Tasmanian Times


Garrett to consider devils as critically endangered

Greens deputy leader, Senator Christine Milne has welcomed a decision by the Federal Minister for Environment to consider uplisting the Tasmanian devil’s status from endangered to critically endangered.

“This is encouraging news from Minister Garrett. Last year I called for the official process of uplisting to be opened following news of the devil’s continued decline.”

“Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease has to date decimated more than 70 percent of devil populations, meaning this iconic marsupial is now closer to extinction than some animals currently listed as critically threatened under the EPBC Act.”

“Should Minister Garrett and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee find the devil’s situation so dire as to uplist, it will be a code red emergency warning that the Tasmanian devil is just one step away from extinction in the wild.”

“Destructive development of key devil habitat will threaten its long-term survival. Building roads through the Tarkine, be it for tourists, logging or mining will open the devil’s final stronghold up to the ravages of a disease with no cure.”

“Minister Garrett is asking for nominations to be submitted to his department by 25 March. I am therefore calling on members of the public and the scientific community to draw on new and additional information demonstrating the full extent of the devil’s diminished status.”

“Nominations are vital if we are to have any hope of preserving the Tasmanian devil. An uplisting to critically endangered will mean a new threat abatement plan will be drawn to counter direct threats to the devil including the opening of the Tarkine region to development.”

“If we cannot find a cure for the disease, the least we should be doing is protecting the devil’s final stronghold.”

For information on how to make nominations, visit the government’s biodiversity page on:

Senator Christine Milne

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. kim carsons

    March 8, 2010 at 10:59 am

    1) just because it’s s small section of road hardly makes it trivial. Some of these areas, are virtually untouched, temperate rainforest, and putting ANY road thru ANY of it WILL make an impact, not to mention the fact that if forestry, got in, there intention is to log the area.

    2) So if you don’t support the road, say so!!

    3) If you do, then a list of reasons why perhaps?

    4) Yes, it’d be great if environmentalists, politicians, logging contractors, fine timber merchants and multi-nationals could sit around the table like enlightened beings and talk about the importance of preserving wilderness, but i can’t see it happening any time soon!

    5) the pattern of so called beat-ups from said Senator, compared to Labour’s track record – (the RPDC ballsup, shreddergate, and the broken lines in the sand) in the end make any mistakes in the realm of science that Milne may have made, took trivial, even inconsequential, in comparison

    6) The major parties have been STONEWALLING the environmental movement for decades.

    7) tasmania is still at this impasse, and still clearfelling rainforest, and stockpiling woodchips etc etc etc etc etc etc

  2. Gerry Mander

    March 8, 2010 at 1:30 am

    #16. Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn!

  3. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 7, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    #14 makes a claim of a scam with no evidence in support of that claim. The claim that the bridge will form a link is nonsense (many roads that could serve as a link already exist, and the area of the bridge is currently well inside the disease-free zone). Upgrading the status of the devil to “critically endangered” (not “critical” – if you are going to use quotes try getting the quote right, shouldn’t be too hard when it is only two words long) will have little legislative impact but will increase the volume of silly hype and could lead to more money being spent on the devil than its plight warrants with other more at-risk species being (as they often are) neglected.

  4. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 7, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Ah no, there you [b]don’t[/b] have it, John Wayward (#9). If you read my comments carefully you will see that what I referred to as “bunkum” is not the notion that the disease presents some kind of possible threat to the species’ survival in the wild, but rather the antics of exaggeration and propaganda practiced by Milne and others. The key aspects of those tactics involve exaggerating both the degree of risk to the devil and the degree of impact of proposed developments such as the proposed Tarkine road on it.

    My actual view on the DFTD extinction risk is that as the disease is of an unusual nature we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of it wiping out the species from the wild, and therefore measures like captive breeding are appropriate, but that the risk of extinction in the wild through DFTD, or even DFTD plus foxes, is nonetheless remote. Name me a species wiped out by disease that was not on its last legs as a result of other factors. I expect a lot of the current projections concerning extinction risk and local extinction rates will turn out to be too pessimistic since such is the nature of threatened species modelling (and I’ve done quite a lot of it myself).

