Australia has been through the wringer this year. The disastrous bushfire season has led to a dramatic increase in carbon emissions, crazy conspiracy theories, firefighter deaths, some billions of dollars in damage, and the heartbreaking loss of more than a billion animals. A new report shows how more a hundred species on the continent are in peril as a result of these devastating fires.
On Tuesday, the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment released a list of 113 species with the highest urgent need for conservation action due to the damage they’ve suffered from this tragic situation. The list includes species such as the Kangaroo Island dunnart and Pugh’s frog, both of which are “at imminent risk of extinction,” per the report, because of how much habitat the fires destroyed.
These species were endangered before this year’s bushfire season kicked off. Now, things have gotten worse when they need to be getting better. Most have lost at least 30 per cent of their range, but many have lost even more. The endemic red browed treecreeper, for instance, saw almost half of its range burn. This priority list features animals such as the golden-tipped bat, which likes to dwell in the forests and caves of the fire-stricken eastern coast of Australia, is among those included. This list is focusing on species with key functions in the ecosystem.
Many of the other species on the list—13 birds, 19 mammals, 20 reptiles, 17 frogs, five invertebrae, 22 crayfish, and 17 freshwater fish—also face severe habitat disruption. Habitat destruction is driving extinction worldwide. The United Nations has proposed creating more protected areas, especially in biodiversity hotspots that dot Australia, but such a grand action would require international coordination. World leaders kinda suck at that.
In Australia, however, the government must take action. In fact, the report notes that emergency intervention will be necessary to support the recovery of species such as koalas and the smoky mouse, which looks more like a small rat. That’s because of how much of their range was lost to the flames. Lucky for all the critters of Australia—and the people, who’ve been dealing with poor air quality and government inaction—authorities expect rain this week to finally put out the remaining fires. The rain has helped put out more than 30 fires since February 7, reports the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
Rain has significantly assisted reducing the fire activity across areas of NSW. It is a welcome relief for communities and firefighters alike. 26 bush and grass fires are still burning across the state with 4 not yet contained (Snowy Valley and Monaro areas). #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/w3aUaPsuZw— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) February 10, 2020
Saving these species, however, will require work long-term. It’ll be a years-long process that will involve predator and herbivore control to reduce pressure on native species and the translocation of species. The government still needs to conduct on-the-ground surveys for many of these species to find out how bad their situation really is, so priorities may change once authorities gather more data.
Still, more than a hundred species in peril is a scary place to start. If Australia wants to conserve these animals in the long run, its leaders need to start preparing for climate change. These fires are only the beginning.