Missing rescue data casts doubt on effectiveness of policies to protect wildlife in NSW – ABC

By September 4, 2023 News

By Isobel Roe 4th September 2023

Dashcam footage shows a koala running across a road
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Four years of wildlife rescue data is missing from the New South Wales government’s species tracking database BioNet, casting doubt over the accuracy of protection plans and development approvals.

Key points:
• Wildlife groups say about 400,000 records of rescues are missing from database
• In some LGAs data has not been entered since mid-2019
• Wildlife organisations are calling on the Minns government to urgently fix the problem

A group of leading wildlife organisations estimate about 400,000 records of rescues are missing, including about 28,000 threatened species rescues.

Analysis of BioNet data shows in some local government areas, wildlife rescue data hasn’t been entered since mid-2019, despite being reported annually by dozens of wildlife rescue groups across the state.

Peter Stathis, the director of government relations at Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organisation, WIRES, said the site was meant to be a singular “source of truth,” but had suffered from years of under-resourcing.
“It’s meant to be the oracle,” he said.
“It’s problematic for government to prioritise this type of work.”

Sydney Basin Koala Network says the absence of data is a “gift for developers”.(Supplied: Reach Out Wildlife Australia )

The discovery was made by Sydney Basin Koala Network (SBKN), whose founder Jeff Angel said wildlife rescue organisations were angry the data they were legally required to report was not being used to inform development approvals.

“The absence of that data is a gift to the developers and may well have allowed the destruction of important habitat,” he said.
“Developers and their consultants are required to do wildlife studies of a site, but we all know animals move around and those animals get hurt, hit by cars, get rescued by wildlife groups.
“The Minns government needs to fix this quick if we are to have a planning approval system with integrity, particularly with the moves to fast track approvals.”

‘Working to upload wildlife records’
The SBKN’s own records from Campbelltown, where the controversial Mt Gilead Stage 2 housing development is awaiting approval, show 350 koala rescues since 2019, including 63 koala deaths.

However, no wildlife rescue data from Campbelltown has been recorded in BioNet since June 2019.
In a statement to the ABC, a Department of Environment and Planning spokesman said it was “working to upload wildlife records” into the database.
“The government is grateful to receive this information from the community,” the spokesman said.
“To ensure the data is accessible within BioNet, it must be curated, checked and formatted prior to being uploaded into the data management systems.”

NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe said she was shocked to learn about the missing data and was receiving briefings about how it could be fixed.
“I am very unhappy about the fact that this very important data around threatened species is not being entered,” she said.
“I was surprised and shocked to learn about it and I’ve asked my department for immediate information about how we’re going to upgrade this.”
“It’s fundamental to the planning system and it’s fundamental to how we manage threatened species in this state.”

Mr Stathis had previously worked in the Department of Planning and Environment, and said staff were struggling to keep up with a lack of resources.

“Everyone I know who works in the department has the best intentions,” he said.
“But the government has a complex set of priorities, and I don’t feel like protecting wildlife and getting the best available wildlife data is one of their top priorities.”

In BioNet, records of wildlife rescues are marked “WR”.
Data for the Hawkesbury and Campbelltown regions downloaded last week shows no records marked “WR” had been entered since June 2019.

Data from the Waverley Local Government Area (LGA) has no new records of any type entered since 17 June 2020.
This is despite SBKN project manager Stephanie Carrick conducting 241 wildlife rescues herself in that LGA since June 2020.

The former minister for the environment, James Griffin, denied knowing about the missing data.(Facebook: James Griffin)

Website not updated in two years
A separate website that tracks animal rescues, the NSW Wildlife Rehabilitation Dashboard, has also not been updated in two years.
The Sydney Koala Basin Network said more recent koala sighting data from citizen scientists or ecological surveys had been entered, but not from wildlife rescue groups.

In a statement to the ABC, former Environment Minister James Griffin denied knowing about the missing data while he oversaw the portfolio.
“The former NSW Coalition government’s 2022/23 NSW budget invested more than $2 billion in programs focusing on environment and heritage protection and conservation, which is more than the Federal Labor Government’s environment budget for the whole country,” he said.