Management status

2016

National Reserve System and National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas

Australia has an agreed intergovermental strategy for developing a comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System: Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030. Australia also has a Strategic Plan of Action for the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (ANZECC TFMPA 1999).

Australia’s National Reserve System is a multijurisdictional, multitenure mosaic of protected terrestrial and marine areas under government, Indigenous or private management. IUCN categories I–VI protected areas contribute to national targets to meet international commitments, such as under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As of 2014, according to Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database (CAPAD) data, 47 per cent of the National Reserve System fell under Indigenous or joint management, 5.27 per cent was privately managed, and 47 per cent was managed by government (Figure BIO35).

Aichi Target 11 calls for ‘by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes’.

Since 2011, the National Reserve System has grown to cover 17.9 per cent of Australia’s land area (CAPAD 2014), compared with 13.4 per cent in 2011 (CAPAD 2010). Highly protected areas such as national parks (IUCN categories I and II) account for nearly 45 per cent of the National Reserve System. The National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA) extends across more than one-third of Australian waters, with 37 per cent of that area contained in highly protected areas (see the Marine environment report). Thus, Australia has met the area-based target of Aichi Target 11. However, additional efforts are required to achieve an effectively managed, well-connected and ecologically representative National Reserve System. The current effort to achieve a representative terrestrial system is expanded on in the following section.

The extent of the terrestrial National Reserve System and the NRSMPA has increased substantially during the past 5 years; however, only limited evidence is available about the overall effectiveness of the reserve systems. There is a lack of consistent monitoring that could support evaluation of the effectiveness of the reserves and their management. Although threatening processes are actively managed within many reserves, biodiversity decline has been reported within some terrestrial conservation reserves (Woinarski et al. 2010, Lindenmayer et al. 2011, Smith M et al. 2012).

Further work is required to better define the full range of benefits we derive from the existence and management of conservation reserves, but there is no doubt that they play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity in Australia. Woinarski et al. (2013) found that the importance of different land tenures (including conservation reserves) varied between major taxonomic groups, but, in general, values were highest for conservation reserves, and this was particularly the case for threatened species. This ‘biodiversity benefit’ associated with conservation reserves is considered to be because of the positive effects of management.

However, recent changes to policy, legislative and management arrangements in some jurisdictions that allow an expansion of multiple uses of national parks, including activities that are generally considered detrimental to biodiversity, have raised new concerns about the viability of our national parks to maintain their biodiversity values (Ritchie et al. 2013). Continued improvements in management of our protected area system are critical for the protection of species and habitats, because they play a lead role in protecting the natural capital of Australia (Ziembicki et al. 2014, Taylor 2015a, Watson 2015, Barr et al. 2016).

Comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness of the terrestrial reserve system

WWF-Australia uses a minimum protection standard to regularly assess how well Australia’s National Reserve System comprehensively, adequately and representatively protects Australia’s ecosystems and species diversity (Taylor et al. 2014b). For terrestrial ecosystems, the standard is 15 per cent by area of the pre-clearing extent of each of the 6249 terrestrial ecosystems (as at 2016), with modifications for small ecosystems. This standard is considered a minimum to prevent ecosystems being converted or degraded to the point that they become endangered, or, if currently endangered, to recover to the point that they are no longer endangered.

Attainment of this standard has risen from 48 per cent in 2010 to 55 per cent in 2016, although most of the gain was not in strict protected areas (Figure BIO36). Forest ecosystems are the best protected, whereas woodland and grassland ecosystems are the least well protected. Wetlands in the arid and semi-arid zone, and aquatic ecosystems are generally poorly represented.

Despite considerable growth of protected areas during 2010–16 (42 million hectares—a 41 per cent increase), the overall gap area for ecosystem representation was only reduced by slightly more than 8 million hectares. The slow progress in representation compared with progress in gross area is a result of the dominance of recent growth in IPAs in only a small number of arid bioregions, meaning that advances in representation have been highly skewed.

The standard for a minimally adequate National Reserve System for terrestrial species protection is considered to be one that includes at least 30 per cent by area of ‘known’ or ‘likely to occur’ distributions for 1733 (as at 2016) threatened species, using the Australian Government distribution maps for such species (Taylor et al. 2014b). Proportions of species of national environmental significance (threatened or migratory) reaching the 30 per cent minimum standard of habitat representation showed only minor improvement during the period 2010–16 (Figure BIO37). Species numbers meeting the minimum habitat protection standard in any protected areas increased from 705 (40 per cent of species) to 741 (43 per cent) during the study period. There was a small (1 per cent) reduction in the species lacking habitat protection.

Fifty per cent of critically endangered EPBC Act–listed communities and 30 per cent of endangered communities have less than 5 per cent of their area represented in the terrestrial National Reserve System (Figure BIO38). Only 1 critically endangered community has more than 50 per cent of its area represented in the National Reserve System: the very restricted Thrombolite Community of a Coastal Brackish Lake (Lake Clifton). Nearly 30 per cent of endangered communities have more than 50 per cent representation in the National Reserve System.

The National Reserve System has grown considerably in central, western and northern parts of Australia (Figure BIO39), largely because of growth in IPAs.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs)

The Australian Government established the IPA program in the mid-1990s to support Indigenous Australians in managing their land for conservation as part of the National Reserve System. IPAs comprise more than 44 per cent (72 IPAs as of January 2016) of the National Reserve System—an increase of more than 20 per cent from 2010. Considering jointly managed national parks and IPAs together, Indigenous groups are involved in the management of nearly 50 per cent of the National Reserve System. IPAs fall into several IUCN protected area categories (i.e. II–VI), depending on the type of management arrangements in place. However, the majority are in IUCN category VI (multiple use), with 8.7 per cent in category II (equivalent to a national park).

