The New South Wales government has set a target of zero extinctions of native wildlife in the state’s national parks estate, the first time an Australian government has set the goal.
The environment minister, Matt Kean, said the target, which will apply to all parklands in NSW, was a response to the continued decline of threatened plants and animals and Australia’s status as the country with the highest rate of mammal extinctions.
“Globally, one million species face extinction over the coming decades and, as international biodiversity negotiations continue, everyone needs to aim high,” Kean said.
“Just as we have a net zero emissions target, we now also have a target of zero extinctions for our national parks, and are aiming to improve and stabilise the on-park trajectory of threatened species by 2030,” Kean said.
Environmental advocates welcomed the announcement but noted it covered less than 10% of the state.
They called on other states and the federal government to adopt their own zero extinctions targets ahead of global biodiversity talks next year.
Kean has also announced a further 221 sites will be given special protected status to try to ensure their survival for future generations.
The new sites will be declared assets of intergenerational significance (AIS), joining the Wollemi pines, which earlier this year became the first to receive the special status.
The 221 sites are located across 110 national parks in areas including Port Macquarie, Wentworth Falls, the Upper Nepean and the Nightcap Range, north of Lismore.
Kean said the declaration would boost protections for 92 species, including 15 of the most important strongholds for the koala and seven sites where the endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby is found, including one location where the population has dropped to 10 individuals.
The declaration of assets of intergenerational significance was introduced after the 2019-20 bushfire disaster and triggers stronger state legal protections, including mandatory conservation plans, targeted predator control and fire management, monitoring and reporting.
In addition to the zero extinctions target for national parks, the government has set an interim target to stabilise and improve the trajectory of species in those areas by 2030.
Environment groups applauded the announcements. James Trezise, of the Invasive Species Council, said “Australia has a damning record on extinction, so this type of leadership is important”.
But he said the ambition would need to be matched by long term funding to tackle threats and noted that the problems facing threatened species did not just exist within the boundaries of the national parks estate.
“While this is a welcome start, invasive species don’t respect park boundaries and will need to be managed across the landscape to truly avert extinctions of imperilled wildlife,” he said.
Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer at WWF Australia, said she hoped other states would follow in setting similar targets and that the federal government would consider including a zero extinctions target in its next threatened species strategy.
“We need more principled, definitive targets and zero extinctions is the only target our species deserve,” she said.
Lowry hoped NSW would take its commitment further, noting that the target applied only to parklands which account for about 9% of land in the state.
“What about the other 91%?” she said.
But she added: “Even if it’s just species that are in national parks that are afforded this commitment, it’s a step forward from where we were yesterday”.
Sarah Legge is a conservation scientist with the Australian National University and the University of Queensland.
She said there were limits to the target given it was not a statewide commitment but described the policy as “vision setting”.
“It’s nice to see a really bold policy move that’s backed up by legislation and therefore commitment,” she said.
“They’re also at the same time making it achievable by constraining it to land over which they have control.”
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW is among organisations that have been calling for stronger protections for natural assets during emergencies like the bushfire crisis.
The council’s chief executive, Chris Gambian, welcomed the new sites of intergenerational significance and said it was crucial the state government also identify outstanding areas of biodiversity on other types of land.
“We believe all bushfire management plans across the whole state should identify areas of outstanding biodiversity, not just plans that cover the national parks estate,” Gambian said.
“In other words, this approach should be tenure blind, applying equally to public and private land.”
The declaration of new sites follows earlier announcements by the NSW government on Saturday, including a new national park “scorecard” that aims to improve monitoring and data on the health of the state’s parks.
The Berejiklian government also said it will reintroduce the platypus to the Royal National Park.
The platypus has not been recorded in the park for more than 50 years.
The government plans to translocate a group of 10 platypus, a mixture of males and females, to the park in the first half of 2022.