There’s more to the story of Australia’s bushfire emergency

The 2019-20 Australian bushfires were catastrophic in scale and impact - both for people and for nature.

Up to 19 million hectares was burnt, with 12.6 million hectares primarily forests and woodlands. Nearly 3 billion animals were impacted by the blazes.

But even before the bushfires started, our native forests and wildlife were suffering due to deforestation and the impacts of climate change on the environment.

Australia is home to incredible biodiversity that is found nowhere else on the planet. But now, more than 1,700 species of plants, animals and ecological communities are officially listed as threatened. This includes nearly 500 species of wildlife. The bushfires during the summer of 2019-20 only made the situation worse.

Australia's nature laws are undergoing a once-in-10-year review. We already lost so much in the fires - will you ask your local politician to protect our wildlife and their remaining homes?

Bushfire in Bowraville NSW, November 2019
The orange glow of the bushfire front in Bowraville, NSW. © Adam Dederer / WWF-Aus

Climate change and bushfires

Climate change doesn’t cause bushfires, but it can make them worse and more frequent.

Australia has been experiencing more intense heatwaves and prolonged dry periods that create tinderbox conditions.

In the lead-up to the fires of 2019-20, record-breaking temperatures were recorded across the continent throughout December. The average maximum reached 40.9°C and then broken by a temperature of 41.9°C the following day.

An orphaned swamp wallaby joey in care after treatment at Milton Village Vet following the devastating bushfires of 2019-20
An orphaned swamp wallaby joey in care after treatment at Milton Village Vet following the devastating bushfires of 2019-20 © WWF-Australia / Leonie Sii

Australia’s nature laws under threat

Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world. In the last decade alone, we’ve lost three native species. Hundreds more were already on the brink of extinction before the bushfires broke out.

The catastrophic bushfires might just be the last straw for some of our most threatened wildlife already at risk of being lost forever. Tragically, over 300 threatened species have been affected, with their habitats in the fire zones severely impacted.

The Australian Government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) is supposed to protect the homes and habitats of our threatened species. However, in the 20 years since the laws came into force, more than 7.6 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed.

Our environmental laws are failing our wildlife. The EPBC Act is under review for the first time in 10 years. We need to ensure these laws protect our wildlife and turn the tide on Australia’s extinction crisis before it’s too late.

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Koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed logpile
Koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed logpile (Homepage) © Briano / WWF-Aus

Koala Status: Vulnerable to Endangered

The future of Australia’s koala population is critical. In 2012, the iconic species was listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Since then, deforestation and landclearing has increased, leaving koalas with nowhere to go.

Following severe population declines, made worse by this summer’s devastating bushfires, conservation and animal welfare groups have nominated the koala to be uplisted from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’.

Ecologists estimate that koala populations in Qld, NSW and ACT have more than halved since 2000. In some areas of Queensland, it’s been found that koalas appear to be functionally extinct.

To save the future of koalas, we need to ensure legal protections are increased for koala habitat.

WWF-Australia joins a community tree planting event at Cook Reserve Ruse, Campelltown, May 2019
© WWF-Australia / Leonie Sii

Towards Two Billion Trees

Trees give us oxygen to breathe, water for us to drink and rain for our crops. They store carbon in their trunks, roots and soil. They provide homes and shelter for our native wildlife, and improve our health and well-being.

Sadly, it’s estimated that 500,000 hectares of native forests and woodlands are bulldozed every year in Australia. Paired with the destruction caused during the 2019-20 bushfires, it’s more important now than ever to protect our trees.

Through WWF-Australia’s ‘Towards Two Billion Trees’ plan, we’re working to restore what has been lost and protect remaining wildlife habitat from deforestation.

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