    Steve (#10), I have maps of the area of the proposed road and it is riddled with logging trails; the bridge in question would be over Little Rapid River which is already crossed by roads or tracks at least four times. Furthermore crossing over the LRR only gets the devil into an area where it either has to cross back again, or where it runs into the larger Rapid River. I did work out that the new road would cut several km off the distance for a devil seeking to get from one intersection to another by road, but in an area riddled with logging roads that’s hardly an issue. Plus, do you really think devils only learned how to get across even small rivers when we built bridges to show them how?

    Kim (#14), I have actually visited many of the roads in that area in the course of my work and I can say for a fact that Tayatea and Pipeline roads and many of the spurs in that area are hardly overgrown. I cannot vouch for the condition of the few roads that would be directly crosscut by the proposed new road but there are many intact, active and used roads close by. The amount of forest that would need cutting to build the road is trivial in the overall context of the amount of rainforest in the Tarkine let alone the state. If someone has an issue with secondary logging that they thought might happen (despite the absence of a specific proposal to that effect) then that’s a separate issue to whether the road should be built. It is possible for government to approve one and not the other.

    Making assertions that a commonly held policy position is “beyond any rational/emotional/sensitive intelligent being” only indicates a blinkered view of these qualities in which they are defined according to whether a person agrees with you or not. It is a fact that there are people on either side of any debate like this who bear some of these qualities or even all of them. Value differences may reflect sensitivity or emotion about different things, or may represent rationality applied to different subjective goals. Trying to insinuate that anyone who supports the other view is just a dim heartless clod is just a version of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy and a pointless slur.

    That’s not saying that I personally support the road, but I think the strongest arguments against it are not scientific but economic.

    If the credibility of Milne’s devil claims is just a “tiny hole” in the discussion then why is such a big deal being made of the devil in the Tarkine situation? If the big picture is so important then surely you could just drop the dodgy devil disease twaddle and all these enlightened people you talk about would agree with you based on the broad picture.

    More likely, the scientific case against the road is actually rather weak and speculative and that is why the devil trump card is being hyped to blazes.

    You ask me “given FT’s enviromentally [[i]sic[/i]] criminal record, why should they be allowed in?” I don’t accept your premise there (what criminal offences has FT been convicted of?) so ask me a question with a premise that isn’t hyperbolic and disputable and who knows, I might even answer it. But perhaps not quickly, I’ll be offline a fair bit the next two weeks.

    And no, that isn’t how I framed the question anyway. I wasn’t saying we shouldn’t listen to Milne on this issue just because she regularly talks such nonsense and can’t be trusted not to engage in beatups on matters of science. Rather, I indicated why the devil disease angle in the Tarkine was a bit of a beatup and then noted that in my view there is a pattern of such behaviour from said Senator.

  5. Gerry Mander

    March 7, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    The Tarkine Road was planned by forestry under the pretence that it was for tourism. The Tourism Board was not consulted before the proposal and rejected it after, as did the local inhabitants.

    This is purely a scam to get access to the Tarkine timber. The bridge in question requires an upgrade for Forestry, because log trucks cannot access it, it has little or nothing to do with tourism. However, this same bridge will form a link between the infected areas and non-infected areas of Devil FTD, endangering large sections of the remaining population. Hopefully upgaring the status of the Devil to ‘c ritical’ may prevent this, which will obviously be opposed by those who are rooting for forestry, rather than the devils.

    Here the ‘medicine’ is not being administered!

  6. kim carson

    March 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    “that the area of the Tarkine proposed for the new road is already riddled with them and that the amount of new road proposed is absolutely trivial.”

