As Australia celebrates Threatened Species Day, a new report has shown 7.6 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been destroyed since national environmental protection law was enacted.

The area of threatened species habitat which has been lost in the 17 years since the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) came into force is larger than countries such as Croatia, Belgium and Switzerland.

The report, which was authored by researchers from the University of Queensland researchers, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), WWF-Australia and the Wilderness Society, found that only 10% of the area lost was mapped as occurring in areas already assessed under the national environmental law.

Australia’s iconic koala has been affected the worst, with nearly 1 million hectares of its habitat razed since the EPBC Act was enacted in July 2000. Other animals faced with a drastic reduction of their habitat include the Greater Glider, Red Goshawk and the Yakka Skink.

In addition to the widespread destruction of habitat through logging, mining and bulldozing for urban development, the report says many animals are killed or maimed when forest and woodland are razed.

Critics say the EPBC Act confers widespread discretion on decision-makers to allow projects to proceed even when there would be significant detriment to threatened species. Since the Act has been in force, only 21 projects out of more than 6,000 have been rejected on the grounds they would have an unacceptable impact on the environment.

Leadbetter’s Possum

Koalas have suffered widespread loss of habitat

The koala is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ under the EPBC Act’s List of Threatened Fauna. Animals on the Critically Endangered list under the EPBC Act include Leadbetter’s Possum (pictured above), Western Swamp Tortoise and both the Northern and Southern Corroboree Frogs.

The report is highly critical of the national regulator for failing to properly monitor the state of habit for the threatened species. James Watson, a professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the findings were a “catastrophic story for Australia’s extraordinary wildlife”.

“Satellites do not lie and this research provides very clear evidence that the law, and those enforcing it, are failing to do what is necessary to preserve our natural legacy,” he said.

The Wilderness Society’s National Director, Lyndon Schneiders, said: “Australians expect Government to protect our forests and wildlife for future generations. We need strong new national laws backed by a strong, independent EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) to meet community expectations.

“It’s time to end deforestation and old-growth forest logging and protect iconic wildlife like the Koala.”

Leadbetter’s Possum image: D. Harley