5 May 2023

'Extinction crisis' sees status of nine native animals changed on ACT threatened species list

| Claire Fenwicke
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Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon

The Canberra grassland earless dragon is now considered critically endangered on the ACT Threatened Species list. Photo: Supplied.

Five new species have been added to the ACT threatened species list, with the vulnerability status of four others updated, to bring the Territory’s classifications in line with the Commonwealth.

While this can create a more cohesive approach to conservation efforts, it can also have consequences for infrastructure developments.

The Canberra grassland earless dragon is now considered “critically endangered” in the ACT, while the southern greater glider and koala have had their statuses updated to endangered. The previously endangered golden sun moth is now considered vulnerable.

While the endangered gang-gang cockatoo, Key’s matchstick grasshopper and mountain skink, along with the vulnerable yellow-bellied glider and pilotbird, have been added to the ACT threatened species list for the first time.

ACT Scientific Committee chair Professor Arthur Georges explained this wasn’t because there had been a sudden decrease in any of the species’ populations.

“Quite often the Commonwealth would list species at one level, and the ACT would have them at a different level,” he said.

“This required us to bring them together.”

Each of the species, their taxidermies and their environments were re-examined rather than simply adopting the federal stance.

“The Commonwealth won’t accept a changed listing unless the change is agreed to by the state or territory in which they occurred,” Professor Georges said.

“The idea is to get everyone on the same page so we can have a coordinated response … and give clarity to people who may find themselves needing to deal with issues around conservation, such as in the context of development.”

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This certainly could be the case for the Canberra grassland earless dragon, whose vulnerability status in the ACT has been updated to critically endangered, in line with its Commonwealth classification.

Its presence on federally owned land near Canberra Airport already has conservationists concerned a proposed road expansion would destroy its habitat and push the species over the edge.

ACT Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the species was on the “brink of extinction” and hasn’t been shy in voicing her concerns the project would destroy vital habitat for the tiny lizards.

“We do not have any of this habitat that we can lose that this point, we cannot trade off the environment any further,” she said.

“So when we look at proposals such as the northern road and the airport, we are looking at a proposal which will fragment habitat, which means we are likely to see the extinction of this species.

“We have some of the last remaining temperate grasslands which this species lives in.”

Ms Vassarotti has previously written to and spoken with now-Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek about her concerns with the project, and said the issue was “absolutely in her court”.

“This is a species that has been put on Minister Plibersek’s list of species that are endangered, and that we want to be protected, so [stopping the project] is a really clear decision that could be made that actually does protect this species into the future,” Ms Vassarotti said.

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A Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water spokesperson confirmed the expansion project had been put on hold by Ms Plibersek, but didn’t confirm whether it had anything to do with the Canberra grassland earless dragon.

“The Minister has sent the airport back to the drawing board and the airport has promised to do no work while the government look at their proposal,” they said.

“The Minister has not yet made a decision.”

Ms Vassarotti said while there had been early conversations on the benefits of the proposal, the environmental impacts had become “clearer and clearer” as time passed.

“I’ve been crystal clear about my concerns about this proposal, and I will continue to raise these issues with my colleagues, with the airport itself and with my Cabinet colleagues, as well as in terms of how we are meeting our obligations to the environment, and ensuring that we are not seeing the extinction of species on our watch,” she said.

The ACT Scientific Committee’s full Conservation Advice is set to be released later this year.

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If a rare species is found in the path of the toy tram, no problem GreensLabor will give it a concrete burial

Stephen Saunders9:37 am 07 May 23

I can’t see a problem here. The Albanese-Barr immigration deluge will give Canberra much more than 750K population by 2050. Creating a much bigger economy. Bingo, we use that bounty to save more species. On nice clean asphalt and concrete habitat.

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