    The length of the road is not what makes it important or trivial. If the area Foresty want to log and burn and then replace with plantation (as they are doing on the areas on the outskirts of the tarkine, north of the arthur river) was riddled with roads, presumably they wouldn’t need any more roads. The fact, is that we are talking about rainforest that has only known the crosscut saw, disused and grown over roads, and intact 400 year old trees, in other words a rainforest relatively intact and safe from the blood stained hand of big buisness.

    Wanting to prove the details are inaccurate is understandable, but knowing Tasmanian Forestry should be given access to these areas is beyond any rational/emotional/sensitive intelligent being.

    It seems you’re are more concerned with the tiny holes in the fabric of the discussion, which inevitably support the disastrous, destructive and almost wholly flawed “big picture” of an industry which cannot continue its present trajectory without some serious, and possible fatal environmental consequences -the devil being just one of the many of the likely casualties of the war against wilderness.

    So yes, again, given FT’s enviromentally criminal record, why should they be allowed in? (i remind you that this is the way you posed the question, on why we shouldn’t even bother listening to Senator Milne’s concerns)

  7. David Obendorf

    March 6, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    In last Friday’s Mercury [5 March 2010], there is an article stating that the Tasmanian State Government has employed a “private security firm” to be in charge of monitoring outbreaks of disease in Tasmanian wildlife.

    A 24-hour hotline 1800 number for reporting sick and diseased wildlife – Emergency Disease Hotline operated by a private security firm.

    How Taz-manian is this?

    As a veterinarian who was commissioned to prepare a comprehensive report on preparedness response to new & emerging diseases in animals FOR this very State Labor governmemnt in 2002, I was once again stunned!

    This is yet another example of what has to change in Tasmania.

    When will this stupidity end?

  8. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 6, 2010 at 1:20 am

    The “patient” is getting no shortage of “medicine” as it is – there is very little difference between Critically Endangered and Endangered statuses policy-wise but no doubt there would be a further ramping up in political propaganda and nonsense about the species if it was uplisted.

    The EPBC Act criteria are very closely modelled on those of IUCN. At IUCN level the key decline figure for Critically Endangered status for a species in this sort of situation is 80% over ten years or three generations (whichever is longer).

  9. Steve

    March 6, 2010 at 12:45 am

    7; Not sure of your credibility here Kevin? Agreed the amount of new road is trivial, but surely the location of the new road is not?
    Without delving into specifics (challenged by time as usual, sorry!), a 10m bridge is a minor project but can result in a major change in traffic, if it’s the only way over the river.

  10. john Hayward

    March 6, 2010 at 12:34 am

    There you have it, folks, no less a scienfific authority than Dr Kev has pronounced the 64% decline in the Devil population in less than fifteen years as a “bunkum” survival threat. (!)

    Dr Kev might have cited Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll in defence of his assertion.

    John Hayward

  11. Gerry Mander

    March 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Given that a 64% decline was already assessed as merely “severe” and given that the species remains in large numbers I cannot see what is new here…. K.B.

    Maybe this rapid decline over such a short period should not have been considered as ‘merely severe’ and should have been declared ‘critical’ some time ago when the trend was first observed.

    It is surely better to give the patient some preventative medicine before he is on his deathbed than to wait for the undertaker and say ‘sorry, we didn’t realise’!

  12. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 5, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Bunkum I said and bunkum it is, Dr Obendorf. A current DPIPWE account of the distribution of DFTD is here: http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/LBUN-5QF86G?open and states “At February 2010, populations in the western third of the State appear to have remained healthy and viable.” There is a big difference between “western third” and your “North West Tasmania” and an even bigger difference between either and “Tarkine”. Not to mention, as I have pointed out a number of zillion times before, that the area of the Tarkine proposed for the new road is already riddled with them and that the amount of new road proposed is absolutely trivial. If there is an issue it is the potential upgrading of existing roads resulting in more cars visiting the area and traveling faster, hence increased roadkill.

  13. David Obendorf

    March 5, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Dr Kevin [Comment #2] even the Tasmanian Department (DPIPWE) acknowledges that the North West Tasmanian populations of devils represents the last substantial population of DFTD-free devils in Tasmania.

