Annual Review 2020-21

Below, expanded highlights from our Annual Review for 2020-21, together with video reports from some of our campaigners. You can also download a full copy of the Annual Review and our Financial Report, and view past years.

Ningaloo and Gutharraguda safe again!

In 2020, your support meant that we claimed another huge win for our marine ecosystems, this time in Western Australia. Ningaloo and Gutharraguda (Shark Bay) were under threat from the impacts of fossil fuels extraction, after the Federal Government proposed the release of offshore acreage near these World Heritage Areas.

The Wilderness Society provided a submission to the Federal Government that was co-signed by 7,626 supporters. And 13,500 people added their names to the petition to stop the threat before it starts. And it worked. Because of the public outcry to protect Ningaloo and Gutharraguda (Shark Bay), the Federal Government has now withdrawn these sensitive areas from the 2020 acreage release! 

We also raised a number of concerns in our formal submission about the risks present at every stage of the exploration process, and the litany of threatened wildlife that would be impacted.

We launched a comprehensive report: ‘7 ways to protect WA’s most valuable natural asset’

In April 2021 Pat and the Wilderness Society Western Australia team launched a comprehensive report: 7 ways to protect WA’s most valuable natural asset.

The report details solutions that can be put in place to improve the protection and develop a greater understanding of high conservation forests and bushlands. If adopted there will be huge benefits for biodiversity and opportunities for First Nations custodianship and management.

Six remarkable ‘bioregions’ across WA are profiled, each having been impacted by the long-term destruction and depletion of native vegetation. These include areas such as the Great Western Woodlands, which supports 3,300 species of flowering plants (thanks to your support, part of this remarkable wilderness is set to be protected with the formation of the Helena and Aurora Range National Park).

Check out the report!

Update: In September 2021 the WA Government declared an end to native forest logging from 2024!

Making sure the fossil fuel industry cleans up after itself

Federal Policy Director, Tim Beshara, discusses the Wilderness Society's efforts to make sure that it's the fossil fuel industry and not the taxpayer that picks up the costly tab for decommissioning old infrastructure.
Image above: Loggerhead turtles at Ningaloo; Jenita Enevoldsen)

Some of the headlines calling out the fossil fuel industry that the Wilderness Society has seeded into the national press.

Some of the headlines calling out the fossil fuel industry that the Wilderness Society has seeded into the national press.

We were called “alarmist” and “scaremonger” by the CEO of Australia’s oil and gas industry. It was in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald where we dared to point out the obvious that the widespread cutting of maintenance budgets for oil rigs will increase the risk of oil spills.

When your opponents start lashing out and calling you names, it’s usually a good sign that they are rattled. And on that, it’s worth talking about some of the things that the Wilderness Society has been doing that has got the industry’s peak body flustered.

It’s a story about something called decommissioning. It’s what a company is supposed to do when it’s finished extracting the oil or gas from below the ground (and in many cases also the ocean). The company is meant to pack up all its equipment and leave the area as it found it. In fact, the company promises that it will do just this to governments and communities well before it starts drilling the wells, installing the oil rigs or platforms and laying the pipelines. Every oil and gas project in Australia began with a promise from a corporation that when it’s all over, it’ll leave no trace.

Australia has some pretty old oil and gas fields, and the associated infrastructure used to extract the fossil fuels is ageing too. In fact there’s around $60 billion worth of packing and cleaning up that needs to happen over the next decade or so.

You may ask why the Wilderness Society is engaging in a topic that seems more about engineering than about nature? The answer is pretty straightforward, many of these old oil rigs and platforms are in incredibly sensitive and important marine areas and any sort of oil spill in these areas would be catastrophic. The East Gippsland coast, the Kimberley Coast, Ningaloo Reef are all at risk from rusty and unsafe oil rigs left in the ocean for far too long. It's important that the industry clean up its mess. Many of these areas, if not for the industrial infrastructure, have clear wilderness values that can be restored if the infrastructure is properly removed.

But it seems the oil and gas industry doesn't want to clean up the mess. Major companies who have owned some of these oil rigs for decades are selling them off to small companies who think they can squeeze a few last drops of oil out of the equipment. When the big companies sell rigs off, they no longer have the clean-up bill sitting on their books.

But this is where it’s gone pear shaped for them. One company (Woodside) did this. It sold an oil platform (the Northern Endeavour, sitting just off the coast of East Timor) to a one-person company just as it was about to decommission it. The problem was that the Northern Endeavour was in terrible shape and this little company wasn’t able to keep it safe and the government shut it down. Fast forward a bit, the company goes out of business and the government has had to take over the oil rig to stop it falling apart any further. Costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars in upkeep.

With your help, we’ve been raising the alarm on this issue for some time–including specifically the Northern Endeavour and the things that these companies are doing to dodge their responsibilities. The Wilderness Society has been working to make sure that decisions around these issues can’t be made in secret between government and industry in their boardrooms. And it’s worked so far.

Not only has the government drafted a new Bill that prevents companies from offloading their decommissioning responsibilities to companies that can’t clean up the mess, but we’ve secured a $1 billion levy on offshore fossil fuel production to pay for the clean up bill of the Northern Endeavour.

With your help, we’ve been able to secure a big outcome for taxpayers and our ocean wilderness. And the fossil fuel lobby groups are fuming.