Conservation outside reserves

With approximately 60 per cent of Australia’s land lying in private ownership, either as freehold (20 per cent) or Crown leasehold (40 per cent), private conservation covenants are critical for meeting the challenge of expanding the National Reserve System (Craigie et al. 2015; see Box BIO14). These protected areas have restrictions on use attached to the title of freehold lands, and special conditions on leasehold lands, to enable their management as private protected areas.

All Australian states and territories have conservation covenant programs (Table BIO4), covering a total area of nearly 4.5 million hectares. Not all states or territories provide information on conservation covenants to CAPAD, and not all covenants may be accepted as part of the National Reserve System. Some nongovernment organisations own significant private reserves; the Australian Wildlife Conservancy owns and manages 23 properties covering more than 3 million hectares, and Bush Heritage owns and manages 35 reserves covering around 1 million hectares (Table BIO5).

Table BIO4 State and territory–based conservation covenant programs in Australia, as at September 2013

Jurisdiction

Program

Covenants (no.)

Area protected (ha)

New South Wales

Conservation Agreements Program

367

143,050

New South Wales

Registered property agreements

237

44,150

New South Wales

Nature Conservation Trust covenants

73

16,687

Queensland

Queensland Nature Refuges Program

453

3,438,004

Victoria

Trust for Nature Conservation Covenant Program

1,242

53,370

South Australia

Heritage Agreement s

1,518

643,631

Western Australia

Conservation Covenant Program (National Trust of Australia, WA)

162

17,879

Western Australia

Nature Conservation Covenant Program (Department of Environment and Conservation)

169

17,386

Tasmania

Private Land Conservation Program

703

83,644

Northern Territory

Conservation covenants

2

640

Total

 

4,926

4,458,441

Source: Fitzsimons (2014)

Some other covenanting arrangements are effectively managed in the same way as conservation covenants. However, not all properties owned by private conservation trusts would necessarily qualify as private protected areas under the current National Reserve System criteria, although they are managed with this explicit intent. Several private land trusts operate revolving funds, whereby a property is purchased by a nongovernment organisation and then sold on with a conservation covenant attached. A smaller number of acquisitions have been by community groups, such as the Twin Creeks Community Conservation Reserve. Other governance types are also emerging. For example,Fish River was purchased by the Indigenous Land Corporation with financial support from the Australian Government’s National Reserve System Program and nongovernment organisations (The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group) (Fitzsimons & Looker 2012). It will be handed back to the traditional owners in the future.

The size of privately protected areas varies widely. Overall, these areas make up a relatively small but growing proportion of the National Reserve System.

Table BIO5 Private reserves owned by major nonprofit conservation land-owning organisations in Australia, as at June 2013

Organisation

Properties (no.)

Total area (ha)

Bush Heritage Australia

35

960,000

Australian Wildlife Conservancy

23

>3,000,000

Trust for Nature (Victoria)

47

36,104

Nature Foundation SA

5

499,705

Nature Conservation Trust of NSW

12

10,182

Tasmanian Land Conservancy

11

7,283

South Endeavour Trust

7

80,846

Management of threatened species and ecological communities

For biodiversity, the change in number of threatened species is a widely used trend measure, and is commonly reported in each jurisdiction’s SoE reporting. However, in most cases, this index is very inexact, given timelags and noncomprehensiveness in the assessment of the threatened status of species, and the lack of population monitoring for many or most threatened species (Woinarski et al. 2014).

Species listing can be a long and difficult process, and changes to listings can also take time. For instance, the extinctions during the past decade of the Christmas Island pipistrelle, Christmas Island forest skink and Bramble Cay melomys are not in any dispute, yet none are listed as extinct under the EPBC Act. In addition, delistings and uplistings make interpreting the trend in threatened species difficult.

However, the number of threatened species is Australia is clearly increasing. Of particular concern is the number of new listings and uplistings to the critically endangered category. Overall, the number of species listed in the critically endangered category under the EPBC Act rose from 150 in 2011 to 206 by the end of 2015. Increases occurred across all taxa. In part, this is a result of an improvement in the efficiency of assessments since 2011, particularly with the publication of The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 (Woinarski et al. 2014) and the State of Australia’s birds 2015 (BirdLife Australia 2015).

During the next 5 years, we can expect to see more changes to EPBC Act and state and territory lists as a result of a common assessment method being developed for threatened species and ecological communities (see Box BIO15).

Threatened Species Strategy

The Threatened Species Strategy is the key Australian Government policy that outlines the government’s approach to protecting and recovering threatened species, and provides an action plan for prioritising effort. Under the improving recovery practices target, each priority species identified in the strategy requires either:

  • an up-to-date conservation advice, which provides guidance on immediate recovery and threat abatement activities that can be undertaken to ensure the conservation of a newly listed species or ecological community, or
  • a recovery plan, which sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, listed threatened species or ecological communities.

The strategy also requires that a comprehensive review and work plan is developed to ensure that recovery plans or conservation advices are up to date for other high-priority species and ecological communities.

The 5-year action plan includes key action areas and targets to measure success. It identifies 20 mammal species (Table BIO6), 20 bird species (Table BIO7) and 30 plant species (Table BIO8) targeted for recovery by 2020. It also includes ambitious targets to tackle feral cats and improve recovery practices for all threatened species, and an additional initiative for the Christmas Island frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi).

The Threatened Species Commissioner leads the implementation of the strategy. The commissioner was appointed in July 2014, and is tasked with raising awareness about Australia’s threatened species and mobilising resources to support the fight against extinction.

