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WILDLIFE AND CONSERVATIONNATURE CONSERVATION | REGREENING AUSTRALIA
Its long isolation from other lands has made the Australian continent a sanctuary for rare fauna, and particularly for marsupials such as the kangaroo, koala, platypus, wombat and the spiny anteater. These mammals that suckle their young in pouches are found in large numbers, and there are about 50 species of kangaroos ranging from those which stand as tall as a man to some as small as a cat. There are about 500 native birds, ranging from the flightless emu which stands about two metres tall through the lyrebird, a beautifully-plumed mimic with tail feathers shaped like a lyre, to the satin bower bird which builds large nests in the rainforests and the tiny bell bird whose sweet calls can be heard on the outskirts of the southern cities of Australia.
More than five per cent of the total land area has been set aside for nature conservation, including 11 world heritage areas listed by the United Nations as having outstanding universal value. There are more than 500 national parks and more than 2700 conservation areas ranging from wildlife sanctuaries to Aboriginal reserves. All are protected by federal or state legislation. Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the World Heritage Convention, and is the only country to enact legislation to give effect to its responsibilities under the convention.
Four of Australia’s world heritage areas - the Tasmanian Wilderness, Shark Bay in Western Australia, the Great Barrier Reef off the north Queensland coast and the Wet Tropics of Queensland - conform to all four of the criteria necessary for inscription of natural phenomena. Only eight others throughout the world satisfy all four. Two of the world heritage areas - Kakadu and Uluru in the Northern Territory - are jointly managed by their Aboriginal owners and the Australian NatureConservation Agency. Uluru, formerly known as Ayer’s Rock but now restored to its traditional Aboriginal name, is one of Australia’s major tourist attractions.
The inscription of world heritage areas and the creation of national parks have safeguarded the conservation of a range of rainforest areas along the coastal belt of Australia. The Wet Tropics of Queensland stretch along 500 km of coastline. The area protects a lush tropical region encompassing 894 000 ha, provides the only habitat for many rare and highly restricted plants and animals and contains the highest diversity of animal species on the continent. The Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves, encompassing more than 50 separate areas in southern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales and covering 366 500 ha, preserve an exceptional example of the evolution of sub- tropical rainforests and contain more than 170 rare or threatened plant species. The Tasmanian Wilderness in the south-west of the state protects huon pines up to 2000 years old and contains some of the last wild rivers in the world.
The development of agriculture on the coastal slopes and inland plains has had a significant impact on tree cover. The national conservation group, Landcare, estimates that the area of land under forest (those with trees higher than 10 metres) has been reduced by half and of woodland on the open plains by one third. The Federal Government announced in 1989 a $50 million plan to plant one billion trees throughout Australia by the year 2000 and contracted the national organisation, Greening Australia, to organise the project. Working in cooperation with the Landcare organisation, a national group of community-based volunteers working on conservation programs, Greening Australia has organised the planting of an estimated 550 million trees in the first four years of the program and estimates that it will exceed its target by 300 million trees.
The Federal Government has also signed
with all States and Territories a statement on national forest policy aimed
at providing sustainable management of the national forest resource based
on regional forest agreements to monitor the export of woodchips and to
ban woodchipping in areas not covered by the agreements.
This document has been prepared by Australia's International Public Affairs branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The help received from Australian government departments, associated organisations and other authorities is gratefully acknowledged. Information is current to April 1995. Money values are in Australian currency, weights and measures in Metric.