Amelia Young, The Wilderness Society

Environmental organisations are ramping up their activities in the wake of the recent fires, The Wilderness Society among them. TWS is planning to tap consumer sentiment to choose the right products such as recycled fibre, and it wants to grow its network, that currently has a branch in nearly every major city.

“We’re looking to build a movement of Australians who will stand up for nature.”

Newly appointed national campaigns manager, Amelia Young told The Fifth Estate that Australians have always felt strongly about our native wildlife but now their connection has been amplified.

According to Young Australia’s terrible bushfire crisis will likely signal a shift and pivot in how Australians approach bushland.

She says organisations such as The Wilderness Society have been sounding the alarm on the mismanagement of Australia’s natural assets for years.

“Logging [forests] makes them more fire-prone, we’ve known that for decades.”

Young wants to avoid the same mistakes going forward. “We cannot have a return to business as usual.”

At the community level, the bushfires have made climate change “personal in a way it wasn’t personal before”.

“We have seen a massive outpouring and apprehension and concern for the plight of our natural wildlife.”

She says many Australian species were already vulnerable and the fires have worsened their plight.

“The public are really concerned, and want to take action personally, and want government to do so as well.”

The organisation is not a first responder to the bushfire crisis but it’s working hard in its context as an advocacy group.

Where The Wilderness Society is headed

Young has campaigned with the group since 2012, starting off in the Victorian team. She says the organisation’s role has evolved over its 40 years: Protecting forests and conservation remains its core focus, but around five years ago it committed to tackling both the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

This has manifested in campaigns for protecting and restoring a safe climate, such as stopping Norwegian firm Equinor from drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

Young points out that climate change and protecting forests are closely linked, with deforestation a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Intact forests also remain the safest and cheapest way of drawing down carbon.

Deforestation is still a problem everywhere

Young says there are big problems with deforestation and threatened wildlife in every state and territory. It’s hard to believe, but in 2020 parts of the Tarkine in north west Tasmania are still being logged to supply pulp for throwaway paper products.

In Queensland, the problem is not so much wood chipping and exports but land clearing on private property for beef farming.

The Victorian government’s decision to ban the logging of old-growth forests is one win

There have been some wins though, such as the Victorian government’s decision to ban the logging of old-growth forests.

But Young says there’s a long way to go, and that building a forestry industry that “everyone can be proud of” is a cross sector task – involving product manufacturers, unions, governments and other key players.

The consumer even has a role to play by choosing the right products, such as paper that’s based on recycled fibre and has top shelf environmental certification.

Plans to keep growing

There’s now a branch of the organisation in nearly every major city, with plans to continue growing its supporter base.

“We’re looking to build a movement of Australians who will stand up for nature.”