Since the appointment of the commissioner and development of the strategy, more than $210 million has been mobilised towards almost 1000 projects, including work undertaken through the Green Army and the National Landcare Programme. Many projects have complemented work being undertaken by external partners. For example, in Victoria, the population of the critically endangered helmeted honeyeater has more than doubled, thanks to a project run by Zoos Victoria, which is supplemented with a $3 million government investment to rehabilitate and expand the specieshabitat.

Table BIO6 Threatened Species Strategy: 20 mammals by 2020

Common name

Status

Main threats

Black-footed rock wallaby

Vulnerable

Foxes, feral cats, habitat degradation, fire

Brush-tailed rabbit-rat

Vulnerable

Feral cats, fire, habitat loss

Central rock-rat 

Endangered

Fire, feral cats, foxes, habitat degradation by livestock and feral herbivores

Christmas Island flying fox

Critically endangered

Feral cats, disease, yellow crazy ants

Eastern barred bandicoot

Endangered on the mainland

Feral cats, foxes, disease, habitat loss

Eastern bettong

Extinct on the mainland

Feral cats, foxes, habitat loss

Eastern quoll

Endangered Feral cats, disease

Gilbert’s potoroo

Critically endangered

Feral cats, foxes, fire, wildfire

Golden bandicoot

Vulnerable

Feral cats, fire

Greater bilby

Vulnerable

Feral cats, foxes, fire

Kangaroo Island dunnart

Endangered

Feral cats, fire, habitat modification because of phytophthora

Leadbeater’s possum

Critically endangered

Fire regimes, wildfire, habitat loss

Mahogany glider

Endangered

Habitat loss and degradation, fire, entanglement in fencing

Mala

Endangered

Feral cats, foxes, black rats, fire

Mountain pygmy possum

Endangered

Feral cats, foxes, habitat loss, climate change, fire

Northern hopping mouse

Vulnerable

Feral cats, fire

Numbat

Vulnerable

Feral cats, foxes, habitat loss

Western quoll

Vulnerable

Feral cats, foxes

Western ringtail possum

Vulnerable

Climate change, foxes, feral cats, fire, habitat loss

Woylie Endangered Feral cats, foxes, fire

 

Table BIO7 Threatened Species Strategy: 20 birds by 2020

Common name

Status

Main threats

Australasian bittern

Endangered

Diversion of water from wetlands, habitat loss, feral cats, foxes, grazing

Eastern bristlebird

Endangered

Inappropriate fire, weeds, feral animals

Eastern curlew

Critically endangered

Human disturbance, habitat loss, degraded water quality

Golden-shouldered parrot

Endangered

Fire, feral pigs, grazing, illegal trapping, altered land use, feral cats

Helmeted honeyeater

Critically endangered

Drought, wildfire, disease, habitat degradation, competition from other birds

Hooded plover

Vulnerable

Human pressure on nesting sites

Mallee emu-wren

Endangered

Wildfire

Malleefowl

Vulnerable

Habitat loss, foxes, feral cats, grazing, fire

Night parrot

Endangered

Fire, feral cats

Norfolk Island boobook owl

Endangered

Predation

Norfolk Island green parrot

Endangered

Feral cats, rats

Orange-bellied parrot

Critically endangered

Disease, competition for nesting sites, predation

Plains-wanderer

Critically endangered

Habitat degradation, grazing pressure

Red-tailed black cockatoo (south-eastern)

Endangered

Habitat loss, inappropriate fire regimes

Regent honeyeater

Critically endangered

Habitat loss and degradation, noisy miners

Southern cassowary

Endangered

Habitat loss, vehicle strikes, dog attacks

Swift parrot

Endangered

Predation by sugar gliders, habitat loss

Western ground parrot

Critically endangered

Wildfire, feral cats

White-throated grass wren

Vulnerable

Fire, weeds, feral cats, feral pigs, climate change

Yellow chat (Alligator Rivers)

Endangered

Habitat degradation from weeds, and feral herbivores and pigs

 

Table BIO8 Threatened Species Strategy: 30 plants by 2020

Common name

Status

Main threats

Ant plant

Vulnerable

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, removal of plants by plant and butterfly collectors

Black grevillea

Endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, herbicide overspray, frequent fire, grazing, animals, phytophthora dieback

Blue-top sun-orchid

Critically endangered

Habitat loss and degradation, grazing, invasive weeds

Bulberin macadamia nut

Endangered

Changed fire regimes, weed invasion, disease, feral pigs, illegal collection, timber harvesting

Button wrinklewort

Endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, changed fire regimes, grazing, herbicide and mowing impacts

Caley’s grevillea

Endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, changed fire regimes, human disturbance

Central Australian cabbage palm

Vulnerable

Exotic grass invasion (buffel grass and couch), increased fire exposure, changed hydrology, tourism impacts

Fairy bells

Vulnerable

Feral animal impacts, grazing, habitat loss, inappropriate fire regimes

Fitzgerald’s mulla-mulla

Critically endangered

Habitat loss; salinity; waterlogging; grazing by stock, rabbits and kangaroos; invasive weeds

Flerieu leek orchid

Critically endangered

Habitat loss and degradation, stock trampling, changed hydrology

Glossy-leaved hammer-orchid

Endangered

Habitat loss, fire, invasive weeds, grazing animals, salinity

Kakadu hibiscus

Vulnerable

Inappropriate fire regimes

Little mountain palm

Critically endangered

Predation of seed by introduced rats, invasive weeds

Magenta lilly pilly

Vulnerable

Habitat loss and fragmentation, changed fire regimes, invasive weeds

Matchstick banksia

Endangered

Phytophthora dieback, habitat fragmentation, invasive weeds, changed fire regimes

