Minister is acting within normal time frames under the [Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act which provides for up to 90 days to consider recommendations," a spokesman for Minister Price said.