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SOUTH-EASTERN RED-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOO

The Endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo is one of the most clear-cut examples of a bird endangered by altered fire regimes, particularly in association with planned burning. There are only around 1,500 South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos left, and despite two decades of recovery efforts the birds’ population continues to show signs of decline.

 
 

the problem

Planned burning can be one of the most effective tools for reducing fire risk to communities. However, by altering fire frequency and intensity, planned burning can also become a threat to many Australian birds.

South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos’ are particularly vulnerable to changes in fire regimes, partly because so much of their habitat has been cleared and partly because they are only able to feed on seeds from three tree species: buloke and two species of stringybark.

Research indicates that if more than 15% of South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo feeding habitat is scorched by fire in any ten-year period, it becomes difficult for the Cockatoos to find enough food to eat, reducing their ability to raise new young.

In recent years, levels of scorching have reached as much as 26% of feeding habitat, and annual counts have reported a low proportion of female/young birds. This is very concerning because fewer females means fewer eggs laid and fewer young birds to produce the next generation of Cockatoos.

While it is difficult to control the amount of habitat scorched by bushfires, the Victorian Government can control the amount of planned burns in Cockatoo habitat. Importantly, it can do this without putting the community at risk of bushfire by placing a moratorium on planned burning in Cockatoo habitat away from houses and communities. Yet it continues to fail to do so.

The legality of planned burns that provide little benefit for the community but pose a significant risk for the Cockatoos remains in question. The potential cost of challenging apparent breaches of the EPBC Act represents a significant barrier.

the solution

New national environment laws must include a strengthened role for the community. The system must include strong democratic legal frameworks that empower and engage the community, including merits review of key decisions and protections for costs associated with legal proceedings commenced in the public interest.

The National Sustainability Commission would also be responsible for the development of threat abatement plans, and as an independent body, would be able to adopt a more objective, evidence-based approach to strategic bushfire risk management.

 
 
 
 

Photos: 
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos by Rick Dawson

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