Australia holds the dubious and unwanted distinction as a world leader when it comes to nudging species over the brink into extinction, including almost three dozen species of mammals since Europeans arrived.
So it was a welcome move by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean last week to declare a “zero extinctions” policy for the state’s national parks. He also named another 92 species as so-called assets of intergenerational significance to join the fabled Wollemi pine on that list, ensuring extra protections.
It might seem churlish, if not ungrateful, to question the minister’s eagerness to preserve endangered species such as the Botany Bay bearded orchid or the black-tailed antechinus. These are species that few of us would have heard of, let alone seen in the wild.
Mr Kean clearly has an enthusiasm and clout in this vital portfolio, probably unmatched in NSW from either side of politics since Premier Bob Carr led a blitzkrieg of new national park declarations two decades ago.
Nature, however, respects results and not media releases. For those 93 assets of intergenerational significance, we trust plans for their conservation will be rapidly made and properly funded.
We also hope the choice of the list – and the associated 221 locations within the national parks where those 93 species are to be found across the state – has been informed by the best science.
As Rob Pallin, a member of the board of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, noted in our opinion pages, it was curious species such as NSW’s most threatened bird, the regent honeyeater, did not make it to the special asset list while four other birds did.
Similarly, the vulnerable Camden white gum also failed to make the cut, even though there are only two known populations anywhere.
Their exclusion may have had something to do with the fact both species are found in the part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area likely to be subject to inundation should the government ever proceed as currently planned to raise the Warragamba Dam wall 14 metres or higher.
Money usually plays a big role in whether the necessary surveying and monitoring of an endangered species are done to give it a break from threatening processes – think feral predators and pollution – to get back on a self-sustaining survival path.