White paper on land and biodiversity

By Gayle Osborne

We know that there is an environmental crisis; that we are in the midst of the 6th mass extinction of biodiversity in the world and that this is the first mass extinction to be caused by human beings. Biodiversity encompasses species, communities, ecosystems and their relationships. Declines in biodiversity occur primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation, introduced species, over-harvesting of natural resources and inappropriate disturbance regimes.

Our health and well being is dependant on biodiversity. As an example, mature forests play a unique role in the provision of wildlife habitat, carbon storage and water supply.

We view Victoria as a green and productive state with National Parks and State Forests, so it comes as a shock to find that Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia.

Over 60% of Victoria’s native vegetation has been cleared, and on private land this exceeds 90%. According to the Victorian National Parks Association “44% of our native plants and 30% of our native animals are now threatened or extinct.” Much habitat now exists as only isolated fragments. The flora and fauna of these fragments is at great risk, particularly including many species of woodland birds.

With encouragement from environmental groups, the Victorian State Government responded to this crisis by calling for submissions to a White Paper on Land and Biodiversity. Over 350 submissions were received from a variety of groups and individuals. These submissions will now be examined and the White paper produced early next year. This process will be chaired by Sir Gustav Nossal and will also comprise of four eminent scientists.

The aim will be to set the direction for Victorian Government policy in natural resource management, land health and biodiversity for the next two decades.

Eight environmental groups have joined forces. Victorian National Parks Association, Australian Conservation Society, Environment Victoria, Australian Bush Heritage Fund, Trust for Nature, Invasive Species Council and Greening Australia has formed a partnership called “Victoria Naturally”. Victoria Naturally is promoting the establishment of Biolinks or wildlife corridors. This would require revegetation on a massive scale and would involve all tenures of public and private land. This proposal provides an opportunity to recover our biodiversity. There are a multitude of Acts of Parliament covering environmental and species protection, both Federal and State, lists of Threatened Species, Action Plans and Australia is signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity and yet the destruction of native vegetation continues.

This process offers one of the greatest potentials for biodiversity restoration and conservation and it is hoped that the Victorian Government acts to achieve its stated goal of “a reversal across the entire landscape of long-term decline in extent and quality of native vegetation”.

The backgound for the White Paper is available at www.dse.vic.gov.au/landwhitepaper, and you can access submissions from individuals and groups (such as Victoria Naturally and Birds Australia). It is all informative and interesting reading.