Your support in action
Thanks to you, together we are making a difference
We couldn't do it without you. With your support, here are just some of the highlights from recent months where we are making a difference for nature. Image above: House Shed Hill at Carlton Hill Station, Miriuwung Gajerrong Country
We launched a comprehensive report: ‘7 ways to protect WA’s most valuable natural asset’
WA Campaign Manager Patrick Gardner introduces the new report.
After months of work in April, backed by people like you, Pat and the Wilderness Society Western Australia team launched a comprehensive report: ‘7 ways to protect WA’s most valuable natural asset’.
The report details solutions that can be put in place to improve the protection and develop a greater understanding of high conservation forests and bushlands. If adopted there will be huge benefits for biodiversity and opportunities for First Nations custodianship and management.
Six remarkable ‘bioregions’ across WA are profiled, each having been impacted by the long-term destruction and depletion of native vegetation. These include areas such as the Great Western Woodlands, which supports 3,300 species of flowering plants (thanks to your support, part of this remarkable wilderness is set to be protected with the formation of the Helena and Aurora Range National Park).
Our work in numbers
K’gari/Fraser Island fires: Sounding the alarm on fire-fighting planning and response
The Wilderness Society is calling for a greater emphasis on protecting nature in firefighting planning and response, an approach that will make communities safer as well as protecting the places we love.
Together over the last few decades, we’ve protected forests across the country—from Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area to Fraser Island. But now climate change is putting these special places at risk again by fueling intense and catastrophic bushfires.
The long term solution is to stop the climate crisis, but in the interim there are things Australia can do differently to protect nature from bushfires. It is vitally important to protect communities and property from bushfires, but it is critical to protect nature too.
Backed by you, the Wilderness Society has been sounding the alarm that fire-fighting planning and response haven’t focussed enough on nature. This has big costs for both nature and communities. So we’ve been talking to members of the fire fighting community, making well-researched submissions to the Royal Commission and into senate inquiries. We also made representation to the Federal Environment Minister about how Australia’s bushfire response needs to consider not just communities and property, but nature too.
Together, we can build on this work and keep the momentum up to build a case to State and Federal government officials for novel policy solutions for people, property and nature—especially fixing the funding and policy barriers to aerial firefighting fleets.
Starting with Tasmania’s bushfires in 2016–17 and through the catastrophic Black Summer fires, it’s becoming clear through the Royal Commission and government inquiries that others agree—there is more to be done to protect the places we love from the impacts of catastrophic climate-fuelled bushfires.
With the support of thousands of people like you in 1992, the Wilderness Society helped to stop logging in K’gari/Fraser Island and have it declared a World Heritage area. But World Heritage protection couldn’t protect it from a climate-fuelled bushfire. In 2020, the K’gari/Fraser Island fires demonstrated what happens when nature is not put at the forefront—calamity for everyone. The fire was ablaze for weeks and encroached on stands of 1,000 year old trees. At the time the fire started, the authorities ruled out using waterbombers because the fire wasn’t near any homes.
A review into the fire agreed with the key points in our submission that nature needs to be a bigger part of how we prepare for and fight fires. And the Queensland government has agreed—and recently reflected this in their policies.
We need to invest in protecting forests to protect our future. Together, we can work to shift the excessive political power of destructive industries. And make sure that logging and fossil fuel industries don’t have the licence to continue ruining our climate and the places we love.
Making sure the fossil fuel industry cleans up after itself
Tim Beshara discusses the Wilderness Society's efforts to make sure that it's the fossil fuel industry and not the taxpayer that picks up the costly tab for decommissioning old infrastructure.
Last week we were called “alarmist” and “scaremonger” by the CEO of Australia’s oil and gas industry. It was in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald where we dared to point out the obvious that the widespread cutting of maintenance budgets for oil rigs will increase the risk of oil spills.
When your opponents start lashing out and calling you names, it’s usually a good sign that they are rattled. And on that, it’s worth talking about some of the things that the Wilderness Society has been doing that has got the industry’s peak body flustered.
