Conservationists want WA’s environmental laws strengthened to protect endangered species from the combined impacts of land clearing across the state.
In WA, various new development projects, mining projects, and other land clearing activities, are either underway, due to start, or are awaiting approval by state or commonwealth bodies.
Many of these projects, including housing developments, the recently approved surf park in Perth’s south, the clearing of pines in the Gnangara-Pinjar-Yanchep forest, and a lithium mining site near Ravensthorpe, involve clearing land considered crucial to the survival of WA’s black cockatoos.
A group of conservationists, including the Save the Black Cockatoos coalition, lodged a formal appeal with the Office of the Appeals Convenor in late-March regarding the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority’s decision not to assess land set to be cleared for the Jandakot surf park.
Save the Black Cockatoos campaign coordinator Paddy Cullen said the combined impact of these projects amounted to a “death by a thousand cuts” for these birds.
“I think we’re at a crossroads now,” he said. “Black cockatoos are in crisis. There’s got to be a point where we draw a line in the sand and turn things around and this could be that point when we do that.
“What we’re asking the government to do is have an ecosystem view when they do their planning, not just a project-by-project view.”
All three species of black cockatoo found in WA are classified as ‘threatened’ according to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
The Great Cocky Count, a long-term survey for black cockatoos in WA, estimates total populations at 12,000 for the critically endangered Baudin’s black cockatoos, 40,000 for the endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo, and 15,000 for the vulnerable Forest Red-tailed black cockatoo.
Mr Cullen said the remaining habitat in the Wheatbelt and Perth-Peel regions was vital and required protection.
Filmmaker and director of the documentary Black Cockatoo Crisis Jane Hammond said there was a “multi-pronged attack” on these birds.
It’s not one thing. It’s everything.Jane Hammond
Ms Hammond said it was not only major projects that posed a threat to black cockatoos and smaller projects flew under the radar.
A small roost site in Southern River, in Perth’s south, was cleared in late-March.
Ms Hammond said she was only made aware of this habitat loss when Kaarakin founder Glenn Dewhurst, who was monitoring the area as a potential release site for rehabilitated black cockatoos, posted the news to his Facebook page.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the EPA was required to take into account cumulative environmental impacts of a proposal and the values, sensitivity and quality of the environment which were likely to be impacted.
University of Western Australia legal academic and natural resources and environmental lawyer Alex Gardner said there was a “strange” gap in state environmental legislation and the law did not require the EPA or Environment Minister to consider the cumulative impacts of projects on native species at the crucial later stages of decision making.
“The true use of law to define limits on our economic activity is not really in the Environmental Protection Act,” said Professor Gardner.
Curtin University law lecturer and wildlife biology expert Hugh Finn said current state environmental laws were “not fit for purpose” in terms of species recovery.
“The State legislation is similar to the Commonwealth legislation in the sense that it’s essentially designed to just manage the decline of species to extinction,” said Dr Finn.
Both Professor Gardner and Dr Finn said environmental law reform was needed, with a focus on ecologically sustainable development and protecting existing native species and habitats.
Dr Finn said: “There’s not a lack of science for how we can make landscapes where these birds can recover. We just need the political will to do it.”
Mr Cullen said he hoped the group’s appeal regarding the surf park was successful and was disappointed the EPA did not originally assess the area.
“There needs to be legislation put in place so when those criteria are there — threatened species, threatened ecological community, community interest — there’s immediately an environmental review put in place, a public environment review,” he said. “It’s just nonsense if that doesn’t happen.”
Regarding the Perth Surf Park, the EPA said it considered that the likely environmental effects of the proposal were not so significant as to warrant formal assessment.
“The vegetation has been impacted by historical clearing and on-going degrading processes leading to large proportion of weeds and limited canopy connectivity,” the statement said. “The vegetation is of low to moderate quality foraging habitat for black cockatoo.”