A proposed road at the Canberra Airport is threatening the future for the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon. Despite its tiny stature – measuring less than 150 millimetres long and weighing 5–9 grams – this lizard is causing a stir as conservationists take a stand to fight for its survival with a decision by the Federal Environment Minister imminent.
In 2009 a proposal by the Canberra Airport Group to build a road from Fairbairn to Majura Road in Pialligo was approved under national environment laws. However, in the years that followed, the Canberra Airport Group couldn’t secure the land they needed – so the plans were revised. Of great concern to conservationists, the revised road would slice the critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland habitat in two, threatening the survival of the Dragon. The Dragon has faced a 71% population decline in just 10 years, local extinctions of once reliable populations, a small and ever decreasing geographic distribution, and extreme fragmentation making it impossible for individuals to breed between populations.
Heightening this concern, in the years since the planning approval, scientists realised that the population of Grassland Dragons at the site are actually a distinct species which has come to be known as the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon.
Despite the planning changes and the new scientific information the project had been set to proceed. Not only will the proposal destroy and fragment critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland – but it will likely be terminal for one of only three genetically distinct wild populations of Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon. Currently the Federal Environment Minister is reviewing the approval and is presently set to make a decision on proceeding with or rejecting the proposed road.
The Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon was listed as “critically endangered” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, in June of this year. Monitoring is ongoing at nine sites. In 2021, Canberra Dragons were found at just two sites. We have to go back to 2020 for records of individuals around the Airport; that year, two individuals were found.
The proposed project’s process of approvals has been riddled with shortcomings. The last opportunity the public had to comment on the Project was in May 2009. The 2020 variation process was fundamentally flawed with suspected interference in proper EPBC Act process by the former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In grave jeopardy of becoming only Australia’s second known reptile extinction, the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon was recognised by the Federal Government in its 2022-2032 Threatened Species Action Plan as one of just 110 priority species for recovery. There is no way for the Federal Government to maintain its commitment to no extinctions without rejecting the proposed road at Canberra Airport.
Friends of Grasslands and the Conservation Council ACT Region pictured below at the mural of the Dragon at Canberra Airport.
Protect the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon
Nature in Canberra and Australia is in trouble. The wildlife and the places we love are under threat like never before. Right here our precious Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon is under threat due to a proposed road set to destroy its habitat. Canberra Airport Group have all the approvals they need to clear grassland for its new proposed ‘Northern Road.’ Call on decision makers to protect the Canberra Dragon.
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