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Threatened species conservation in Australia and the EPBC Act. 

12 Feb

By David Holland

 

The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, replaced four commonwealth Acts including the Endangered Species Act 1992, The Environmental Protection Act (impacts of Proposals) Act 1974 and the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975. (Thomas 2007)

Since Australia signed the Ramsar agreement in 1971, the Federal government has been committed to list and take action on wetland fauna and flora communities. This was in the backdrop of a committed community of environmentalists within Australia that lead to the Landcare movement and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The issues in Australia were that the culture in the 1950s and 1960s had been to tame the bush and clear the land. Wetland were generally left as they provided no opportunity for agricultural use. As with the Ramsar process on the world stage, Australia, through the voice of the environmentalist, started to realise that the world was finite and the Australian landscape was more sensitive to wholesale development than previously thought.

After Ramsar and under the Heads of Agreement on Commonwealth/State Roles and responsibilities for the Environment Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment, States started to pass legislation that reflected the above Commonwealth Acts. (Thomas 2007)

In 1979 the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act was passed to control land use within NSW. Later the Act incorporated the protection of designated Wetlands under State Environmental Planning Policy 14.

Then as land management moved from the urban setting to the rural, Australia started to have policies like Total Catchment Management, to better manage farm land, the landscape and to reduce erosion etc. This later moved to vegetation and even habitat protection in the mid 1990s. Then there was a move to Integrated Catchment Management which looked at landscape management from a regional level with Catchment Management Authorities. (Dovers 2003)

Then in 1995 NSW followed the Commonwealth by introducing the Threatened Species Act. This was to work in conjunctions with the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the EPA Act 1979 in protecting species and ecologically sensitive communities from wholesale development.

But the EPBC Act goes further and deals with any matter related to the environment with a national significance, including world heritage properties within Australia, Ramsar wetlands, nationally endangered and vulnerable species and/or communities, migratory birds, protection and management of coastal environments and the protection of marine life. It also has a responsibility to manage and act on nuclear activities within Australia or that is likely to affect Australia. (Thomas 2007)

Table 1: Below is a typical listing from the EPBC Act 1999

Mammals that are Critically Endangered 
Genus, species (subspecies, population)
Common Name Effective
Gymnobelideus leadbeateri Leadbeater’s Possum 02-May-2015
Miniopterus orianae bassanii Southern Bent-wing Bat 18-Dec-2007
Pipistrellus murrayi Christmas Island Pipistrelle 12-Sep-2006
Potorous gilbertii Gilbert’s Potoroo 06-Jul-2004
Pteropus natalis Christmas Island Flying-fox 03-Jan-2014
Saccolaimus saccolaimus nudicluniatus Bare-rumped Sheathtail Bat (Qld) 04-Apr-2001

Figure 1 Locality map of Leadbeater’s Possum (EPBC Act)

picture1

It is the whole population that benefited through the application of the policy not only today but into the future. That said, there are business interests with shorter vision and a need to make a profit that would perhaps prefer to be back in the 1960 where the taming of the bush enabled wholesale development of mining interests and urban and industrial development in all manner of places without controls.

But now after Ramsar, there has been slow process from the first MAR conference at Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer in the French Camargue. This meeting recognise the importance of wetland and later catchment and land management, and later again the protection and rehabilitation of endangered and vulnerable species and communities. (“MAR” is simply short for marshes)

But not to forget the home grown environmentalist who saw a need to protect landscapes and rehabilitated landscapes like Alan and Marigold Lawrence who founded Landcare on the Central Coast.

These people had ideals that all Australians should be able to enjoy natural settings. This is what the EPBC helps to do while at the same time allows business and commercial enterprises to develop land in an appropriate way that ensures protection for our natural Australian heritage.

If we were to ask how the values of these pioneers across the world have influenced policy we see a slow progression of policy to protect the natural environment through land use planning and then to Threatened species protection.

The trajectory is sound but there is more to do. Proper integrated planning still needs to be applied.

