An open letter from leading scientists to Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett and Western Australian Environment Minister Donna Faragher.
20th January 2010
An open letter to Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett and Western Australian Environment Minister Donna Faragher
We, the undersigned Australian and international scientists, write to you concerning the future of the Great Western Woodlands. Securing long term conservation is essential for this internationally important and biologically rich landscape.
We endorse the leadership that your Government has already shown in committing to develop a conservation strategy for the region. We encourage you to implement an effective on-ground strategy for the Great Western Woodlands as rapidly as possible.
From the Rabbit-proof Fence, east to the plains of the Nullarbor, this intact and healthy landscape is of global ecological significance. An area nearly three times the size of Tasmania, this 16 million hectare region is a mosaic of temperate eucalypt woodland, heathland and mallee vegetation.
It is the largest remaining temperate woodland of its type on Earth. Once widespread in other continents, Mediterranean-climate woodlands and shrublands have become highly fragmented and degraded through clearing for agriculture and urbanization. Less than 3% of this ecosystem is formally protected worldwide1. As a consequence, protecting this type of ecosystem is a high national and global priority for biodiversity conservation2.
Thousands of native species live in the Great Western Woodlands, many of them largely or totally restricted to the region. It forms the largest remaining area of bushland in the south-west botanical region, a region of global ‘mega-diversity’3. The Western Australian Herbarium has records of over 4200 plants from the woodlands. This is more than 20% of Australia’s plants in an area of less than 2% of the nation4.
In Australia, over 85% of temperate woodlands have been cleared since European settlement. The remaining areas outside the Great Western Woodlands are considerably degraded. This habitat loss and fragmentation has caused accelerating extinctions amongst wildlife5. Wildlife such as the Regent Parrot, Crested Bellbird and Carpet Python, are now regionally extinct over much former habitat across Australia. Fortunately, these and many other species remain common in the extensive, intact habitat of the Great Western Woodlands6.
The woodland component of the region is globally unique. No other area of similar rainfall in the world supports woodland vegetation with trees of such size7. However, due to the low rainfall, these mature woodlands are slow growing and can take at least 300 years to develop.
Trees and soils provide a major bank of carbon in the Great Western Woodlands. An estimated 950 million tonnes of carbon are stored their, six times Australia’s greenhouse emissions. If the woodlands are allowed to mature, free from uncontrolled wildfires and other disturbances, the region has the potential to store an additional 600 million tonnes8.
The region is exceptional in that it has remained relatively undisturbed, intact and in good ecological health since European settlement. However, it is now threatened by altered fire regimes, and the spread of noxious invasive weeds and feral animals9. Furthermore, the accumulated effects of road construction, mining exploration, mining and logging will cause ecological fragmentation of the region, compromising its now unique ecological integrity.
Protecting the Great Western Woodlands provides a rare opportunity to invert the usual approach to conservation in Australia. Instead of conserving biodiversity in isolated conservation parks, within a landscape dominated by human use, we can support sensitively-designed human use within a healthy landscape dedicated to conservation.
We recognise that the region is of great social, cultural and economic importance to its traditional owners, to all the people of the region, all Western Australians, and the nation as a whole. It is a major, active mining province, has significant pastoral holdings and supports a range of other industries. We know that its residents value the beauty and nature of the woodlands.
With good policy and strong management we believe that the future of these industries, and related economic development, can be compatible with the long term conservation of this globally significant region.
Protecting the Great Western Woodlands is of international importance. We understand that your Government is currently finalising a conservation plan for the region.
Appropriate protective tenures and effective land management are needed to secure the biodiversity, ecological integrity, carbon stocks and the other social and economic values of the entirety of this extraordinary landscape. Protecting and managing the Great Western Woodlands as a whole and intact functioning landscape would be a world leading, innovative, conservation solution.
We urge you to act decisively.
Dr Denis A Saunders AM.
President of WWF-Australia, Member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. Ecologist and conservation biologist with more than 30 years of experience of the fauna of the south west of Western Australia.
Prof. Stephen D. Hopper
Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, the world’s leading botanical garden. Fellow of the Linnean Society. Former Director of Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth. Botanist and conservation biologist with more than 30 years experience of the flora of the south-west of Western Australia.
For and on behalf of the biological experts on the attached list who have expertise on the ecology of the temperate woodlands, and who are signatories of the Woodlands Declaration.