    This is not ‘bunkum’.

  14. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 4, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    The Passenger Pigeon case is interesting because what wiped it out in the end was the same thing that was supposed to make it safe. It had a reproductive biology geared to being gathered in large numbers, and once its numbers got too small it wouldn’t breed. While it was deliberate human persecution and habitat destruction (both far more effective primary agents of species extinction than disease, which generally only knocks off species that are already more or less gone anyway) that placed it in that situation in the first place, nearly all species in a similar situation would survive.

    These days the bells and whistles go off more or less automatically when a species is known to be declining whatever its numbers – but that is no excuse for political hysteria of the kind frequently offered on threatened species issues by Senator Milne.

  15. john Hayward

    March 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Even if Peter Garrett could get an EPBC Devil uplist past superior and forestry stooge Martin Ferguson, there is no way the even more compromised Tasmanian government would implement it.

    The state government cares and knows nothing about the wildlife inconveniencing its forestry masters. Look at their record.

    John Hayward

  16. phill Parsons

    March 4, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    “In 1857, a bill was brought forth to the Ohio State Legislature seeking protection for the passenger pigeon. A Select Committee of the Senate filed a report stating “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”[21]

    Fifty-seven years later, on September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati, Ohio. Her body was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was skinned and mounted. Currently, Martha (named after Martha Washington) is in the museum’s archived collection, and not on display.[22] A memorial statue of Martha stands on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo.”


    Of course it does not mean a change of consevation status will address DFTD question and thus the conservation of a healthy wild population.

    It is true that inadequate measures were taken to restrict the killing of passenger pidgeons for commercial exploitation whereas now we have some better understanding of how to manage a ‘wild’ population and a desire to retain such populations and the places they are dependent on making the same causal pathway unlikely.

    But as then we cannot clearly see decades ahead.

  17. Dr Kevin Bonham

    March 4, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Re #1 I think you are misquoting Australian Story but feel free to check the transcripts at http://www.abc.net.au/austory/programs/default.htm . Platypus disease typically consists of ulcerations on the back, tail or legs, and it is caused by a fungus present in frogs on the Australian mainland and presumably introduced by frogs accidentally brought into the state. It has been in the state for decades and has nothing to do with devil disease.

    I really wonder if Christine Milne has actually read the details for the various animal species listed as CE under the EPBC Act. With the exception of one bat that is in a vaguely similar situation to the devil (large population but with massive rapid decline) the species listed are typically extremely localised, and where their populations are known they are often in the hundreds. The list includes species that may already be extinct and others that could very easily and quickly become so. Having just reviewed the details of all the animals thus listed I see no factual basis whatsoever for Milne’s claim that the devil is closer to extinction than even one of them.

    Even the frog widely publicised in the last few days as rediscovered from extinction in NSW, missing completely for 30 years, was only listed as Endangered by EPBC.

    It should be kept in mind that while the devil has declined rapidly, its population still occurs statewide and comprises several tens of thousands, and the disease has still not caused a single documented local extinction, not to mention the signs that it is less potent in the areas it is now invading than in its area of origin.

    Milne’s agenda is obvious: she wants the devil uplisted so that she can use it as a propaganda tool against developments she opposes that might (maybe, somehow) have some impact on the species.
    Once again the myth that the Tarkine is the devil’s “final stronghold” is trotted out to support this bunkum.

    As far as I understand it the salient difference between endangered and critically endangered in the case of the devil will concern whether the population is undergoing “severe” as opposed to “very severe” decline. Given that a 64% decline was already assessed as merely “severe” and given that the species remains in large numbers I cannot see what is new here.

  18. Just Me

    March 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    On “Australian Story” a few weeks ago, I remember a guy talking about finding Platypus with “cancerous growths on its face when the fish disappeared from the river”… is this some much larger picture ? Has this possibility ever been investigated ?

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