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Extinction warning for much loved animal

HUNDREDS of scientists from across Australia and around the world have signed a declaration saying Australia's rising deforestation is putting native animals at real risk of extinction.

University of NSW professors Richard Kingsford, Martine Maron and Brendan Whittle drafted the declaration, which was endorsed by 200 senior scientists at the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania conference in Brisbane.

It warned Australia's land-clearing rate was again among the highest in the world, especially along the east coast.

"Remaining forests and woodlands are critical for much of our wildlife, for the health and productivity of our lands and waters, and for the character of our nation," it stated.

"Beginning in the 1990s, governments gradually increased protection of these remaining forests and woodlands.

"However, those laws are now being wound back.

"Of the 11 world regions highlighted as global deforestation fronts, eastern Australia is the only one in a developed country.

"This problem threatens much of Australia's extraordinary biodiversity and, if not redressed, will blight the environmental legacy we leave future generations."

Koalas were far from the only species under threat, the scientists warned. They estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals had been killed because of wildlife destruction between 1998 and 2005 in New South Wales alone.

The 200 signatories made five recommendations for the Australian Government, calling for over-logged landscapes to be restored, a recognition of all biodiversity - not just threatened species - in policy and law, and stricter rules on offsetting unavoidable clearing.

"The progress made then is now being undone," they said. "Forest and woodland destruction has resumed at increasingly high rates.

"This return of large-scale deforestation risks further irreversible environmental consequences of international significance."