Professor Andrew Bennett, Professor of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
Professor Hugh A Ford, Professor of Zoology, University of New England, Armidale
Professor Stephen Garnett, Director, School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University
Professor Richard Hobbs, Australian Laureate Fellow, University of Western Australia
Professor Chris Johnson, School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University
Professor David Lindenmayer, Professor of Ecology and Conservation Science, ANU
Professor Jonathan Majer, Head of Department of Environmental Biology, Curtin University
Professor Ralph MacNally, Director of Australian Centre for Biodiversity, Monash University
Assistant Professor Pieter Poot, Lecturer in Plant Conservation Biology, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia
Professor Hugh Possingham, Director of the Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Professor Philip Rundel, Distinguished Professor of Biology, University of California United States of America
Professor Michael Soule, Emeritus, University of California, United States of America
Ms. Christine Adams-Hosking, PhD student, Centre for Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Science, University of Queensland
Ms. Margarita Arianoutsou, Faculty of Biology, Department of Ecology and Systematics, University of Athens, Greece
Dr. Sandra Berry, Vegetation ecologist, Visiting Fellow, The Australian National University
Ms. Alice Blackwood, Research Assistant, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales
Dr. Michiala Bowen, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
Mr. Keith Bradby, Director, Gondwana Link Ltd.
Dr. Susan Campbell, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Melbourne
Dr. Viki Cramer, Assistant Research Professor, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia
Dr. Paul Caplat, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, The Ecology Centre, The University of Queensland
Ms. Paula Deegan, Senior Research Associate University of Queensland
Ms. Susie Duncan, Ecological Consultant
Dr. Eddie van Etten, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Management, Edith Cowan University
Ms. Megan Evans, Research Assistant, The Ecology Centre, The University of Queensland
Dr James Fitzsimons, Conservation Manager (Australia Program), The Nature Conservancy
Dr. David Freudenberger, Director of Science and Major Projects, Greening Australia
Dr Carl Gosper, Fire Ecology Research Scientist, Western Australia
Ms. Christine Hay, Consulting Botanist
Mr Dean Ingwersen, Woodland Birds for Biodiversity Officer, Birds Australia
Dr. Liana Joseph, Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Queensland
Dr Heather Keith, Ecologist, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
Mrs. Carissa Klein, Ph.D. Student, Conservation Planning, Ecology Centre, University of Queensland.
Ms. Anya Lam, Environmental Officer, WA Department of Water
Dr. Robert Lambeck, Landscape Ecologist, University of WA School of Plant Biology
Dr. Ian Lunt, Associate Professor, Institute for Land, Water & Society, Charles Sturt University
Dr. Nicola Markus, Chief Conservation Officer, Bush Heritage Australia
Dr. Martine Maron, Lecturer in Environmental Management, University of Queensland
Mr. Gary McMahon, Principal Consultant, Ecosystem Solutions Pty Ltd.
Dr. Lucy Nairn, Research Fellow, Australian Wetlands & Rivers Centre, University New South Wales
Mr. James O’Connor, Research Manager, Birds Australia
Ms. Allison O'Donnell, PhD student in bushfire ecology, University of Western Australia
Dr. Alex Petrie, Conservation Veterinarian
Dr. Suzanne Prober, Woodland Ecologist, Western Australia
Dr. Jim Radford, Ecologist, Bush Heritage, Australia
Dr. Doug Robinson, Conservation Biologist
Ms. Kate Schindal, Former Special Projects Officer, Gondwana Link
Dr. Rachel Standish, Research Assistant Professor, School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia
Dr. Judit Szabo, Research Fellow, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Dr. Graham Thompson, Centre for Ecosystem Management, Edith Cowan University
Mr. Charlie Thorn, Director, Australian Sustainable Development Institute
Dr. Barry Traill, Director, Wild Australia Program, Pew Environment Group
Ms. Ayesha Tulloch, Ph.D. Student, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Dr. Alexander Watson, Consulting Wildlife Ecologist
Dr. James Watson, Senior Research Fellow, University of Queensland
Dr. Kerrie Wilson, Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland
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2 Hoekstra, J.M., Boucher, T. M., Ricketts, T. H. & Roberts, C. 2005. Confronting a biome crisis: global disparities of habitat loss and protection. Ecology Letters 8, p. 23-29.
2 Prober, S. M. & Hobbs, R. J., 2008. Temperate Eucalypt Woodlands. In: D. Lindenmayer, S. Dovers, M. Harris Olson and S. Morton (eds.) Ten Commitments: Reshaping the Lucky Country's Environment, CSIRO Publishing, Victoria, p. 19-25.
3 Hopper, S. D. & Gioia, P., 2004 The southwest Australian floristic region: Evolution and conservation of a global biodiversity hotspot, Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 35, p. 623-650.
4 Confinas, M. & Creighton, C. 2001. Australian Native Vegetation Assessment Canberra: National Land and Water Resources, Commonwealth of Australia.
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5 Robinson, D. & Traill, B.J. 1996 Conserving woodland birds in the wheat and sheep belts of southern Australia, Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.
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7 Milewski, A.V., 1981. A comparison of vegetation height in relation to the effectiveness of rainfall in the Mediterranean and adjacent arid parts of Australia and South Africa, Journal of Biogeography 8, p. 107-116.
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9 Watson, A.W.T., Judd, S., Watson, J.E.M., Mackensie, D. & A, Lam. 2008 The Extraordinary Nature of the Great Western Woodlands. The Wilderness Society, Perth, <http://www.gww.net.au>