Mongarlowe mallee

Critically endangered

Phytophthora dieback, habitat loss, disturbance

Morrisby’s gum

Endangered

Changed fire regimes; drought and browsing of seedlings by native animals, rabbits and insects

Mossman fairy orchid

Critically endangered

Illegal collecting, invasive weeds, site disturbance

Ormeau bottle tree

Critically endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, low genetic diversity, fire, insect attack

Purple wattle

Critically endangered

Habitat loss, grazing by cattle, mining, road works, invasive weeds, illegal collecting

Scaly-leaved featherflower

Endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, rabbits, inappropriate fire regimes

Shy susan

Critically endangered

Phytophthora dieback, inappropriate fire regimes, land clearance

Silver daisy-bush

Vulnerable

Livestock grazing, invasive weeds, habitat fragmentation

Silver gum

Endangered

Hybridisation, waterlogging and changes to hydrology, invasive weeds and pathogens, insect attack, grazing

Small purple pea

Endangered

Habitat loss, invasive weeds, grazing, soil erosion

Southport heath

Critically endangered

Phytophthora dieback, inappropriate fire regimes, damage from severe storms

Spiny rice-flower

Critically endangered

Invasive weeds, habitat loss and fragmentation, grazing impacts, fire

Turnip copperburr

Endangered

Invasive weeds, habitat loss and degradation, changed fire regimes, grazing, soil salinity

Vincentia banksia

Not EPBC Act listed; however, listed as critically endangered in New South Wales

Land-use change, invasive weeds, disturbance, fire

Whibley’s wattle

Endangered

Habitat fragmentation, salinity, grazing pressure, invasive weeds

EPBC Act = Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Recovery planning for threatened species and communities—progress in implementing recovery plans

In November 2015, 730 species of the 1770 species listed under the EPBC Act were covered by a recovery plan. This included 391 single-species plans, 43 multiple-species plans covering 218 species, and 7 regional plans covering 126 species (a few species are covered by more than 1 type of plan). Under the EPBC Act, all species and ecological communities are required to have a conservation advice in place at the time of their listing. The decision to also have a recovery plan for a listed species or ecological community is a discretionary decision by the Minister for the Environment. A decision on this is made at the level of the individual species or ecological community. So, although not all listed species or ecological communities require a recovery plan, they will have at least a conservation advice in place. Recovery plans are only prepared when the listed species or ecological community has complex management needs because of its ecology, the nature of threats affecting it, or the number of stakeholders affected by, or involved in, implementing the necessary actions.

Conservation advices are relied on where the protection needs are well understood and relatively simple. The lack of funding for the recovery of threatened species, implementation of recovery plans and monitoring of the effectiveness of recovery actions is repeatedly identified as a major problem by land and natural resource managers (SECRC 2013).

The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 (Woinarski et al. 2014) assessed the recovery plans and the degree of implementation of those plans for threatened, near threatened and data-deficient mammals. It noted that:

This documentation is not always straightforward to interpret because (i) we note examples of recovery plans in informal use that have not yet been formally endorsed (with many of these plans having had long informal gestation periods); (ii) at least some recovery plans are now long outdated but are still being used; (iii) there is little available documentation of the degree of implementation (and consequential benefit) for many to most recovery plans; (iv) many recovery plans have been developed only very recently and hence are unlikely to have yet been implemented or produced benefits; and (v) many threatened species (particularly those now restricted to single jurisdictions) have been managed by well established state/territory management strategies, processes or plans rather than national recovery plans made under the EPBC Act. (Woinarski et al. 2014)

Recovery actions and investments—effectiveness of investment in recovery actions

The effectiveness of recovery planning for threatened species and communities is difficult to assess, and there is uncertainty as to whether having a recovery plan in place makes a long-term contribution to species recovery. Some recent research in Australia (Bottrill et al. 2011) suggests that there is no significant difference between change in species status (either an improvement or decline) for species with recovery plans versus those without, across a 10-year period. The presence of a recovery plan did not seem to influence the actions implemented or whether species receive conservation attention. However, a major finding of this research was that there is a lack of basic accounting of recovery planning efforts and, therefore, attempts to understand the value of recovery planning are severely hampered.

In contrast, for mammals, species with well-established and well-implemented recovery plans were more likely to have shown improvement in conservation status from 1992 to 2012 than taxa without recovery plans, or taxa with recovery plans that are very recent or have been little implemented (Woinarski et al. 2014). The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 documents some cases where recovery planning has been instrumental in improving the conservation outlook for threatened taxa (e.g. chuditch—Dasyurus geoffroii, and bridled nail-tail wallaby—Onychogalea fraenata). However, there are also cases where recovery plans have demonstrated little success. The most extreme examples are the Christmas Island pipistrelle and the Bramble Cay melomys, where established recovery plans failed to prevent extinction. The Bramble Cay melomys population was probably less than 100 individuals, and occurred on only 1 uninhabited island in Torres Strait. The recovery plan recognised the key threats and the key factor—climate change—that appears to have resulted in the species’ extinction, although, at the time, the significance of the threat was not well understood. The recovery plan states:

Although no specific assessment of this threat has been undertaken, the likely consequences of climate change, including sea level rise and increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms are unlikely to have any major impact on the survival of the Bramble Cay melomys in the life of this plan. (Latch 2008)

However, very few of the actions in the recovery plan appear to have been implemented, including annual population and habitat monitoring.

Several studies have also reported bias in the types of species with recovery plans. Data current to 2010 show that amphibians and birds have the greatest percentage of species with recovery plans; invertebrates, plants and reptiles are poorly represented in the species that have plans (Walsh et al. 2013).