It’s a story about something called decommissioning. It’s what a company is supposed to do when it’s finished extracting the oil or gas from below the ground (and in many cases also the ocean). The company is meant to pack up all its equipment and leave the area as it found it. In fact, the company promises that it will do just this to governments and communities well before it starts drilling the wells, installing the oil rigs or platforms and laying the pipelines. Every oil and gas project in Australia began with a promise from a corporation that when it’s all over, it’ll leave no trace.
Australia has some pretty old oil and gas fields, and the associated infrastructure used to extract the fossil fuels is ageing too. In fact there’s around $60 billion worth of packing and cleaning up that needs to happen over the next decade or so.
You may ask why the Wilderness Society is engaging in a topic that seems more about engineering than about nature? The answer is pretty straightforward, many of these old oil rigs and platforms are in incredibly sensitive and important marine areas and any sort of oil spill in these areas would be catastrophic. The East Gippsland coast, the Kimberley Coast, Ningaloo Reef are all at risk from rusty and unsafe oil rigs left in the ocean for far too long. It's important that the industry clean up its mess. Many of these areas, if not for the industrial infrastructure, have clear wilderness values that can be restored if the infrastructure is properly removed.
But it seems the oil and gas industry doesn't want to clean up the mess. Major companies who have owned some of these oil rigs for decades are selling them off to small companies who think they can squeeze a few last drops of oil out of the equipment. When the big companies sell rigs off, they no longer have the clean-up bill sitting on their books.
But this is where it’s gone pear shaped for them. One company (Woodside) did this. It sold an oil platform (the Northern Endeavour, sitting just off the coast of East Timor) to a one-person company just as it was about to decommission it. The problem was that the Northern Endeavour was in terrible shape and this little company wasn’t able to keep it safe and the government shut it down. Fast forward a bit, the company goes out of business and the government has had to take over the oil rig to stop it falling apart any further. Costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars in upkeep.
With your help, we’ve been raising the alarm on this issue for some time–including specifically the Northern Endeavour and the things that these companies are doing to dodge their responsibilities. The Wilderness Society has been working to make sure that decisions around these issues can’t be made in secret between government and industry in their boardrooms. And it’s worked so far.
Not only has the government drafted a new Bill that prevents companies from offloading their decommissioning responsibilities to companies that can’t clean up the mess, but we’ve secured a $1 billion levy on offshore fossil fuel production to pay for the clean up bill of the Northern Endeavour.
With your help, we’ve been able to secure a big outcome for taxpayers and our ocean wilderness. And the fossil fuel lobby groups are fuming.
Fighting for the oceans
Volunteer Alexandra Cottle was compelled to join her local community organising group in Newcastle having seen her favourite dive spot at Nelson Bay come under environmental pressure. Now she’s fighting to stop a major gas development off that same coast.
Sometimes it’s something close to your heart, whether a national or a local issue, that spurs you to take action for nature. For Alexandra Cottle it was concern for a resident of her favourite dive site of Nelson Bay just north of Newcastle: a seahorse, specifically White’s Seahorse (Hippocampus whitei). “I love the shore dives there, and it’s because of this place that I decided to join the Wilderness Society,” she says. “It used to be full of seahorses and soft corals, but every time I dived there I noticed that the corals were just slowly disappearing. And with that there were fewer White’s seahorses as well.
“I started to get really anxious about it. My local dive company said that it was because boats were able to anchor there, which was completely destroying the habitat. And so the seahorses were just migrating further south. I really wanted to protect my local marine environment, so I did a Google search one night and found the Wilderness Society and joined her local community group.
“Now together with my team we are fighting Advent Energy’s pursuit to drill for gas in the Petroleum Exploration Permit 11 ( PEP11) exploration site off the coast here. It would devastate sensitive marine environments, and cause havoc for animals that use echolocation to communicate like dolphins and whales.”
Alexandra has always had a love for marine life, having grown up holidaying on the coast from her home town of Muswellbrook. She’s been a Scuba diver since Year 12 and is now studying a bachelor of Environmental Science and Management, majoring in marine science at The University of Newcastle.
“I grew up in quite a small country town. And then in my final two years of schooling, I moved to Muswellbrook, which is completely surrounded by coal mines," says Alexandra. "A lot of people were just completely closed off to having any sort of conversation regarding the environment. Wilderness Society gave me the skills to be able to effectively communicate issues that are of real concern to me.”
