• Adjournment Speech on Rewilding our shared environment

    The Animal Justice Party supports the acquisition of land to protect, conserve and expand wilderness, including the rewilding of land once used for animal agriculture. Over the past 200 years we have lost 75 per cent of our rainforests, nearly 50 per cent of all forests and 99 per cent of south-eastern Australia’s temperate grasslands. The remaining ecosystems are under constant threat of clearing and in desperate need of protection. It is a national shame and a disgrace. We need to start looking at ways to bring back life into areas that have been stripped of biodiversity. In Australia ecologists focus on rehabilitating landscapes by killing animals that are deemed to threaten biodiversity. We have poisoned, shot and bludgeoned to death millions of foxes, rabbits, pigs, goats, cats, horses, camels, dingoes and kangaroos over the past hundred years, all in the name of conservation. Our landscapes continue to degrade, and it is clear that we must do things differently.

    In the United States and Europe the concept of rewilding with animals is seen as part of the solution. Rewilding is a critical step in restoring self-regulating ecosystems. Rewilding acknowledges that natural processes are complex and that the interplay between flora and fauna allows nature to evolve to take care of itself. Species are introduced or reintroduced based on the role they can play in an environment. After initial support, they are left to create the balance required. The reintroduction of apex predators such as wolves is one example of successful environmental repair. In Yellowstone National Park grey wolves had been hunted to extinction, and by the 1990s ecologists were concerned about the damage caused by large herds of elk. Once wolves were re‑established in the park, their predation on the elk reduced the damage caused to vegetation. The elk broke into smaller groups, foraged less and moved more frequently, allowing grasslands to recover. Scavenger species began to thrive again, with ravens, eagles, coyotes, lynx and bears feeding on wolf‑kill remains. Insects that fed off the rotting carcasses became the food of smaller birds and rodents.

    It is time to trial the benefits of rewilding in the Australian landscape. Just as in Yellowstone, we have taken our apex predators out of the ecosystem. The mass killing of dingoes changed the environment, and at the same time we introduced species such as foxes and cats. Smaller native predator species such as quolls and goannas struggled with habitat loss. Quolls once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and are now a threatened species. It was not until quoll numbers plummeted that rabbits were able to gain an ecological toehold. A recent trial reintroducing dingoes into Sturt National Park has shown early evidence that dingoes suppress cat and fox populations, with smaller mammals and marsupials surviving in increasing numbers.

    Returning apex predators to the environment is only one part of the equation. Their relationships within ecosystems are critical. Research and evidence-based trials must be undertaken, and we should be open‑minded about what constitutes an apex predator. We cannot go back in time. Foxes, dogs and cats are now native animals; they have been born here for many generations and now fill an ecological niche. Given the massive habitat loss and change in landscapes, we must accept that our ecosystems are evolving and adapting. Rewilding is about allowing evolution and adaptation to occur while reducing destructive human activities. One bulldozer in one day can take out an ecosystem that has evolved for millennia, yet we demonise the fox and the cat. Thousands of hectares of degraded sheep paddocks are more of a threat to biodiversity than a thousand dingoes or foxes. It is well past time to protect and expand our wilderness, for the sake of all the species that share this fragile, ancient land.

Comments are closed.