Researchers have also shown that overlap of threatened species ranges with highly protected areas in Australia is associated with stabilisation or recovery of threatened species populations (Taylor et al. 2011). On the other hand, there is little demonstrable relationship between recovery of threatened species populations and the number of recovery actions or natural resource conservation activities applied. Again, the lack of sufficient data on the implementation of recovery actions hampers any robust analysis of their effectiveness.

A report by the Australian Conservation Foundation, BirdLife Australia and Environmental Justice Australia (ACF et al. 2015) found that, of 120 species-specific, multispecies or regional recovery plans, 85 identified critical habitat and 80 identified habitat loss as a key threat in the recovery plan. In almost all cases, active protection of habitat is a recommended action in the recovery plan. However, only 12 plans placed any form of prescriptive limit or constraint on the future loss of habitat. The authors concluded that, given that there is some precedent for prescribing limits on habitat loss, recovery plans could be more effective if they provided unambiguous and appropriate prescriptions to prevent the loss of critical habitat.

Translocations

Conservation translocation is increasingly used as a tool in conservation management and recovery planning for threatened species. Translocation involves the intentional movement of organisms from one place to another to conserve species. This may take several forms: re-establishing a species in parts of its historical range (reintroduction), releasing individuals to bolster existing populations within the range, or establishing a species outside its historical range in response to threats such as climate change (translocation or assisted colonisation) (Armstrong et al. 2015). Another term, ‘salvage translocation’, is now used to refer to the relocation of individuals from an area adversely affected by development to an area reserved or protected from ongoing impacts.

Conservation translocations have a long history in Australia. The first recognised conservation translocations occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when declining marsupials were translocated to islands off Victoria and South Australia (Armstrong et al. 2015). Since the 1990s, conservation translocation has been regularly used for the conservation of threatened plants and animals. There is now a plethora of state, territory and nongovernment organisation policies and protocols reflecting the increasing range of circumstances in which translocation has been, and is being, implemented (Nally & Adams 2015). Although most translocation activities are carried out by state and territory government agencies as part of a formal recovery plan or equivalent, there is also an increasing number of private-sector and nongovernment species conservation programs using translocations, as well as partnerships between all 3 sectors (Nally & Adams 2015).

To deal with both the increasing use of salvage translocation and the need for national consistency, the Australian Government published a policy statement on how translocations would be considered under the EPBC Act in 2009, which was revised in 2013. The EPBC Act environmental offsets policy outlines the use of offsets to compensate for an action’s residual significant impact that remains after avoidance and mitigation measures have been considered. This policy includes the principle that suitable offsets must effectively account for, and manage the risks of, the offset failing. The potential risks of these efforts of last resort are explained in the Policy Statement—Translocation of Listed Threatened Species, which notes:

The usually low prospects of achieving an ecologically beneficial salvage translocation mean that it usually represents poor compensation for the potential impacts of a proposed action. Additionally, a translocation proposal can increase the impacts of an action. (DSEWPaC 2013)

Translocation as part of conservation activities for climate change adaptation, for threatened species recovery and for mitigation of land-use changes is also acknowledged as a high-risk, but perhaps necessary, strategy in the face of increasing pressure. Significant uncertainty exists about how best to evaluate and reduce the risks associated with translocation, particularly the ecological consequences on the recipient environment and the species living there (Seddon et al. 2015). Although the overall long-term conservation benefits of the increasing use of salvage translocations to offset development remain largely unknown (Nally & Adams 2015), there is a growing need for the private sector to use translocation to meet conservation goals established under environmental conditions of approval for development applications. Further efforts will be required to design novel practices that allay conservation concerns while futureproofing wild populations in new areas.

EPBC Act and compliance

The EPBC Act prohibits undertaking of an action that is likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance without approval from the Minister for the Environment or delegate, unless the action is exempt. The approval of controlled actions allows proponents to implement their actions, subject to the environmental safeguards put in place to protect matters of national environmental significance through approval conditions. As at May 2016, there have been approximately 850 controlled action approvals and more than 1000 ‘not a controlled action particular manner’ (NCAPM) decisions that have been determined to not have the potential for a significant impact, on the basis that the action will be conducted in a particular manner. This has resulted in approximately 8300 conditions that have been applied to controlled action approvals and approximately 9100 particular manners attached to NCAPM decisions.

An Australian National Audit Office assessment that concluded in 2013–14 (ANAO 2014) found that any assurance that the Department of the Environment and Energy has regarding proponents’ compliance with action approval conditions was limited. In particular, the audit noted that the department was not well placed to demonstrate that it is effectively targeting its compliance monitoring activities to the areas of greatest risk. The auditors found that increasing workloads of the compliance monitoring staff led to the department essentially adopting a passive approach to monitoring, and, as a result, it had limited awareness of the progress of many approved controlled actions. In many cases, instances of proponent noncompliance (mostly of a technical nature, such as a missed deadline to submit a management plan) were either not identified by staff, or were identified but not referred for assessment and possible enforcement action.

In response to the audit findings, the department implemented a suite of measures to improve its compliance monitoring function. One key measure involved development of a risk-based prioritisation model, the National Environmental Significance Threat Risk Assessment tool. The tool is used to identify projects that present the greatest risk of impact on protected matters and the greatest potential for noncompliance. Projects identified to have the highest risk against these factors are subject to increased monitoring.

In addition, in 2014, the department developed more than 60 standard operating procedures to facilitate consistency in regulatory administration, as well as guidance documentation to assist holders of approvals to comply with conditions attached to controlled action approvals. Upgrades and enhancements to information technology systems have been made to support regulatory capability and intelligence functions, and further improvements are currently under way. In 2014, the department also started additional reporting on compliance monitoring activities in an annual compliance monitoring program.