She’s been putting those skills to use, with her local community group ramping up their work on the PEP11 gas exploration issue towards the end of last year and into 2021. Prospecting company Advent Energy was required to drill an exploration well by February 2021, but has since applied for an extension to its lease. While the proposal is overwhelmingly opposed by the community, industries like fishing and tourism, coastal councils and MPs on both sides of politics, the decision rests with the Minister for Resources Keith Pitt who sees it as in line with the government’s gas-led recovery.
Over the years PEP11 has been met with fierce opposition. With mass paddle-outs, beach gatherings and petitions signed by tens of thousands of people protesting the use of seismic testing in PEP11. “The stress that seismic testing and drilling would cause to marine animals’ lives would be really, really detrimental,” says Alexandra. “Communication is so important for their ability to effectively breathe, find food, and even migrate. We have this massive migratory movement of whales along our East Coast, fossil fuel exploration and extraction would just completely destroy that.”
To make people aware of the threat PEP11 poses to marine life, not to mention the worsening impacts of climate change that fossil fuels exacerbate, Alexandra’s local community group has held a ‘Hands Across the Sand’ event on Newcastle’s Nobbys Beach. It was attended by hundreds of people and gained plenty of media coverage.
“We've also done quite a few stall events this year, like at The Newcastle Show. These have been great to communicate with the public about what a massive issue PEP11 is. People can also scan QR codes at the stalls and have their say on the issue and sign a petition.
“We've also done that where I study at The University of Newcastle. That was really great because there were quite a few people that weren’t aware of the PEP11 issue. I think it's super important to make sure that the younger generations are really aware of the issues around this because hopefully we can instil change in the future.”
To see that change happen, Alexandra and her group are teaming up with The University of Newcastle, with a new talk to raise awareness about PEP11 set for August at the university. “We are in the process of starting another branch of the Newcastle Wilderness Society community with a collaboration with the Newcastle University Student Environment Club,” says Alexandra.
The best way to prevent fossil fuel developments like that being pursued in PEP11 is to stop them before they start. In 2020, thousands of people made their voices heard, signing onto a Wilderness Society submission to the Federal government, forcing it to withdraw proposed oil and gas exploration sites near World Heritage-listed Ningaloo and Gutharraguda (Shark Bay).
The Wilderness Society is now trying to stop the mindless release of oil and gas exploration sites like this in the first place; nearly 13,000 people have already added their name to a petition calling for a stop to the senseless annual release of offshore oil and gas acreage.
“I think that it's naive to think that we can't make a difference; people power can win the day,” says Alexandra. “If everyone can really stick together and be engaged in the issue and make sure that we continue to build pressure, then I definitely think we will win with this campaign, safeguard the East coast’s wonderful marine life, and stop these types of development to begin with.”
Building momentum for new nature laws
Back in April, state and federal environment ministers met for the first time in nearly 18 months. More than 500 Wilderness Society supporters in Queensland wrote to Queensland’s Environment Minister, Meaghan Scanlon, letting her know she shouldn’t sign up to the Morrison government’s regressive changes to our national environment laws, and to raise the standard for wildlife and the habitat they depend upon!
Because people like you are raising their voices, she’s starting to listen. Minister Meaghan Scanlon has come out publicly saying the Federal government needs to do more to save Australia’s wildlife and iconic natural places.
The Federal government has been trying to rush through changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) that would push responsibility for federal development approvals on to the states. But the Palaszczuk government has now written to the Commonwealth stating that several actions need to be taken before they would consider accepting these responsibilities. Actions like:
Responding to all of the recommendations to come out of Graeme Samuel’s review of the EPBC Act;
Finalising a suite of strengthened national environmental standards; and
Ensuring the costs of environmental protection are not unreasonably shifted on to the states.
The Samuel Review called for an overhaul of the laws, finding that they were not effectively protecting the nation’s wildlife which are in dangerous decline. With your help, we have been calling for stronger laws that aren’t cherry picked out of the Samuel Review. It is very promising to see the Queensland government backing that call!