Of what use is a spotted quoll? The Australian carnivore with moist pink nose and sharp teeth is in a precarious position. While it has a spot on the Aussie animals swap cards that were a craze among primary school children last year, its survival in the Australian bush is less assured. Once the common predator of backyard chooks, it has retreated in our region to small patches in mostly rocky areas. It is now rarely seen.
It could disappear entirely and we’d hardly notice. Does this matter?
It all depends on what we value. If we value a healthy, thriving environment, then we’ll be keen to look after all of its players, from its soil microbes to its furry animals.
Before the last state election, the Coalition announced that it would, if re-elected, spend $100 million dollars over five years on the Saving Our Species program. The money would be spent on feral animal control and action plans designed to improve the chances of all 970 threatened species in the state. Sounds like a big commitment to threatened species, complete with a reasonably fat cheque.
The problem is that at the same time, the Coalition announced that it would abolish the various bits of legislation that currently protect native habitat on private land: the Native Vegetation Act, the Threatened Species Act and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. These would be replaced by a single piece of legislation that would – effectively – make it easier for landholders to clear native vegetation on their properties.
Bush clearing has long been at the heart of the Australian agricultural story. It is celebrated in painting and folklore; it is part of the psyche of generations. For individual landholding families, the right to clear land on their own properties translates directly into money in the bank, food on the table.
Over the past few decades, arguments over land clearing have been posed as either/or, with farming interests on one side and environmental interests on the other. Despite the pot of money for threatened species, the government’s plans are now bending the stick back in favour of one side (farmers) over the other.
But is it really true that farmers must practice the sort of clearing engaged in by previous generations in order to remain viable?
Increasingly, farmers are adopting a more sustainable model that embraces the on-farm benefits of native vegetation: less land degradation, salinity and soil erosion; shelter and shade for stock; and habitat for birds and other organisms that prey on pests and pollinate crops.
Meanwhile, native vegetation also provides a spot in the bush for the spotted quoll and its other threatened friends.
Tracy Sorensen is a member of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Check the website at www.bccan.org.au.