Sadly, Heinz has lost his local mob of kangaroos, but I am still lucky enough to have a local group: here it’s the redoubtable Geraldine with joey, Eugenie, by my front gate (more on them later).

6. Submission to Victorian Government Extinction Inquiry: Heinz DeChelard 2020

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1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
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1.1 Articles
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1.1.6

Deliberately moving between scales, this submission to the Victorian Government Extinction Inquiry by local friend, Heinz, skilfully joins the personal with the institutional, the global with the ‘backyard’ (in this case, the Western District of Victoria, Australia). The incremental loss that Heinz so keenly observes is shared by so many of us, but we often struggle to connect this with the larger scientific and cultural context. Similarly, we often feel awkward and unable to connect the emotional response to loss with the drier scientific structures of ‘biodiversity’ and governmental policy, as well as the big questions, such as ‘What is a good life?’. But, Heinz manages this beautifully, and in so doing, speaks for us all.

 

Submission to the Victorian Extinction Inquiry 2020

“Unwittingly for the most part, but right around the world, we are eliminating the panoply of life. We elbow species off the planet, we deny room to entire communities of Nature, we domesticate the Earth. With growing energy and ingenuity, we surpass ourselves time and again in our efforts to exert dominion over fowl of the air and fish of the sea.

  We do all this in the name of human advancement. Yet instead of making better use of lands we have already to our use, we proclaim our need to expand into every last corner of the Earth. Our response to natural environments has changed little for thousands of years. We dig them up, we chop them down, we burn them, we drain them, we pave them over, we poison them in order to mould them to our image. We homogenize the globe.

  Eventually we may achieve our aim, by eliminating every ‘competitor’ for living space on the crowded Earth. When the last creature has been accounted for, we shall have made ourselves masters of all creation. We shall look around, and we shall see nothing but each other. Alone at last.”

  (Myers, N. 1985. The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management)

Until midway through 2019 a mob of kangaroos lived on the urban fringes of north Hamilton. We looked forward to seeing the mob on our morning or afternoon walks. Over the years we watched them raise their joeys, we watched them play and grow, but gradually their numbers diminished and now, they are gone. As farming land has been subdivided into ‘Lifestyle Blocks’ what little remained of the native vegetation has been cleared with no consideration for the animals and birds that rely on them for food and shelter. With more people has come more cats, domestic and feral, and more dogs, and ever more traffic. Just 10 years ago it was a relatively rare occurrence to find kangaroos, wallabies, birds, native swamp rats, ringtail and brushtail possums dead on the roads and roadsides. But now, everyday, there are newly dead native birds and animals on surrounding roads killed by an ever-growing stream of cars and trucks. The birds and animals stay close to the roads because they have nowhere left to escape the ceaseless barking of dogs and being stalked by cats, but here they now run the gauntlet of speeding traffic. Their mangled bodies litter the roadside and stink for weeks.

A small wildlife reserve nearby has undergone significant decline over the last 12 years as native groundcover and mid-storey plant species have disappeared beneath feral pasture grasses and woody weeds. This reserve is home to at least 60 species of native birds, 10 species of native mammals and 11 aquatic and amphibious animals. On reading this you may think that this small four-hectare island surrounded by urban development is a paradise for native plants and animals, but uncontrolled livestock access, and uncontrolled weed and feral animals, including cats and foxes, is taking its toll. Large overstorey trees are dying and natural regeneration is not possible due to the seedlings of native plants being grazed to the ground by livestock. Swamp wallabies also graze on native seedlings as their range has been reduced to this tiny parcel of land where they are able to exist without the constant and unrelenting hounding by dogs and humans they experience on properties surrounding the reserve. If nothing is done to control the issues afflicting this reserve, it is likely that within 10 years the number and variety of species of native birds and animals will have declined dramatically as it inevitably becomes a weed and feral-infested wasteland.

A little further to the east you will find a predator proof enclosure, home to the very last Eastern Barred Bandicoots that were once so prolific in south-western Victoria. This, too, is a tiny island among what is effectively a desert for most native birds and animals, being as it is surrounded by urban and semi-rural development. Access to the reserve is allowed for walking and fishing. Every time I walk around inside this reserve I pick up litter: single-use plastic wrappers, metres of fishing line and stainless steel fishhooks discarded by fishermen, alcohol bottles and cans, cigarette butts. All of this detritus, dropped by those among us who care about nothing, poses a significant threat to native wildlife, even inside a tiny reserve set aside for the last of a species that, if seen, enriches forever the lives of those who witness it. While walking around the boundary fence of the bandicoot reserve to check on its integrity, to make sure that there are no breaches, that the fence hasn’t been damaged deliberately or by falling tree limbs, I often find myself wondering if this is how it is going to end for the native plants and animals of Victoria. Will these amazing and diverse species only exist inside small islands protected by a fragile steel mesh and surrounded by a human-willed wasteland consisting of a handful of exotic plants and animals either selected by their owners, or ignored as weeds and ferals roaming a degraded, homogenised and uninteresting landscape. For much like the chain stores that proliferate throughout our towns and cities destroying diversity and culture, once you’ve seen one housing estate, one weed-infested wasteland, you’ve seen them all.

I have written about these two reserves and the now extinct mob of kangaroos as they are representative of the current state of the Victorian natural environment. Ever shrinking islands of native vegetation, home to the last members of unique and awe-inspiring plant and animal species, but ceaselessly, endlessly, under threat from clearing, weed invasion feral animal predation, and in recent years, excessive burning in the name of ‘Fuel Reduction’. These remaining ‘islands’ may also soon be gone in the blink of an eye. With each square metre of habitat lost we are one step closer to the depleted, devastated and diminished world foreseen by Norman Myers in the ‘Gaia Atlas of Planet Management’.  Do we really want to live in such a world? Is it even possible for humans to survive, let alone thrive, when so many strands of the web of life have been cut as species after species disappear because we choose to do nothing to stop it, and in many cases, actually act to hasten their demise?

My hopes for this enquiry are for findings that result in stronger, science-based environmental laws, an end to habitat destruction, major programs of weed and feral animal control along with the re-wilding of large areas of Victoria that are marginal for current use, and which support economic activity only through taxpayer subsidy. These laws and these programs must exist in such a way that they cannot be tampered with and altered for political expediency. For, while economists and politicians talk endlessly about Standard of Living (how much disposable income we have), none ever talk about Quality of Life. The native plants and animals of Victoria give us all a significantly enhanced Quality of Life, even for those who may have a lower Standard of Living. So, for the sake of current and future generations, may your deliberations result in meaningful change to the protection and enhancement of Victoria’s native environments. The alternative is too depressing to contemplate.

 

1DeChelard, H. 2020. Submission to Victorian Government Extinction Inquiry.

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