May 7 – Dr Jane Goodall

Aussie housing developer’s ‘deeply embarrassing’ destruction of ancient forest sparks global condemnation
Michael Dahlstrom7-9 minutes 07/05/2024
The destruction of an ancient forest in Australia by a housing developer has drawn international condemnation with veteran conservationist Dr Jane Goodall describing it as “simply unacceptable”.

Lee Point is home to at least three native species on the brink of extinction, trees believed to be over 400 years old, and it’s been safeguarded for thousands of years by Darwin’s Indigenous population. But last week a company owned by the Federal Government began bulldozing it to make way for a luxury housing project.

Dr Jane Goodall (centre) is one of the world’s most influential conservationists with supporters including Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio. Source: Getty

“The devastating news that bulldozers have started operating at Lee Point’s precious local woodland, is a crushing blow. The loss of such vital land, a biodiverse corridor and home to hundreds of bird species (some endangered) is simply unacceptable,” Goodall told Yahoo News.

“I plead with the Environment Minister to consider the significant impact this destructive action will have on the wildlife and people of the Darwin area now and in the future.”

A Gouldian finch on a branch (left) A black-footed tree-rat baby in someone’s hand (right)

Endangered species including the Gouldian finch and black-footed tree-rat have been documented living at Lee Point. Source: Getty/Darwin Wildlife Sanctuary
Born in London, Goodall is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and is one of the world’s best-known environmentalists. She will be visiting Australia this month, but with more of Lee Point facing destruction, she took time out of her European tour to issue a call for Australia’s environment minister to reconsider the plan.

Urgent call for Australia’s environment laws to be overhauled after Lee Point’s destruction
Goodall’s statement follows a call from Re:wild, a conservation group founded by actor Leonardo Dicaprio, for Australia’s conservation laws to be “strengthened”. It noted the current regulations have allowed for the destruction of endangered species including the Gouldian Finch. The wild population of that species has numbers less than 2500, and a significant number of them had sheltered at Lee Point.

“Australia’s environmental laws urgently need to be strengthened to protect hundreds of threatened species,” Janice Chanson, Re:wild’s senior associate of Australian conservation told Yahoo.

“Despite the Australian government’s commitment to no new extinctions, it continues to allow the destruction of critical habitat for species such as the Gouldian Finch, Swift Parrot and Koala. This is pushing these species to the brink of extinction”.

More than 200 species of birds had been documented at Lee Point and because it was located 20 minutes away from Darwin it had been an important tourist drawcard. Noting the international attention the development has received, Deakin University wildlife ecologist Professor Euan Ritchie said the development will harm Australia’s international reputation.

“People travel from all over the world to see Australia’s iconic wildlife, and Lee Point is no exception to that. People have had the amazing experience of seeing Gordian finches close to a major city, Darwin,” he told Yahoo. “It’s deeply embarrassing. Australia has absolutely shameful records of conservation and this just contributes to that.”

Tibby Quall (right) and Minister Plibersek (left).

Tibby Quall (right) disagrees with Minister Plibersek (left) about the cultural significance of Lee Point to the Larrakia people. Source: AAP/EJA
Concern for wildlife as trees bulldozed at Lee Point
Last week around 100 police and security guards surrounded Lee Point to protect bulldozers contracted by Defence Housing Australia (DHA) as they flattened around 20 hectares of the 131-hectare site. Several arrests were made and local Larrakia people were left devastated as they watched their culturally important sites vanish in hours.

Ecologist Graeme Sawyer, who identified several trees at Lee Point as being hundreds of years old, told Yahoo on Tuesday the most significant forested areas were now gone, but he hoped what remains could be spared. He was one of several protesters who raised concerns last week that not enough was being done to ensure animals were not in the trees that were being bulldozed.

He submitted a formal letter to the government and attached several videos that appear to show trees being flattened without fauna spotters directly supervising. “They knew there were endangered species. How can they get away with this?” he said at the time.

Asked to respond to these claims, the Federal Department of Environment told Yahoo it was satisfied DHA was “complying with its Australian Government conditions of approval”. Northern Territory Environment Minister Kate Worden did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Although having fauna spotters is both a territory and federal requirement, her office referred questions to the Commonwealth. DHA also chose not to address the issue and instead directed Yahoo to its website.

Call for moratorium on Lee Point destruction fails
In 2023, the Lee Point development was momentarily paused after Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek received an emergency application to protect the site on cultural grounds, but she ultimately was “not satisfied” it was “significant” as an Aboriginal area. Many of the local Larrakia people who have been visiting Lee Point since they were children for cultural reasons disagree with her assessment.

Before this, Plibersek’s office added conditions to the project it claimed offered “a range of better protections” for endangered species, including a 50m buffer around Gouldian Finch habitat.

After the bulldozers rolled in last week, the Greens called on the environment minister to order an urgent moratorium on land clearing.

“The deforestation proposed at Lee Point is irresponsible,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said. “Reports that land clearing destruction may be happening without the presence of nature spotters and that peaceful protesters are being put in harm’s way are concerning.”

Yahoo understands a moratorium is not possible under Australia’s national environment laws, which were described in a 2022 independent review as being “ineffective”, “weak” and “tokenistic”. Two years, later, the Albanese government was elected after promising to reform them.

In April, the long-awaited reforms did not eventuate as expected. Instead, the government deferred reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – which have been deemed necessary to protect animals facing extinction.

Dr Jane Goodall is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, the Jane Goodall Institute Australia, and the UN Messenger of Peace. She will be speaking in Australia throughout May and June as part of her Reasons for Hope tour.