(photo courtesy of freefotos.com)
Earth is experiencing its sixth great extinction event and the new report reveals that this threat is advancing on six major fronts,says the report's lead author, Professor Richard Kingsford of the University of New South Wales
Our region has the notorious distinction of having possibly the worst extinction record on earth.
A study out of the University of New South Wales identified six major threatening processes (habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, climate change, overexploitation, pollution, and disease) and developed a set of conservation policies for each process.
Threats TO Livestock
The study by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre estimated that six of Australia's most common pest animals cause annual crop and livestock losses of just over $620 million. According to Agricultural Minister Tony Burke, Feral pests are not an irritation; they sabotage farm businesses.
Feral animals impact on native species by predation, competition for food and shelter, destroying habitat, and by spreading diseases. Over the last 200 years, at least 19 species of native mammals have become extinct in Australia.
Extinction is the end result of a process over time as populations of a species gradually decline and disappear.
The feral animal problem in Australia is more than destruction of "assets" or "sabotage" of farm businesses! One of the more obvious impacts is that many invasive species will increase their range or population densities – cane toads hopping further south, for example.
Threats FROM livestock
Land clearing, primarily for agriculture, is perhaps the single most important cause of environmental degradation, loss of species, and depletion of ecological communities, both in Australia and worldwide. About 80% of the world’s original cover of forest has been cleared, fragmented, degraded or converted to plantations. CSIRO report.
Over the decade 1990–2000, Australia had the sixth highest annual rate of land clearing in the world.
The sequence of occupation and land use in the Western Division NSW and the timing of the loss of native mammal species allows the conclusion to be drawn that it was sheep, and the way the land was managed for the export wool industry, that drove so many of the mammal species to extinction.
The resemblance of Australian to European pasture was only superficial. Australian native grasses were adapted to a poorer soil type and soft-footed, grazing marsupials. In a short time, native grasslands began to lose their vigour as hard-hoofed, close-cropping stock were introduced to these areas. However, despite declines in sheep numbers, there are still about 77 million head in the Australian sheep flock.
There are roughly 29 million cattle in Australia. Most of these animals are raised to be killed for food. The climatic environment in Australia for sheep and cattle grazing is highly uncertain and producers face high levels of variability in grass growth and hence grazing pressure.
According to the Garnaut report, these industries are highly vulnerable to climate change.
Notably, Australia is the only country in the top 20 land-clearing nations with a developed first world economy! More than 550 000 hectares of native vegetation are cleared in Australia each year (Australian Conservation Foundation, 2001).
Grazing by Sheep and Cattle on natural or semi-natural pastures is the major land use for 4.5 million square kilometres (60%) of Australia’s land surface (Commonwealth of Australia).
Introduced ungulates (hoofed animals) are more dependent on permanent water than are native mammals. They congregate near permanent water, especially during drought. They eat and trample native vegetation, compact soil, alter soil structure and disrupt the soil.
Grazing by Cattle and Rabbits can have relatively severe ecological impacts in drought years. Over-grazing leads to desertification, and up to 4 million hectares of pastoral inland Australia could become permanent.
Food and Agriculture Organisation report Livestock's Long Shadow. Cattle possibly pose the single greatest threat to biodiversity as forests continue to be cleared to accommodate them; 70 per cent of clearing in the Amazon alone is for cattle.
Nearly 50% of the Australian continent is grazed by animals raised for human consumption. This is in addition to the land that is cleared and used for the production of hay and other food for animals. Clearing of forests and bushland for animal industries results in habitat loss throughout Australia, which is the major cause of wildlife species becoming threatened, endangered and extinct.
Wildlife as “invasive species”?
Of 53 species of kangaroos, 29 are now threatened and 6 extinct. Australia has the worst record of extinctions of any country having exterminated one third of its wildlife in just 200 years. The commercial killing of kangaroos is the largest land-based wildlife slaughter on earth, kills more unweaned young than any other country and is as shameful as the Japanese whale slaughter and the Canadian seal hunt.
Researchers from the CSIRO tested the grazing pressure of red kangaroos equivalence to 0.7 sheep and have shown it to be a two-fold overestimation of their contribution to total grazing. Moreover, kangaroos had extraordinarily lower rates of water turnover, being only 13% that of sheep. Consequently, our data support arguments that the removal of kangaroos may not markedly improve rangeland capacity for domestic stock.
Kangaroos only compete with livestock for pasture when total grazing pressure exceeds dry matter production.
A six year study by Dr Steven McLeod at the University of New South Wales, determined: There was no evidence of a competitive effect of red kangaroos on sheep in terms of body mass, wool growth, reproductive output of sheep or the growth and survivorship of lambs. In fact, Red Kangaroos consistently avoid areas used by sheep.
A 4yr study of Grey Kangaroos in Western Australia by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation) found that 95% wheat crops are never visited by kangaroos who rarely wander more than 400 metres from their home range in the bush. Also kangaroos have virtually no impact on the country’s crops, despite claims by farmers to the contrary.
Speaking at the 2007 Biodiversity Extinction Crisis Conference held at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, ecologist Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney revealed data showing that in many areas - surrounding major Australian sheep farming regions - "where dingoes occur there are no foxes." Other research has shown a correlation between dingoes and low fox numbers on either side of 5,000-kilometre-long 'dingo-proof 'fence constructed by Australian state governments to exclude the dogs from sheep farming areas.
However, native species are not "invasive" but part of our ecology that provides "services" for farmers. They need to be treated as an ally and non-lethal management needs to be part of farming costs.
Native flora and fauna are part of our biodiversity, our heritage, our life-support system and their conservation and survival is a duty-of-care. Any wildlife and native plant losses have far more serious implications than financial and asset losses!
Colonial attitudes that consider wildlife losses as incidentals, or as inconveniences and "pests", still exist today and need to be challenged.
THE GREEN ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF AUSTRALIA IS PART OF THE EASTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION THAT GOES BACK TO THE APOSTLES. WHEN WE CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, SAYS
HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP STYLIANOS HARKIANAKI, WE ARE TRULY 'IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD'.
Human beings have caused species to become extinct, and destroyed the biodiversity of creation; we have degraded the integrity of the Earth by causing excessive and rapid climate change; we have destroyed forests and wetlands, and contaminated the Earth’s waters; we have polluted its lands and its air with poisonous substances. This is sinful. Sinfulness means we have ‘missed the mark’ as to God’s original purpose for creation, choosing instead to become beings consumed by avarice and greed, contrary to the will of our Creator.