When developing urban areas, a process of retrofitting wildlife and natural bushland corridors needs to continue. These processes were of wildlife design were pioneered by David Goldney, Professor at Charles Sturt University, who would have been one of the first environmentalists to study the effects of corridors in a rural setting in the 1990s. Also when developing urban areas, an introduction of the precautionary planned retreat from the oceans due to the advent of climate change induced sea level rise should commence. A planned retreat that includes the re-establishment of wetlands and salt-marsh as the seas rise and inundate now dry land. (Holland 2015)

But is the policy behind the EPBC Act formulated on best scientific knowledge. The answer would have to be no. Science understood little about how wetlands work in the beginning but as the world started to protect these areas more funding became available to study them. If the world had waited to do exhaustive studies on many of our vulnerable species before politicians decided to provide funding through appropriate legislation to do recovery plans, species may have been lost. Yes, science has been active in many of the areas of conservation as highlighted above, but it is ideas that need to drive the processes of policy development. The risk is that opponents to policy change may have vested interests in unfettered development and complain that there is no scientific basis for the policy change and influence popular opinion against a policy change that has environmental merit.

 

References:

Australia Conservation Foundation, Our History, https://www.acfonline.org.au/about-us/our-history

Australian Government, EPBC 1999, Offset Policy, Oct 2012, http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/epbc-act-environmental-offsets-policy

Australian Government, Department of the Environment, About the EPBC Act, http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/about

Australian Government,  The Department of the Environment, The Ramsar convention on wetlands, http://www.environment.gov.au/water/wetlands/ramsar

Australian Government,  The Department of the Environment, Nuclear Actions, http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/what-is-protected/nuclear-actions

Dell’Amore, Christine (2013), LAST OF THE LAST, 20,000 Species Are Near Extinction: Is it Time to Rethink How We Decide Which to Save?, National Geographic , PUBLISHED DECEMBER 16, 2013, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131216-conservation-environment-animals-science-endangered-species/

Dovers Stephen, Rivers Su Wild (editors) (2003), Managing Australia’s Environment, The Federation press, pp. 134-140, 284-301, 328-337,  394-412, 442-460, 501-514,

Garnett, Stephen, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, July 2, 2014, Threatened species win a voice in Canberra – but it’s too late for some, The Conversation,  Charles Darwin University, https://theconversation.com/threatened-species-win-a-voice-in-canberra-but-its-too-late-for-some-28667

Golden, Dr David Charles, Citation for the Conferral of a Doctor of Science (honoris causa), https://www.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/628894/Goldney-David-Charles.pdf

Holland D, Planning for Sea Level Rise Risk in some Coastal Regions of Australia – A Market Approach, Habitat Association for the Arts and Environemnt Web site, https://habitattownplanningforum.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/planning-for-climate-change-the-risk-model-for-sea-level-rise-discussion-paper-3rd-edition-rev1-20151.pdf

How to use the assessments Guide, EPBC 1999, Offset Policy, http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/12630bb4-2c10-4c8e-815f-2d7862bf87e7/files/offsets-how-use.pdf

Matthews, G. V. T.(1993), The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: its History and Development, Published by the Ramsar Convention Bureau, Gland, Switzerland, Re-issued Ramsar Convention Secretariat, 2013, http://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/lib/Matthews-history.pdf

Rouget, Mathieu 1; Cowling Richard M.2; Lombard Amanda T.2; Knight, Andrew T.2; and Kerley Graham I.H.3; 30 Jan 2006, Designing Large-Scale Conservation Corridors for Pattern and Process, Conservation Biology, Volume 20, Issue 2, pages 549–561, April 2006, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00297.x/full

NSW Government, Threatened Species Act (1995), http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/viewtop/inforce/act+101+1995+FIRST+0+N

NSW Office of Environment and heritage, Ramsar Wetlands, http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/wetlands/RamsarWetlands.htm

Thomas, I. (2007),  Environmental Policy.  Annandale, N.S.W: The Federation Press, pp.36-40, 70-129, 403-425.

 

 

 

 

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