The cute-looking, tree-dwelling, fluffy eared marsupials, the greater glider are slipping from vulnerable to critically endangered in five years. The environmental laws of Australia have not been strong enough to protect the gentle animals and their habitat.
The greater gliders were recorded as vulnerable in 2016 under Australian environmental laws. But widespread habitat destruction has continued unabated ever since. Now their numbers have dwindled to an extent that they need to be declared as endangered to save the species.
Instead, the government is going ahead with a law that will only weaken existing environmental laws. Australia is already on its way to becoming a global leader in the extinction of its species. Moving off the list will require immediate laws to protect the environment, not make it more vulnerable to climate change and human interference.
Reasons The Greater Glider Could Die Out?
The largest marsupials that can glide, the greater gliders are around the size of a house cat. They can glide over 100 meters through the canopy of dense forests. They feed mostly on eucalyptus leaves and nest inside the hollows of large trees like the koalas.
The greater gliders once were common in the forests of NSW, Queensland, and Victoria. But unrelenting human destruction has destroyed their habitat. Urban development and logging have brought down the large trees that are their homes.
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Climate change is also threatening the survival of the greater gliders. Frequent and widespread bushfires and rising temperatures are a major danger to the survival of the species. The greater gliders are steadily losing out to these twin threats and may soon go extinct.
The Efficacy Of The Law To Protect The Greater Gliders
A study was initiated after the greater gliders were declared vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC). The comparative study on the destruction of their habitat a couple of years before the environmental law, and two years later, threw up some disturbing facts.
The extent of logging activity was measured in Victoria. In New South Wales and Queensland, researchers measured the extent to which the trees were felled to make way for housing, agriculture, development, and also through logging activities.
It was found that there was no change in logging activity in Victoria during the two periods. While 4,917 hectares were logged in the two years before the law was enacted, 4,759 hectares were logged after 2016. And 45% of these were the habitat of the greater gliders according to federal government records.
And incidentally, it is the state-owned forester, VicForests that is accountable for the greater share of the logging within Victoria.
Habitat clearance saw a 300% rise. It increased from 3,002 to 11,838 hectares post-2016, the year of listing. The clearing of habitat for various purposes saw a spike of 5%, from 15,204 to 15,890.
The Black Summer Bushfire
The bushfire in 2019 and 2020 destroyed 29% of the glider habitat, 40% of which was severely burnt. This indicates that the greater gliders are not returning to such areas anytime soon.
Projects that are once sanctioned are not revised even if a species residing in the area is declared vulnerable or endangered. Neither does a bushfire change the status of the project, thus having a greater negative impact on the affected area.
This means that even after listing, it could be years before an area finally becomes safe for them. Logging companies in New South Wales and Victoria take advantage of local laws that allow them to bypass federal laws protecting listed species. They are required to conform to state regulations only for the protection of listed species, and such regulations are generally farcical.
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VicForests were recently caught out by the Federal Court for destroying the habitats of the greater glider and the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.