Connectivity and revegetation

Two targets in Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy relate to improving connectivity:

  • Target 5: By 2015, 1000 square kilometres of fragmented landscapes and aquatic systems are being restored to improve ecological connectivity.
  • Target 6: By 2015, 4 collaborative continental-scale linkages are established and managed to improve ecological connectivity.

The Australian Government established a National Wildlife Corridors Plan in 2011–12. It recognised whole-of-continent ecological processes, and the potential role of large national wildlife corridors in sustaining Australia’s flyways and ecological responses to the ‘boom and bust’ cycles of biological productivity that are in response to rainfall variability. However, with a change of government, the National Wildlife Corridors Plan and associated management arrangements were discontinued. Efforts to build connectivity on a landscape scale are now managed through the National Landcare Programme, including the 20 Million Trees Programme, the Green Army program and other initiatives. One example is the Cumberland Conservation Corridor project, which aims to conserve and restore functioning landscapes at all levels, including local, regional and national. Although the 20 Million Trees Programme is designed to ‘support the planting of native trees and associated understorey species to re-establish green corridors and urban forests’ (DoE 2014b), it does not have an explicit commitment to continental, or even large-scale, linkages to improve connectivity.

In 2014, the Australian Government passed the Carbon Farming Initiative Amendment Bill 2014, which included the Emissions Reduction Fund. The government has started contributing to the re-establishment of native vegetation, particularly in western New South Wales and south-western Queensland where uptake of revegetation projects has been highest.

Corridor initiatives that have commenced in Australia include:

  • the Gondwana Link in Western Australia
  • the Trans-Australia Eco-Link of South Australia and the Northern Territory
  • South Australia’s Naturelinks
  • Habitat 141° in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales
  • the Great Eastern Ranges Corridor in Australia’s eastern states (see Box HER11 of the Heritage report)
  • the Tasmanian Midlandscapes Project.

These initiatives have been established through the cooperative action of a range of parties, including the Australian Government, state and territory governments, nongovernment organisations, local communities and industry.

Managing pressures

Climate change

Several Australian Government initiatives to support climate change adaptation planning and decision-making have been implemented since 2011. For example, the Australian Government Regional Natural Resource Management Planning for Climate Change Fund (2013–16) provided funding to improve regional planning for climate change across Australia. It supported regional NRM organisations to review their regional strategies to incorporate climate change and comprised 2 streams:

  • Stream 1 funding was provided directly to 53 regional NRM organisations to develop or revise their regional strategies, and enabled the regional NRM organisations to work closely with both their communities and with scientists.
  • Stream 2 was delivered to operational and research organisations to support the regional NRM organisations with regionally relevant climate change information, and to deliver tools and resources that could be accessed by the regional NRM organisations and their communities to support mid-term planning.

Overall, this program enabled the update of existing regional NRM plans to:

  • incorporate information and approaches on climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • use the best available information to plan for the impacts of climate change
  • help guide the location and nature of biodiversity and carbon farming activities in the landscape.

This investment has helped NRMs begin to build an information base for land managers to improve management using a whole-of-system approach. Although the approach taken across Australia has varied and the take-up has not been consistent by land managers, the program has significantly increased the knowledge base. For instance, the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Natural Resources Strategic Plan (AMLR NRM 2013) presents the 13 long-term targets for improving the region’s natural resources. It also establishes the goals of the organisation and the mechanism for achieving the strategic objectives, including viewing the area as a set of connected subregions and developing conceptual models of how the systems that are in the region work (Daniels & Good 2015).

In December 2015, the Australian Government released a National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy. The strategy sets out how Australia is managing climate risks, and identifies a set of principles to guide effective adaptation practice and resilience building. Most jurisdictions have developed climate adaptation strategies since 2011 or have plans to develop strategies (see also Box BIO16).

However, management objectives for climate adaptation for biodiversity are generally incorporated in broader biodiversity management strategies, rather than directly in climate adaptation strategies, which are focused more on assets, infrastructure, health, production systems and disaster management. The National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy refers to the Australian Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and the Strategy for Australia’s National Reserve System, and cites investments made through the Green Army program and the National Landcare Programme. Few quantifiable targets exist among these strategies to measure the effectiveness of management objectives designed to improve the resilience of biodiversity to climate change.

Some jurisdictions have developed more specific strategies for biodiversity. For example, the New South Wales Government has developed a statement of intent in response to the listing of climate change as a key threatening process under its Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The statement identifies priorities to support biodiversity to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Strategies identified in the statement of intent include building the protected areas system, reducing fragmentation and clearing, reducing other impacts such as invasive species, and improving connectivity.

A Productivity Commission report into barriers to effective climate change adaptation (Productivity Commission 2013) noted that barriers can arise from market failure, regulation or governance, including where:

  • policies and regulations reduce the resilience of natural environments to climate change or discourage conservation activities by landowners and the community
  • private activities have negative spillovers to the environment
  • ‘public goods’, such as information and research, are not adequately provided
  • environmental assets are poorly protected or valued
  • conservation strategies and objectives fail to meet the community’s needs in a changing climate
  • policy frameworks are unresponsive to changing conditions and improved information
  • financial and management resources are not allocated where the environmental benefits are greatest
  • governance and institutional arrangements are fragmented or unclear.
Invasive species

Invasive species dominate the key threatening processes identified at both national and state and territory levels, and their impact on biodiversity is not diminishing. A lack of adequate resourcing for managing invasive species; a lack of effective and efficient monitoring; and the absence of national data collation on incursions, pathways and risks have all been highlighted as impediments to effective management.

