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Australian State Announces Bold 'Zero Extinction' Plan to Protect Endangered Species 

FILE - A rescued koala named Ernie climbs up a tree as he is released back into his natural habitat, following medical treatment for chlamydia, where he had to have one of his eyes removed, in Grose Vale, Sydney, Australia, July 25, 2020.

Koalas, rock wallabies and the Nightcap Oak, a rare tree, are some of the iconic species to be protected under an “historic” zero extinction plan in the Australian state of New South Wales.

The New South Wales government Tuesday outlined a strategy to safeguard the survival of endangered plants and animals in the state’s vast network of national parks, to address what Environment Minister Matt Kean said is the worst mammal extinction rate in the world.

More than 90 endangered species at risk from feral pests, bushfires and climate change will be given greater legal protection. There are new safeguards for birds, frogs and reptiles, as well as rare trees, including the dwarf mountain pine.

The species join the Wollemi pine, known as a “dinosaur tree” because of its ancient heritage, which was declared New South Wales’ first asset of intergenerational significance last year after the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires almost wiped out its few known sites in the wild.

There will also be a network of predator-free areas and authorities will be able to mandate conservation and fire-management plans to ensure plants and animals are protected. For some species there is little time to waste. Some population groups of the brush-tailed rock wallaby in the Warrumbungle National Park have fallen to just ten animals.

Environmental groups have broadly welcomed the zero extinction initiative.

Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer of the Australia branch of the international conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund, says it is a promising plan.

“What I find really encouraging is that the zero extinction target is the type of principled target that we need that draws a line in the sand and says no more extinctions. Now, I would love to see that being drawn actually for the whole nation, and not just for species in protected areas and in this case species in protected areas in New South Wales only. But like I said, it is a good step forward,” she said.

It is not just an Australian problem. Officials in New South Wales have warned that, globally, one million species face extinction in the coming decades.

National Threatened Species Day is commemorated across Australia September 7 to raise awareness of plants and animals at risk of dying out.