The orange-bellied parrot has a history as colourful as its feathers. It has been an unlikely player in some controversial debates, its presence famously halting the construction of a major wind farm.
It is also one of Australia’s most endangered birds, listed as ”critically endangered” – one step above ”extinct”. There are fewer than 50 in the wild.
Every summer the birds breed in south-west Tasmania. There they are met by a recovery team which monitors them, provides feed and maintains nest boxes. In colder months the parrots, one of only two species of parrot which migrate , go to the saltmarshes of Victoria and South Australia.
But money for recovery work across the three states – including captive breeding and habitat restoration – is in doubt.
An application for a five-year grant from the federal government’s Caring for our Country program was recently rejected. That has left the applicants seeking a smaller grant.
Tasmania could provide some money, but this could mean only a trimmed-back effort, possibly limited to the apple isle.
A member of the parrot’s recovery team, Barry Baker, said if the funding does not come through at all then years of recovery work could be at risk.
”Relying on one or two [funding] cycles to try conserve species is not effective, you need some certainty,” Mr Baker said.
The orange-bellied parrot’s situation is not unique. Many scientists and conservationists say threatened species funding in Australia is disjointed, piecemeal and disorganised.
Saturday is National Threatened Species Day, September 7 being the day in 1936 when the last Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart Zoo.
Australia has one of the worst extinction records in the world. When a plant or animal is put on the national threatened species list a recovery plan is supposed to be drawn up. Often one is not, nor is there a guarantee funding will exist to enact any plan.
Conservation biology expert at the Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University, professor John Woinarski, says it is almost impossible to work out what is spent on recovering threatened species each year. ”But the likelihood is that it has been decreasing in the last one to two decades, whereas the problem is becoming greater,” he said.
Environmental scientist professor Stephen Garnett, also from Charles Darwin, says research in which he was involved found Australian bird extinctions could be avoided for just $10 million a year. For all plants and animals it might only take an annual $100 million. Professor Garnett says a big advance would be establishing a fund to pay long-term rolling contracts for recovery work with key species.
Recent debates have questioned whether it is economically efficient to try save each species individually, instead arguing it is better to fund landscape and ecosystem-wide recovery to help as much wildlife as possible. Both men say both approaches should be taken together.
While habitat loss and invasive pests have traditionally been predominant drivers of species decline, emerging evidence shows climate change will be a major future threat. What will be required is more protected and restored habitat for species.
Researchers from Melbourne and Queensland Universities and the WWF have found 355 threatened plants and 11 animals will lose their entire suitable habitat range by 2085 under the most pessimistic warming scenario. Under the same scenario the climate would become unsuitable across half the habitat range for 61 per cent of the 504 threatened species studied.
All up, the modelling found the 504 threatened species will need an extra 838,077 to 878,590 square kilometres of protected and restored habitat to help adapt to climate change.
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