However, where planning and resources have provided adequate concerted effort, there are many examples of effective eradication, containment or control of invasive species. For example, the sustained work of the Tasmanian and Australian governments in funding the $25 million Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project from 2007 until 2011 has been very successful. This was the largest and most ambitious island eradication program for rabbits, rats and mice ever undertaken. There were no confirmed sightings of ship rats or house mice after July 2011, and no signs of rabbits after December 2011, which was confirmed in April 2014.

Spreading bait by helicopter with bait buckets on Macquarie Island

Spreading bait by helicopter with bait buckets on Macquarie Island

Spreading bait by helicopter with bait buckets on Macquarie Island

Photo by Keith Broome, Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service

The Australian Government has invested significantly in feral cat control initiatives since 2011. The Threatened Species Strategy identifies tackling feral cats as its top priority for action. It identifies a range of projects and target areas for research and management, including development and deployment of humane baits, supporting feral cat–free areas and islands, and supporting community-led initiatives and citizen science (see Box BIO17). The action plan identifies 4 feral cat targets:

  • feral cats eradicated from 5 islands
  • 10 feral cat–free mainland exclosures established
  • best-practice feral cat control established across 10 million hectares of open landscapes
  • best-practice feral cat control implemented in 2 million hectares of Commonwealth land.

Although eradication is feasible for geographically constrained populations, the spread of many invasive species continues unabated and largely unregulated. For example, in a submission to the Australian Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications in 2014, the Invasive Species Council noted that ‘escaped nursery plants’ were listed as a ‘key threatening process’ under the EPBC Act, but that ‘this has no practical effect in preventing the sale of unsafe plants’. No threat abatement plan has been developed, and ‘trade in the majority of unsafe nursery plants remains unregulated in most state and territory jurisdictions’. By way of example, the Invasive Species Council submitted that ‘of 340 ranked environmental weeds in New South Wales, about 90 per cent can be sold or planted in part or all of New South Wales’.

The Australian Weeds Strategy (AWS) (Australian Weeds Committee 2007) and a parallel Australian Pest Animal Strategy (APAS) (Vertebrate Pests Committee 2007) were endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council in 2007. In late 2012, the AWS and the APAS were both evaluated independently. Both reviews found that the strategies and the principles underpinning them signalled a growing awareness of the importance of building and maintaining collaborative efforts to address the problem of invasive species in Australia.

Recognising that weeds have major economic, environmental and social impacts in Australia, the AWS has 3 goals:

  • to prevent new weed problems
  • to reduce the impacts of existing priority weed problems
  • to enhance Australia’s capacity and commitment to solve weed problems.

The review of the AWS noted that the Weeds of National Significance program consistently rated highly in terms of implementation of coordinated and cost-effective solutions for management of priority weeds. However, many stakeholders who participated in the review noted that, although the AWS was useful in providing an overarching framework, there was a need to strengthen links between the strategy and policy, and the programs that facilitate on-ground action. Failings identified in implementing the strategic actions in the AWS included:

  • a lack of capacity, at both national and state levels, to achieve ‘early detection and rapid action against new weeds’
  • failure to effectively communicate with stakeholders the importance of their engagement in addressing national weed problems
  • failure to ‘establish nationally consistent legislation to address weed problems’.

The review of the APAS identified similar weaknesses in terms of a lack of resources for implementing actions outlined in the strategy, resulting in the strategy being an overarching aspirational document, rather than a driver of change. The review also found a lack of engagement with stakeholders outside government; as a result, the strategy has not effectively delivered in raising awareness of pest animal issues or response requirements.

The CSIRO report Australia’s biosecurity future (Simpson & Srinivasan 2014) noted, after extensive consultation, that the general view across the biosecurity community is that the state and territory government sector is gradually stepping away from postborder biosecurity, and pushing more responsibility onto industry to manage and invest in postborder activities. Furthermore, although the government is likely to continue to prioritise human health–related biosecurity concerns, environmental biosecurity may face an uncertain future with no industry body to lobby on its behalf and challenges in demonstrating return on investment. In addition, the Invasive Species Council noted in its submission to the inquiry into the adequacy of arrangements to prevent the entry and establishment of invasive species that:

Australia’s poor knowledge of invasive species threats to biodiversity needs to be addressed. The demise of the Weeds Cooperative Research Centre and the loss of research staff in government agencies and CSIRO have substantially reduced research capacity. (Invasive Species Council 2014).

Overall, it is very difficult to assess the effectiveness of management investment in invasive species and pathogens, because—although most reports highlight plans, actions, strategies and single-species, small-scale efforts—they rarely report on outputs and outcomes. Most reports conclude that there is not enough information to assess trends in distributions or impacts of invasive species. However, there are many examples of small-scale, single-species control or eradication efforts that have clear positive outcomes for biodiversity (see Boxes BIO18 and BIO19).

At the local and regional level, on-ground land managers overwhelmingly report a lack of sufficient resources to manage pest animals and weeds effectively. In 2013, the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (Marsh & Brown 2013) surveyed the staff in Australia’s 54 NRM regions (with 53 responses from 49 regions) on the capacity of NRM to manage invasive animal impacts. Most respondents (48 out of 53) agreed that land and water degradation caused by pest animals is considered a big problem in their region. Most respondents (47 out of 53) also agreed that their organisation considers pest animals a high priority for work and allocation of funding. However, only 11 out of 53 respondents agreed that their organisation has adequate funding to address pest animal issues. According to most respondents, funding was the most important factor influencing the capacity of regional staff and their organisations to better manage pest animals. The extent of pest problems, the availability of skilled labour (including project managers and staff) and the available timeframe were listed as other major factors affecting the ability of NRM organisations to achieve their goals or targets relating to pest animals. Respondents said that training, greater access to pest experts, longer job contracts, and having skilled staff and ongoing support from external staff would help to improve individual staff capacity to manage pests better.

