CONSERVATION: by Julia PatrickNews Weekly
Bats, barmy bureaucrats and other protected pests
, July 5, 2014
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 is a pernicious piece of legislation that has progressively enmeshed rural Australia in green tape, while defying reason in the protection it gives to some animals.
Chris Gulaptis MLA
(National Party, NSW).
So, as the animal “protection” lobby continues to put the rights of domestic trouble-makers — particularly bats (euphemistically called flying foxes) and possums — over the well-being of humans, the environmental bureaucracy is on the same side.
In 2011, when the bat population in the Queensland town of Gayndah grew to explosive numbers, defecating everywhere and polluting the town’s water supply, the state government’s Department of Environment and Resource Management was called in.
But their field officer was unsympathetic, requiring lengthy data before a “dispersal plan” could be implemented and forbidding any disruption to the bat colony until every baby bat could fly. It was all to ensure that the bats would not feel “unnecessary or unreasonable stress”, because, said the field officer, “bats have rights”.
As the bat population grew from 50,000 to 300,000, a frustrated local real estate agent, seeing bats destroying the once-attractive town, asked the obvious question: “Why are they protected?”
In the New South Wales coastal town of Maclean, bats outnumber residents by a ratio of over 100 to one. One irate resident summed up the community’s frustration, saying: “I just can’t see why the politicians don’t choose humans over bats.” The NSW state government’s response was to form “a multi-agency and stakeholders’ working group in the Department of the Environment”.
Fortunately, former mayor and now National Party state MP, Mr Chris Gulaptis, is taking a different tack. He says it’s time “to reclaim the town for humans”, and his anti-bat campaign is, not surprisingly, gaining enthusiastic support.
Meanwhile, bats continue to decimate the trees in botanic gardens, suburban parks and orchards from northern Queensland to the suburbs of Melbourne. More than 450,000 bats live in the Sydney metropolitan area alone.
But a plethora of state and federal environmental laws make attempts at “dispersal” and “relocation” of “protected species” a bureaucratic nightmare, now that the protection of the species trumps the need for a civilised human life.
In 2003, as 28,000 bats were slowly destroying the trees in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, a “noise dispersal” technique was introduced — a sudden cacophony of ear-piercing sound that sent the bats flying — off to Geelong, Warrnambool and Melbourne’s Yarra Bend Park. There, in a macabre setting, bats now hang from the branches of denuded trees — hundreds to a tree — in a relocation attempt, costing over $3 million.
Undeterred, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens produced a similar plan, as, there too, bats threatened its unique, historically significant trees with extinction.
But the plan met a court challenge by Bat Advocacy, supported by the Environmental Defenders’ Office (EDO), an expensive outfit set up by Julia Gillard.
Fortunately, last September’s federal election intervened. Before the EDO could do further harm, Tony Abbott’s incoming Coalition government axed the Environmental Defenders’ Office, and, after years of legal wrangle, the $2.2 million-dollar noise-dispersal plan took off.
But bats don’t just disappear. New arrivals have met hostile receptions in other parts of suburban Sydney, and the bat problem remains unsolved.
Bat-lovers and the Department of Primary Industry (just who do they really represent?) claim that bats play an important role in pollinating native flowers and spreading seeds.
In contrast, AgForce Queensland — a body representing Queensland’s beef, sheep and grain producers — rates bats, along with feral animals and the rabies virus, as a “pest species plaguing Queensland”.
Bats harbour a range of viruses, including the deadly Hendra and Lyssa ones that can infect humans with a bite or scratch.
But activists of Bat Conservation & Rescue Queensland Inc. are undismayed, encouraging their “Adopt a Bat” program, including a “Bat Adoption Gift Pack” with information on bat care and supporters encouraged to shop at Batgoods.com.
Donors are encouraged by tax deductibility, while Bat Conservation Internationalis on hand to help.
While bats pollute the external environment, possums invade home territory, noisily partying in warm, dry roofs at night and enjoying the limitless food supply from gardens and garbage bins.
As they chomp their way through the rose bushes of suburban gardens and plunder the orchards and market gardens of those just trying to make a living, the possum PR machine comes to their aid. Beguiled by pictures of wide-eyed and photogenically cute little possums and joeys clinging to their mothers like furry backpacks, well-meaning if naïve hearts are melted and purses opened. The “donate” icon features widely on environmental and animal protection sites.
The protection lobbies and the compassion industry go into overdrive at the suggestion of any means of getting rid of them — except for that magic word “relocating” — which, of course, only relocates the problem.
Meanwhile, in the stiflingly humid heat of northern Australia, those wanting to cool off dare not go swimming any more: there are now many more crocodiles living in Darwin harbour.
“They were here first!” is the conservationists’ rallying cry, and the Commonwealth government has obligingly recently upheld the ban on hunting crocodiles in the Top End.
Julia Patrick is a freelance Sydney writer on social issues.