Australians want real safeguards for nature

Thanks to you, Australia’s failed nature laws are now on the political agenda. With your help, we’ve delayed the Federal Government’s plan to rush through the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) amendment bill to hand over their environment powers to state and territory governments. Image above: Swift parrot by Chris Tzaros.

The Government could have pushed this bill through the Parliament at any time from September 2020. But because supporters like you chipped in, made submissions, sent letters, engaged MPs and activated your local communities, we've delayed the Government passing the bill. 

In November 2020 Campaign Manager Suzanne Milthorpe delivered a passionate speech to the Senate hearing on the matter, while more than 4,400 people like you put in a submission to the Senate inquiry in just 48 hours.

With your backing, we’ll continue to build pressure on Sussan Ley to deliver the legislation that we—and the 30,000 Australians who lodged submissions—know nature needs.

Over 10,000 of you want system change

Words by Jess Lerch, National Corporate Campaigner

Every year the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources undertakes an Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release. Areas are submitted by petroleum industry players with no meaningful environmental or community consultation. The only way to participate in the process is to provide a submission to the release process.
(Image above: With the release of exploration acreage off the Twelve Apostles, this illustration formed part of an effective social media campaign.)

It’s through this same mindless and automated process that last year there was a proposal to release acreage on the doorstep of Ningaloo and Gutharraguda (Shark Bay) in WA. 

Because of your support, thousands of people like you added their names to our well-researched submission. For the first time in our experience, and in response to our collective action, the acreage was removed!

It is ludicrous that fossil fuel companies are driving what areas are released in this mindless and automated process. But processes can change, and it’s time for this one to.

Thanks to you, earlier this year, nearly 10,000 people added their names to the Wilderness Society submission to the Australian government opposing the release of new fossil fuel acreage and calling for a complete overhaul of this mindless annual handover of more and more of our marine environments to the fossil fuel industry. 

A walk to Home Tree

Images and words by Lily Weinberg

Lily Weinberg takes a walk deep into the ancient forests of the Florentine Valley, where she encounters some of Tasmania's famous giant trees; trees which sadly sit in a logging coupe due to be woodchipped last summer.

I can’t write about forests without writing about magic. They have always been a source of wonder. As a child, it was building fairy houses in tree stumps and imagining walking trees and talking animals. Now it is the awe of the fungus that facilitates the way trees communicate with each other or learning about how humans feel different walking in established forest versus urban areas, plantation or regrowth forest.

Lily admires Home Tree.

Lily admires Home Tree.

So when I had the opportunity in October 2020 to meet a 5.4 metre wide, 400-year-old stringy bark in Tasmania’s Florentine Valley, I took it. Recently named Home Tree, this old giant is one of six massive trees in logging coupe TN005D due to be logged this summer by Sustainable Timber Tasmania. 

In collaboration with the Wilderness Society, Forestry Watch has made a short circuit through the forest so that locals can meet Home Tree. Stepping on to the trail is like stepping into a fairy land. The Earth absorbs your weight and then springs upwards again when you take a step. A hush fell over the group as we weaved our way across the trampoline-like floor. 

In Peter Wohlleben’s book the Hidden Life of Trees, he writes: “This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.” In the old growth forest around Home Tree it feels strong and resilient. With seemingly infinite shades of green, moss covered ground, forest giants—the forest feels whole.

I watched people meeting Home Tree—some gave it a big hug, others crouched among its roots taking photos like it is a celebrity (and it should be!), but all of us stood gazing up trying to see to the top.

A logged coupe near the forest that Home Tree still stands tall in. Image: Lily Weinberg.

A logged coupe near the forest that Home Tree still stands tall in. Image: Lily Weinberg.

And yet, as we continued our walk, we emerged into an area that Sustainable Timber Tasmania has clear felled—most of which will be woodchipped. The next step is to burn the rest of what remains. But already the soil has lost its spongy-ness. The quiet hush of the forest is gone along with the vibrant colours and textures of life. People’s disbelief over Home Tree’s majesty turned to anguish: how anyone could chop all this down? Tears welled into people’s eyes. I turned back to look from the lush forest we’d just be surrounded by to this destruction.

Moss covered forest in the Florentine Valley. Image: Lily Weinberg.

Moss covered forest in the Florentine Valley. Image: Lily Weinberg.

To end extinction and protect against the climate crisis, we must allow trees to grow old. Peter Wohlleben goes on to say, “So, in the case of trees, being old doesn't mean being weak, bowed, and fragile. Quite the opposite, it means being full of energy and highly productive. This means elders are markedly more productive than young whippersnappers, and when it comes to climate change, they are important allies for human beings.”

After taking people to visit this beautiful forest, and petitioning the Tasmanian Government to protect Home Tree, logging in the coupe was later suspended.

A journey with the Mirning

Peter Owen and Bunna Lawrie approach Murrawijinie Cave on the Nullarbor. Image: Bill Doyle.

Peter Owen and Bunna Lawrie approach Murrawijinie Cave on the Nullarbor. Image: Bill Doyle.

South Australia Director Peter Owen joined Mirning Elder and Whale Songman, Bunna Lawrie, on an incredible journey to the Mirning’s sacred caves on the Nullarbor Plain. We featured Pete’s story in Issue #009 of Wilderness Journal.