The feral predator-free project
This feral predator-free project is one of the most significant threatened-fauna and ecological restoration projects in New South Wales history.
The project will deliver a measurable conservation benefit for at least 50 threatened animal species with:
- the re-establishment of 9 mammal species currently listed as extinct in New South Wales including iconic species such as the greater bilby, western quoll and eastern bettong
- the establishment of new populations of at least 14 threatened species (and 5 protected species) which are locally extinct – priority species will include the critically endangered long-footed potoroo, the eastern quoll and bushfire-affected species such as the smoky mouse
- an improvement in the trajectory, or reduction in further decline and local extinction risk, for another 21 threatened surviving animal species including bushfire-affected species such as the red-legged pademelon, and iconic species such as the koala and malleefowl
- a significant conservation benefit for an additional 10 or more surviving threatened animal species.
The return of threatened and declining species will restore essential ecosystem function and processes.
The project will be delivered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and is partly funded by a $20 million NSW Environmental Trust grant.
NPWS will manage the sites in an integrated way with the 3 current feral-feral areas established for the NPWS under the Reintroduction of Locally Extinct Mammals (RoLEM) project expanding the total fox and cat-free area on national park estate to almost 65,000 hectares.
Why do we need this project?
Australia has the worst mammal extinction record in the world. In New South Wales, 14 bird species and 26 mammals have become extinct in the last 250 years.
Many wildlife species have been lost from our national parks, while many other species are at risk of disappearing. This decline in biodiversity has impacts on the overall ecosystem health of our reserves.
The range and abundance of surviving mammals have been dramatically reduced, with 50-60% of surviving mammals are threatened with extinction in New South Wales. The number of species considered at risk of extinction continues to rise.
The decline in our wildlife is occurring even in our national parks. Many species are locally extinct across the national park estate, while many other species occur now in much lower numbers and are at risk of local extinction.
The loss of these species harms the health of ecosystems because many of these species play important roles in ecosystem function. This includes turning over soil, seed and spore dispersal and population management through predation.
A recent parliamentary inquiry into the problem of feral and pet cats in Australia has recommended an expansion of Australia's network of predator-free safe-havens across a range of ecosystems. This network of cat-free islands and fenced exclosures have prevented the extinctions of 13 mammal species and protected 40 mammal species susceptible to cats and foxes.
Feral cats and foxes are the key drivers of the decline in most mammals, and have a serious impact on bird, reptile and amphibian species.
Feral cats alone kill over 1.5 billion native birds, reptiles and frogs each year. In New South Wales, cats are thought to impact 117 threatened species, more than any other feral animal species.
Feral goats, rabbits, deer and pigs also contribute by damaging habitat and competing for resources. Some are listed as threatening process for reintroduced species (e.g. rabbits out-compete bilbies).
The impact of feral predation is compounded in areas where vegetative cover has been removed during drought, from feral animal grazing pressure, or in areas recovering from the impacts of bushfire.
Protecting native species
There is no effective landscape-scale control for feral cats. This means we are currently unable to materially limit their impact on native wildlife. Landscape-scale control for foxes has delivered some success, but it has mixed results and is dependent on ongoing effort.
In the absence of effective landscape-scale control, the best available science says that we need to establish more feral predator-free areas.
The 2019 Threatened Species Mammal Index shows:
- an average increase of 500% for 15 threatened mammals between 2000 and 2016 due to conservation in feral free areas
- an average 60% decrease between 1995 and 2016 for 32 mammals in sites with no targeted management intervention.
Feral free areas are already delivering results in New South Wales. Greater bilbies, bridled nailtail wallabies and crest-tailed mulgara are establishing and reproducing.
The feral free areas will establish insurance populations of threatened species in the short and medium term until effective landscape control of feral cats and foxes is developed.
Site locations have been chosen to maximise the overall number of threatened species that will benefit while considering physical constraints and socio-economic factors.
The project involves the establishment of 4 new feral predator-free areas:
- Western Sydney, fenced area 500 hectares
- Yathong Nature Reserve, near Cobar, central NSW, fenced area 40,000 hectares
- Ngambaa Nature Reserve, near Macksville, north east NSW, fenced area 3000 hectares
- South west NSW (Eden – Bombala Region), estimated fenced area 1500 – 2000 hectares
Feral predator-free fenced areas have never been constructed in the tall wet forests of south eastern Australia.
A Western Sydney site provides an important opportunity to offer a unique educational visitor experience to a large population and number of people.
Integration with other conservation initiatives
National Parks and Wildlife Service will work closely with a range of key partners, including existing partners – the University of NSW/Wild Deserts and Australian Wildlife Conservancy, together with local communities and Aboriginal groups, Rewilding Australia-WWF, universities, the Australian Government and other state governments as part of an emerging national approach to rewilding.
Existing feral predator-free areas established under the Reintroduction of Locally Extinct Mammals project are located at:
- Pilliga State Conservation Area, near Baradine, north west NSW, fenced area 5800 hectares
- Sturt National Park, near Tibooburra, far north west NSW, fenced area 4000 hectares
- Mallee Cliffs National Park, near Buronga, south west NSW, fenced area 9570 hectares