minister’s ‘fortress’ for endangered species crumbles on closer inspection

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Earlier this week, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean claimed he was “fortressing” threatened species from extinction within our national parks reserve system. His announcement was to declare 221 areas of threatened species habitat “Assets of Intergenerational Significance”.

Great! Environment groups joined in congratulating Kean on his “intergenerational” vision before looking at it in any detail.

Regent honeyeaters in the Capertee Valley, NSW.

Regent honeyeaters in the Capertee Valley, NSW. Credit:Lachlan Hall

I wanted to know what exactly the announcement was meant to achieve. The minister’s media headline sounded purposeful: “Zero extinctions targets set for NSW National Parks”. But how exactly did the announcement go that further step needed to protect our threatened species in National Parks? After all, aren’t National Parks established to be a “fortress” against threatened species extinction in the first place?

On the day of the announcement, I could find little reference to the exact species or habitats that had been protected. I then asked around my contacts for the ministerial press release. Bingo – a small link in the PDF press release sent me to an online map. It is fair to say, what I stumbled across in that map shocked me.

The most threatened bird species in NSW is the critically endangered regent honeyeater. Its habitat in the Burragorang, Capertee and Hunter valleys were not listed as an “intergenerational asset”. A curious omission given the $1 million in funding the NSW government has thrown at the species over the past six years.

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I then turned my attention to the Blue Mountains, an area where my family has spent decades bushwalking. One of the rarest eucalypt species in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the vulnerable Camden white gum, was also left off the list. There are only two known populations of the species left on the planet. Again, a very strange omission.

Then, in one corner of the Blue Mountains intergenerational asset map, I finally spotted two lesser-known endangered species that had been listed – the Kowmung hakea and Solanum armourense, tenacious little shrubs that grow in the depths of the southern Blue Mountains wilderness. Curiously, only one half of the population for each of these species had been declared an asset of intergenerational significance.

I was starting to ask the question. How could such a well-instructed minister simply overlook these species and their known habitats?

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