18 Mar 2020
VISITING BUSHFIRE GROUND ZERO
Report from the field - Abi Sexton, WWF-Australia Oceans & Wildlife Engagement Manager
On 5 February I travelled down the south coast of New South Wales to meet some of the local vets and wildlife carers that are on the front line of the bushfires. They’re the amazing people that have been caring for and saving our wildlife.
While I was there we visited a forest impacted by the fires that hit Batemans Bay and Milton on 31 December. It was pretty shocking to see. But thanks to the overwhelming generosity of people in Australia and around the world we've been able to quickly deploy funds to vets on-the-ground and also wildlife care organisations. And with those funds, they've been able to care for and save the sick and injured wildlife.
We met a swamp wallaby and a ringtail possum and so many bats - all had been saved from areas impacted by drought or the bushfires. It's been pretty devastating actually. There are a few things that I've been shocked by. There are lots of tree stumps. At first, I thought they were trees that had been cut down because they weren't safe, but the stumps were actually caused by the fires. They just totally obliterated the trees and I felt like there were more stumps than trees standing. That was really sad to see. And there was a lack of colour. There was no green, just black and orange. The trees looked like burnt matchsticks poking out the ground.
What was encouraging to see was the native grasses just starting to appear on the ground. And there were also tiny sprouts coming out of the trees. I could see that the forest was coming back. So, there is a glimmer of hope for this horrible situation, even though this has been and still is, one of the worst and most severe droughts and bushfire seasons we've ever seen.
It's estimated that 1.25 billion native animals have been killed by these bushfires, 800 million of them here in New South Wales. Plus, Australia-wide we've also seen around 12 million hectares of land burnt. But the big issue right now is that there’s a lack of habitat. There's little for the wildlife to feed on, little to protect them from invasive species. So we need to be on-the-ground at the moment to ensure that they have what they need to survive. Because honestly, as I was looking around at that burnt forest, I thought - ‘I don't know how anything can survive’.
Over 500 of our native animal species are near extinction. In Australia, we have the worst rate of mammal extinction anywhere in the world. Now, the bushfires are making it that much worse and extinction rates will only continue to climb if we don't solve climate change and the impacts it’s having on our wildlife.
The past four years have been the hottest on record, which means we're having warmer summers, longer periods of drought, more severe bushfires and right across Australia we're seeing the impacts of climate change. For the species that are already under pressure from threats like deforestation, invasive species and disease, climate change and its effects might actually be the last straw for those animals on the verge of extinction. We need these animals to pollinate our crops. We need them to keep our soils healthy. We need them for clean water.
Right now, the Australian Government is reviewing our environmental laws. We have until 17 April to have a say and WWF is asking, as part of this review, to implement an independent national environmental protection authority to ensure that government and business do the right thing for our wildlife and our wild places.
We have the solutions, we're just not acting on them and if we act now we can stop this extinction crisis, but we have to learn to live with nature, live side by side and not destroy it. There are lots of ways that people can help protect our wildlife and our natural habitat. People can donate to WWF’s Australian Nature and Wildlife Recovery Fund, but they can also raise awareness of the impacts of the fires because we're going to be feeling the effects of this for a long time to come, for many years.
Your voice is so powerful. You can help drive change and drive action for the immediate but also for the long-term.
From the entire WWF-Australia team, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us and Aussie wildlife. Without you, we wouldn't have been able to deploy emergency funds to vets and wildlife carer organisations on the front line. You've also helped us put actions and plans into place for the long-term recovery of our wildlife.
There's still a long way to go yet, and we can’t do it without you. Thank you.