Developers push for bandicoot delisting

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ANALYSIS

FEDERAL Environment minister Greg Hunt has rejected claims his government is trying to take the southern brown bandicoot off the threatened species list.

He was responding to an article pub­lished in The Times last month (‘Bandicoot under threat from govt’, The Times 26/1/15).

“The Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) is conducting an independent assessment of 80 species, including the southern brown bandicoot, as part of its normal process,” he told The Times in a statement.

But an investigation by The Times has found that the bandicoot is one of just five species being considered first-up by the committee and the only one being considered for delisting.

Its potential delisting has been triggered by a number of housing development referrals to the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the claim by some scientists that the bandicoot is doing well at a few locations around Australia – including in the Grampians and East Gippsland – after removal of red foxes and feral cats, bandicoots predators.

The same developers who lobbied the Victorian government to weaken bandicoot protection protocols in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs last year have sparked the federal process.

Scientists are warning that removing the bandicoot from the protected list could create a “yo-yo effect” – less money will be available for fox and cat control, which will see more bandicoots killed, so it will have to be relisted and populations will rise again, and then another attempt will be made to delist it.

Delisting the bandicoot could lead to what occurred in the municipalities of Kingston and Frankston where the bandicoot is now extinct. It is extremely rare on the Mornington Peninsula.

Travelling between Melbourne and Arthurs Seat in the 1850s, naturalist Horace Wheelwright said the region was teeming with “bandicotes’’. Until the late 1980s, bandicoots could be found in good numbers in the sand belt and southeastern suburbs such as Beaumaris, Braeside, Oakleigh, Clayton, Springvale and Frankston as well as on the peninsula. But housing subdivisions resulted in loss of habitat and an increase in predators such as foxes and cats.

Just two viable populations remain in the region – at Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne and in undeveloped parts of Koo Wee Rup at the northern end of Western Port. A third population on Quail Island in Western Port has been decimated by wild pigs released on the island by hunters.

Many scientists and conservationists say the claim that bandicoot numbers are on the rise is misleading. This is occurring in a few isolated areas but the overwhelming cause of continued decline of bandicoots is the deliberate and bureaucratically endorsed bulldozing of the species’ habitat.

Academic Brian Chambers recently wrote: “The EPBC Act mandates that any development that negatively impacts on biodiversity must be offset so there is no net loss of biodiversity as a result of the development. Clearly the legislation or its implementation is failing in that regard and the offsets provide by developers are not working … government departments responsible for ‘protecting’ our natural heritage [must] resolve to make the system work … because there aren’t many places left to go except onto the list of extinct species.”

Twenty-nine Australian land mammals have become extinct over the past 200 years, the worst record in the world, and 56 are currently facing extinction. These losses and potential losses represent more than a third of the 315 species present at the time of European settlement.

Mr Hunt said he had asked the Department of Environment to extend the consultation period until the end of February “to ensure it has all the relevant information from the community”.

“I encourage anyone with information on the species to make a submission. The views of all parties will be considered by the committee. People can make a submission at environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/nominations/comment

“I remain vigilant about protecting the southern brown bandicoot.”

First published in the Frankston Times

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