Clearing and fragmentation

Every state and territory has laws to restrict the clearing of native vegetation and conserve biodiversity, particularly by restricting actions that affect protected animals or plants, as part of Australia’s 2012 Native Vegetation Framework. The overarching goal of the framework is to ‘increase the national extent and connectivity of native vegetation’. These laws have had a dramatic impact in slowing habitat loss and ecosystem threat (Taylor et al. 2014a).

Although 1999–2010 was marked by increasingly tight restrictions on clearing in Australia, since then policy responses have followed a trend of weakening of legislation protecting native vegetation from clearing (Taylor 2015b, Evans 2016). The most dramatic impact of changing legislation has been seen in Queensland (see Clearing and fragmentation of native ecosystems). New South Wales and Western Australia have also implemented changes that reduce restrictions on clearing under some conditions. The impact of weakening of legislation for native vegetation clearing is not known, but indications from Queensland suggest that there may be adverse implications for biodiversity.

A recent policy development has been the use of offsetting arrangements, either as complementary policies or as conditions of clearing approvals. Offsetting policies have been put in place in most jurisdictions during the past 5 years, and, in 2012, the Australian Government introduced an environmental offsets policy under the EPBC Act. Offsetting involves compensating for the adverse impacts of an action on the environment by generating an equivalent benefit elsewhere. The overarching objective of environmental offsets is to deliver 'no net loss' or 'net gain' of a particular component of the environment. The use of offsetting for the objective of no net loss has been criticised, because the baselines used to measure the intended net outcome assume a future of biodiversity decline. Research has shown that offset policies across Australia assume up to 4.2 per cent loss of vegetation extent and/or condition per year, which is, on average, more than 5 times higher than recent rates of vegetation loss. A recent publication noted that ‘the near-ubiquitous use of declining crediting baselines risks “locking in” biodiversity decline across impact and offset sites, with implications for biodiversity conservation more broadly’ (Maron et al. 2015).

Fire regimes

Fire is often used as a management tool to achieve conservation goals. Planned burning (also called prescribed, controlled or hazard reduction burning) is used in some places in Australia for a range of purposes related to biodiversity conservation, including increasing the diversity of vegetation successional stages, and decreasing the intensity and size of fires. Prescribed burning in Kakadu National Park has resulted in a switch from dominance of late dry-season to early dry-season fires, and an increase in the abundance of long-unburned vegetation. Prescribed burns also create areas with reduced fuel loads to reduce the occurrence of large-scale and high-intensity fires.

Although traditional fire management has focused on maintaining diverse patches of differing fire history, researchers are increasingly demonstrating that some vegetation age classes provide disproportionately important habitat for flora and fauna (Kelly et al. 2012). For example, in semi-arid regions of Australia, older vegetation has been shown to be disproportionately important for the conservation of birds, reptiles and small mammals. In many ecosystems, an increased frequency of fire that reduces the amount of middle and late successional vegetation is likely to negatively affect fauna populations (Kelly et al. 2015). The increase in large-scale bushfire events in Victoria means that early growth stages are now over-represented in vegetation. Of the assessed native vegetation, 35 per cent was found to be in early growth stages compared with only 25 per cent in mature or overmature stages. This has significant implications for biodiversity, especially for fauna that require older growth stages (Kelly et al. 2015). Furthermore, research on birds has shown that preserving large intact areas of habitat is important for maintaining diversity, rather than creating networks of small unburned patches (Berry et al. 2015).

Australia’s savannas, which cover about 2 million square kilometres, are the most fire-prone ecosystem in the most fire-prone continent on Earth. Minimal infrastructure, combined with a very sparsely settled rural population, has resulted in a limited capacity to manage escaped fires. Fire regimes across much of the region are therefore characterised by the frequent recurrence of large (more than 1000 square kilometres), late dry-season wildfires (Russell-Smith et al. 2013). In 2012, savanna burning was included in Australia’s national carbon offsets program, the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI). Accredited offsets generated under the CFI are formally recognised by the Australian Government, and are traded in voluntary and existing international regulatory markets, as well as in the national regulatory scheme. The Savanna Burning CFI aims to reduce emissions by reducing the intensity of fires and the area burned each year. This is achieved through prescribed burning that shifts the fire regime from predominantly large and intense late dry-season wildfires to early dry-season fires. In October 2016, 69 savanna burning projects were registered; 22 of these have been approved with Indigenous control or significant involvement.

Early dry-season fires are considered to approximate traditional Aboriginal burning. Indigenous Australian fire management is thought to have influenced the patterning of biodiversity, and reinstating or maintaining traditional burning should theoretically provide greater benefit for native biodiversity that has co-evolved with this regime. Applied research is showing how the use of fire management to reduce fire frequencies, fire size and fire intensity (resulting in an increase in the area of long-unburned vegetation) can support the recovery of threatened species. (See Box HER23 of the Heritage report for a related case study). For example, on Mornington Wildlife Station in north-western Australia, a range of condition indices (reflecting how much stress a bird is under) of the endangered Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) and 2 non-threatened finches improved under the more benign fire regime (Legge et al. 2015).

Much of the frequently burned land across Australia’s northern savannas is under Indigenous ownership. The Land report explores in more detail the role of Indigenous people in fire management across northern Australia.

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Management status. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/biodiversity/topic/2016/management-status, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812