Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Australia's Fires Signal Climate Change's Global Threat to Wildlife

We all know there's climate change. The climate's been changing for millions and millions of years.

And there is a threat to wildlife, but it's not from fossil fuels.

So yeah, let's worry about global wildlife, but let's design common sense policies and sideline the fanatical climate change cultists from the debate.

At LAT, "An Australia in flames tries to cope with an ‘animal apocalypse.’ Could California be next?":

KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia — Sam Mitchell balanced himself on a eucalyptus branch 30 feet above the ground as his meaty left fist clutched a koala, which wailed like a pig with breathing problems. The dark gray marsupial batted its 3-inch black claws in the air helplessly, and minutes later Mitchell crawled down. He and the animal were safely on the ground.

Across much of Australia, volunteers and professionals are fighting to contain widespread blazes, with many also taking risks to save wildlife being killed by the millions. Kangaroo Island, a popular tourist destination and wildlife park off Australia’s southeast coast, has seen some of the worst damage to the nation’s biodiversity. Fires have overrun nearly half of the 1,700-square-mile island, and rescuers have been going tree to tree, trying to save what they can.

“There’s not much that isn’t threatening koalas at the moment,” said Mitchell, who has owned and run the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park with his wife, Dana, the last seven years. The couple started a GoFundMe campaign so people can help with the rescues. Without quick intervention, koalas that survived the fires “are going to die of starvation,” he said.

In terms of human fatalities, Australia’s blazes this year have been less severe than some previous bush fires — with 27 people killed so far this season, compared to 75 during the nation’s 1983 “Ash Wednesday” inferno. But the impact on wildlife this year has been far more devastating, a preview of what California could experience in future fire seasons.

Scientists estimate that fires have killed from hundreds of millions to more than 1 billion native animals so far in Australia. The toll illustrates that while humans can adapt somewhat to intensifying fires — through better emergency planning, more fire crews and “home hardening” — ecosystems are far more vulnerable.

“Most Australian landscapes are in tune with small-scale summer fires, but not the fires of the proportion and intensity that we are observing now,” said Katja Hogendoorn, a professor at the University of Adelaide’s school of agriculture, food and wine.

“These incomprehensibly large and devastating fires are caused by a combination of lower rainfall and higher temperatures, both consequences of climate change, and here to stay and worsen, unless drastic action is undertaken worldwide,” she said. “As the driest and hottest continent, Australia is at the forefront of this environmental disaster.”

Accurate numbers on animal losses are hard to come by as the disaster unfolds, with some fire officials saying blazes will continue to burn into March. But already the damage to natural heritage has become clear on the island, from the bottom of the food chain on up.

The highly sensitive home of the green carpenter bee — which already is extinct in two Australian states and is a food source for larger animals — faces dire straits. Much of the bees’ remaining habitat on the island has burned and, on the eastern mainland, is in the line of fire, experts say.

The endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart, a mouse-like marsupial, relies on low-lying vegetation for protection from birds and feral cats. That largely is gone, as is most of the home of the glossy black cockatoo. Much of the landscape is black and smoldering.

“We’re not sure if they’ll be able to come back. It might be the breaking point for them,” said Michaela Haska, the wildlife park’s head keeper, speaking of the dunnarts and the splashy-colored cockatoos. Males are blackish brown, with red tail bands; females are dark and brownish with some yellow spotting.

On Kangaroo Island, the Mitchells’ 50-acre property is surrounded by burn scars but was untouched by the blazes. The fires choked the skies for days with smoke but were clear on Monday for firefighters and their water-dropping aircraft. For weeks, the wildlife park has become a refuge for animals rescued by volunteers and passersby.

The carcasses of animals litter the shoulders of the roads that run across the island’s rugged landscape. Most are dead, and others are in such bad shape they uncharacteristically move toward humans, either unable to see or starved and disoriented.

“We just get out every morning and look,” said Shona Fisher, 59, who rescue workers say has brought in more than 70 koalas with her husband since the fires began. The pair have taken to visiting the island’s groves of commercially planted blue gum eucalyptus each morning to search for survivors.

At the park, there’s a pop-up tent where crews monitor medical equipment including IV drip bags, bandages, gauze and saucers filled with iodine. Nearby are laundry baskets where koalas are nestled, their burned paws bandaged.

Three weeks ago, the scene at the wildlife park was much different. The Mitchells’ low-slung ranch-style home had a small setup of cages and pens in the back for about 20 koalas and other animals, which was enough to treat an irregular stream of ailing wildlife while they continued to operate their park, cafe and other attractions for tourists...