4 June 2024

Small native rat, prose-worthy eucalypt and wrinkled daisy hoisted onto NSW endangered list

| Edwina Mason
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Penny Sharpe

NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharpe advised her fellow parliamentarians last week the broad-toothed rat had been uplisted by the NSW Endangered Species Committee to endangered. Photo: NSW Environment.

The future is looking increasingly grim for several native species in Southern NSW, including a native rodent in the Snowy Mountains, a rare, fire-sensitive eucalypt endemic to ranges between Canberra and the South Coast and tiny flowering shrub known as wrinkled daisy.

With all three species uplisted to endangered by the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee last week, the spotlight was reserved for the broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus mordicus) at last week’s NSW Parliamentary inquiry into the proposed aerial shooting of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP).

Appearing before her fellow parliamentarians, NSW Environment Minister Penny Sharp brandished a large glossy photo of the broad-toothed rat, taken from the walls of her offices, and said the primary reasons for the latest development – based on the Commonwealth conservation advice for this species – was that the species had undergone a large reduction in population size with further reductions likely to occur.

Horses, she said, were one of the key drivers of the decline and she wanted the committee to understand that.

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The species is known to inhabit fragmented locations across the alpine and sub-alpine regions of southeastern Australia spanning Victoria, NSW and the ACT, preferring high rainfall areas with low temperatures and moderate to dense ground cover of grasses, shrubs or boulders.

It is largely nocturnal, sheltering by day, sometimes communally, in grass nests under dense vegetation or logs but remains active in runways underneath the snow during winter, feeding mainly on the stems, leaves and seeds of grasses and sedges, shrub foliage, fungi, bark and moss.

According to the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee advice, wild horses (or brumbies) (Equus caballus) are currently the main threat to the broad-toothed rat, its habitat impacted by trampling which erodes soil and alters vegetation cover.

Evidence of impact is also indicated by deer such as sambar (Rusa unicolor), cattle (Bos taurus), pigs (Sus scrofa), rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and hares (Lepus europaeus), the report stated.

Climate change, high severity fires, including the 2019/2020 bushfires, and predation by non-native species, including foxes and cats, have also contributed to population declines of the species of around 50 per cent over a 10-year period.

The Invasive Species Council say they are aware that wild horses are not the only significant threat to the survival of the species.

“But as the Federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee said: ‘In each case, impact of feral horses is one of several threatening processes that operate in combination to put species at risk. However, feral horses may be the crucial factor that causes final extinction,” spokesperson Jack Gough said.

“By taking action to rapidly reduce the out-of-control feral horse population in KNP, Minister Sharpe is reducing one of the big pressures driving this Aussie animal to the brink of extinction.

“But it’s also clear that without a significant increase to federal funding to reduce the pressure from feral cats and foxes and an end to the fragmentation of their habitat for development then the broad-toothed rat population will continue to decline.”

Jilliga ash (Eucalyptus stenostoma) and wrinkled daisy (Olearia rugosa subsp. Distalilobata)

Jilliga ash (Eucalyptus stenostoma) and wrinkled daisy (Olearia rugosa subsp. Distalilobata) were also uplifted to endangered status last week. Jilliga ash (Eucalyptus stenostoma) photo: Peter Woodard. Wrinkled daisy (Olearia rugosa subsp. Distalilobata) Photo: Atlas of Living Australia.

Jillaga ash (Eucalyptus stenostoma) has featured in the prose of Australian writer and naturalist John Charles Blay, who amorously referred to the species as “the loveliest gum”, which in their habitat growing on rocky summits along ridgelines are spread, “in every direction as though they were imitating huge pincushions”.

Long lived and slow growing, the trees are characterised by rough fissured, fibrous and grey/black bark on the lower trunk which transitions up higher to a smooth, white or yellow column, tattooed with insect scribbles, with a bark shed in ribbons. It’s haloed by large clusters of leaves, white flowers and gumnuts.

Now the species, found in the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Snowy Monaro local government areas, with minor occurrences within the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council area, is also considered endangered and is facing a very high risk of extinction.

Blay’s writing about expeditions throughout the remote wilderness areas of Deua and Wadbilliga national parks offers a firsthand account of the Jillaga ash, which he noted was quite common on steep slopes and ridgelines, in all the most difficult places.

