The most recent environmental report card on Victoria, the “State of the Environment” analysis published last year, found the state’s environment was in worsening health in 51 of 170 categories.
Feral animals including cats, foxes and horses are growing in number and populating greater areas, while unique native animals including the mountain pygmy possum, Murray crayfish, spotted tree frog and Baw Baw frog are increasingly threatened. The devastating summer bushfires are very likely to have accelerated these trends.
The state’s planning for the impact of climate change is poor, including coastal regions facing the likelihood of erosion from rising sea levels.
Sea levels along most of the Victorian coast are likely to rise by between seven and 18 centimetres by 2030, under one scenario modelled by the CSIRO.
Upper House MP Cesar Melhem, chairman of the environment and planning committee, said it is “important that we hear from communities across Victoria so that the committee gets a complete picture of what’s happening to the state’s diverse ecosystems and what actions are needed to restore those under threat or in decline”.
Professor Mike Clarke, a zoologist from La Trobe University, said he believed the pandemic lockdown restrictions had increased public appreciation for outdoor and natural spaces near their homes. “I’m hoping we can seize this opportunity to value our natural world appropriately,” he said.
Climate change means bushfires are increasing in frequency and severity and damp parts of the landscape are now burning with a devastating impact on flora and fauna, he said.
“Our environmental scorecards have very few good news stories in them at the moment and we need to turn that around,” Professor Clarke said.
More intensive monitoring is needed to understand the status of Victoria’s flora and fauna and track emerging risks, such as weeds and pest species that will move into unexpected landscapes and change the way ecosystems behave, he said.
The inquiry will be held by the Legislative Council’s environment and planning committee, with submissions invited before the end of July.
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.