Collaboration in a time of crisis
By Tim Allard, Chief Executive Officer
It has been a grim start to 2020. Catastrophic bushfires raged across southern Australia on an unprecedented scale, followed by floods. As I write, the world is grappling with the health and economic impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The southern Australian bushfires were a conservation disaster, adding more species to the national endangered species list and pushing some to the precipice. While the Koala garnered significant media attention, there were many other species severely impacted, including the Kangaroo Island Dunnart, Long-footed Potoroo, Regent Honeyeater, invertebrates and native flora species.
These fires serve as a wake-up call as to how our land is being managed. There must be active, science-informed land management across the Australian landscape, particularly on the public estate. There is no silver bullet, nor an easy answer – it requires the dedicated efforts of skilled people like AWC’s team of ecologists and land managers to implement practical, science-based conservation solutions that are proven to work.
Disasters, like the bushfires, also bring out the best in human nature, and I couldn’t be prouder of how the AWC team stepped up. While no AWC sanctuaries were impacted, AWC ecologists and land managers volunteered to help those in need – to utilise their skills, equipment and expertise to help individuals and wildlife in crisis. For example:
Within weeks of the Kangaroo Island fires, we had materials and teams of staff and contractors deployed to the island to work in partnership with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and local landholders, the Doube family, to construct the first stage fence and eradicate feral cats to protect surviving wildlife.
Completion of the first stage fence on Kangaroo Island has secured a vulnerable population of Kangaroo Island Dunnarts – top of the list of species most impacted by the fires – and protects other threatened wildlife such as the Kangaroo Island Short- beaked Echidna.
AWC ecologists dispersed across NSW to assist private land conservation organisations to survey for threatened wildlife, and assess the impact of the bushfires on the populations of threatened species.
AWC ecologists and land managers were deployed to assist private landholders impacted by the fires to determine what to do next and develop priority action plans to effectively preserve surviving wildlife and restore vegetation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing havoc across the globe. At AWC we have taken the unprecedented step of closing our sanctuaries to external visitation to keep our field team, Indigenous Rangers and wildlife safe. We remain focused on our mission to protect Australian wildlife and habitats. We continue to undertake strategic research and deliver core business – such as fire management, feral animal control and weed eradication – to address key threats to biodiversity, albeit with a few changes. Our Kimberley fire team, for example, self-isolated at Charnley River-Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary (with two helicopters, food, fuel, supplies and rangers from our Indigenous partners) to ensure continuation of the Kimberley fire program.
On another note, we welcomed two new Directors to the Board of AWC: Professor John Woinarski, one of Australia’s most senior and respected conservation scientists, and Nick Butcher, Vice Chair of Macquarie Capital’s Infrastructure and Energy Group. Both John and Nick have had a long association with AWC (John has participated in our Science Advisory Network, and Nick as Chair of Friends of AWC in New York). We are proud to include them on our Board and their valuable knowledge will help further AWC’s mission.
Finally, I have been humbled by the commitment of our supporters during these difficult times. Our work is only possible because of you – you are part of the AWC family, and the results we generate are due to your continued support. In these difficult times, be reassured that AWC’s team is committed to ensuring the protection and survival of Australia’s most vulnerable species.
Thank you for your support. Please stay safe and well.
Tim Allard, Chief Executive