But adverse fire regimes, including high frequency fire and high severity fire, and the interaction between drought and fire has disrupted its life cycle, wholly dependent on seed for regeneration.

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According to Currency Creek Arboretum, the recent NSW fires burnt through the entire population of E. stenostoma, one of 85 fire-sensitive eucalypt species, effectively making it extinct in the wild until some of its seeds hopefully germinate.

“Another fire before the seedlings reach maturity may result in its permanent extinction in the wild,” the arboretum stated.

And you’d have to travel a long way – to Mount Imlay (Balawan), 30 kilometres west of Eden – to find an Olearia rugosa subsp. Distalilobata (wrinkled daisy), in NSW, with around 85 of these spindly perennial plants having resprouted since the 2019-20 bushfires among forest ferns and stringybark.

Yet its future is tenuous as it faces recurring threats of timber harvesting, drought and climate change; but bushfire – which has been blamed for wiping out around 98 per cent of the previously modelled distribution in NSW – remains the greatest single threat.

According to the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee advice, the potential for the protected Mount Imlay subpopulation to expand into neighbouring areas in East Boyd State Forest may be limited by timber harvesting.

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Shows again that all feral animals need to be eradicated to protect put native animals and ecosystems. Again the brumby advocates are talking rubbish saying its everything else but the horses causing damage.

Nuske also rants on about the flawed counting method used by NPWS as opposed to the new technology commissioned by Rocky Harvey and Claire Galea. The new technology (as reported previously by Edwina Mason) counted over 2500 false images of horses. The fact is humans did the counting and had to reject a large number of images the AI program submitted. The new technology has a long way to go before it can be considered accurate and the numbers of horses removed since the ‘Rocky’ count shows clearly the Stuart Cairns model is more reliable.

Marilyn Nuske has publicly stated horses do not do any damage and they have soft hooves. I am not sure what planet she lives on. I have trimmed a rehomed feral horses feet and they are plenty hard enough. She has clearly never been to those places decimated by horses. Nunniong Plains has been eaten down by horses to look like a golf course. That destroys habitat for the tiny creatures that have survived many fires over thousands of years. I have personally visited many sites where horses have broadened streams by collapsing the soft banks with their very hard hooves but Nuske simply denies it all. These creatures are now threatened and Nuske only wants to protect an animal that is domestically abundant.

The ISC acknowledges other feral pests, including cats, as contributing to the demise of the Broad Toothed rat. Nobody is blaming the horses on their own but they are a key contributing factor and that needs to be controlled. Cats have no business being outside a house or yard and neither do horses unless under the control of their owners.

While I applaud Marilyn for her passionate support for feral horses I must say she is deluded and refuses to accept any evidence that shows horse numbers need to be controlled. It is because of advocates like Nuske that horses are now being shot in large numbers. So much interference with the process over the years including several failed court cases. It is also clear by the stats that rehoming is not the answer to getting numbers to a manageable level. It may help once those numbers have been achieved. How many horses is Marilyn going to take though? None is my guess. The reality is that the majority of horse people really do not want them. Certainly not in the numbers needed to make a difference.

Marilyn Nuske7:52 am 03 Jun 24

The key driver of the listing for the broad toothed rat is the neglect by NPWS in controlling feral cat populations that have and are decimating populations of the rat.
Minister Sharpe’s announcement made during an inquiry into aerial shooting brumbies, was another example of her personal ideological value that “brumbies don’t belong”.
Despite there being Legislation in force to protect Heritage brumbies. Brumby management should not include cruel and barbaric aerial shooting, the introduction of which must also face an inquiry into how submissions were made by reclaim Kosci by producing forms signed in the street, that do not satisfy legislative requirement’s to vary a management plan

Marilyn Nuske7:42 am 03 Jun 24

Why is Minister Sharpe holding up a photo of a species lifted to endangered, in November 2023? Cause of the listing is primarily by out of control wild cat populations, a genuine management failure by NPWS to manage destructive feral cats. Nothing to be proud of.
Another example of Minister Sharpe’s personal ideological values regarding her wish to remove all brumbies in the Park, falsely implying brumbies are the cause of demise of the rat.
Brumbies are protected by Legislation and Minister Sharpe has a duty to respect that Legislation when it comes to brumby management.

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