Last Thursday, several prominent conservation biologists in Australia called on the Australian government to allow certain endangered animals to become extinct in order to focus conservation efforts on reviving more vital species. The biologists argue that current Australian policies, such as mandatory recovery plans for all endangered species, may have consequences if they are not amended to allow for the “ecological triage” of less-vital species. David Bowman, a professor at the University of Tasmania, supported the proposal to focus on the most vital species, noting that Australia is “confronting a whole raft of species about to go over the extinction cliff.”
Some environmentalists strongly oppose the proposal, arguing that choosing which species survive while others die off is both unfair and defeatist. For example, at the top of the list of animals that may soon be extinct is the orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster), of which fewer than fifty are believed to be alive in the wild today. The species has around 300 volunteers in Tasmania working to preserve it, but it has been dubbed the “living dead” by scientists due to its tiny remaining population. Environmentalists argue the parrot is part of Australia’s heritage that must be preserved, while those calling for policy changes note that heroic efforts to preserve the species should be examined to see if those efforts are the best use of conservation funds.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt stated that the Australian government will try to help as many species as possible, while he acknowledged that recovery of all species is unlikely. He described the government’s three-part plan for combating extinction. First, a species commissioner will be appointed to engage field teams in species recovery. Second, the national land care program will be reformed to help farmers and communities focus on species recovery efforts. Finally, the country will form a “green army” of around 15,000 people to engage in land rehabilitation, species recovery work, and “helping to create the environmental work force for the future.”