Addressing biodiversity decline at home

30 11 2008

© CJA Bradshaw

© CJA Bradshaw

I was recently invited to sit on a panel organised by the Conservation Council of South Australia (CCSA) to discuss issues of marine and coastal conservation under a rapidly changing climate. The results of that will be released soon (I’ll blog about that later), but in the interim, I want to highlight to readers of ConservationBytes.com how the CCSA is setting up the challenge to local governments to implement positive steps forward for the conservation of biodiversity in South Australia. I’m reproducing the executive summary of their Summit Report on Biodiversity in a Changing Climate (download full report here). It’s a good example of how we can all (industry, government, academia) work together to promote our own well-being.

…South Australia’s biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. It has been suggested by scientists that it will take many millions of years for biodiversity to recover from the impacts of humans over the last 200 years. In South Australia the key threat to biodiversity is land clearance; clearance of remnant native vegetation and subsequent fragmentation of habitat for native fauna species. Other key threats to biodiversity in South Australia include:

  • Habitat fragmentation from development
  • Competition from introduced flora
  • Predation by introduced animals
  • Direct competition for food, shelter and resources from introduced fauna
  • Introduced diseases
  • Collection of firewood from remnant vegetation
  • Altered fire regimes
  • Inappropriate grazing/overgrazing
  • Inappropriate management activities
  • Water extraction/pollution
  • Climate change – including increasing oceanic temperatures and acidification

Much of South Australia’s economy is based on the use of biological resources and the need to maintain ecosystem services. This includes activities such as tourism and recreation, nature conservation, pastoralism, agriculture, horticulture, and forestry which all benefit from healthy ecosystems.

Our primary production systems require biodiversity for pest control/management, soil conservation, enhanced productivity and stabilisation, pollination, salinity amelioration, and water purification.

To address and reverse current biodiversity trends our society must recognise, understand and value biodiversity. Land managers, indigenous communities, local industries, government and the broader community may value biodiversity in different ways, however conservation and effective management of biodiversity is essential to ensure the continuation of these values for future generations. Biodiversity values may include:

  • Production value for the provision of food, medicines, clothing and building materials consumed by society
  • Ecosystem services for the maintenance of ecosystem services (natural storing and cycling of nutrients, stabilising soil formation, protection of water resources and breakdown of pollution), and maintenance of biodiversity
  • Socio-economic value for recreation, research, education and monitoring, and cultural values
  • Future value to maintain the capacity to identify future direct or indirect utilitarian value

The South Australian government has recognised the significance of biodiversity through integrated approaches such as the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity, a joint initiative of the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments. This strategy supports other intergovernmental agreements, such as the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, the National Greenhouse Strategy, the National Forest Policy Statement, the Decade of Landcare Plan, the Wetlands Policy of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment, the Natural Heritage Trust Partnership Agreements and the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation.

The South Australian government has also implemented its own biodiversity focused strategies including No Species Loss, NatureLinks, Tackling Climate Change, and the State Strategic Plan. Regional biodiversity plans are being facilitated to assist in the management and rehabilitation of natural habitats throughout regions of the state.

However, despite the government’s recognition of biodiversity as a serious issue, South Australia’s biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate. Actions for conservation, management and awareness raising must be backed by political will and be targeted and supported financially.

Investing in biodiversity is essential to maintaining ecosystems services and in turn to provide dividends to human health and wellbeing. Policies and regulations must ensure all stakeholders are accountable for their environmental footprint and role in implementing change for the future protection of our state’s biodiversity. The aim of this report is to provide policy recommendations to increase the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation in South Australia’s changing climate…

to view the Report’s recommendations, read on…

Current Native Vegetation Management

  • Integrated pest/weed management programs and the management of abundant native species require further investment, both on and off reserve.
  • Referrals for native vegetation clearance need to be made relevant to DEH branches to help strengthen formal ties with the Native Vegetation Council.
  • The Native Vegetation Program continues to be under-resourced. Existing levels of resourcing are inadequate to provide for compliance audits to ensure offsetting activities are being undertaken, or for the necessary monitoring and evaluation of offsets to ensure benefits are being achieved.

Habitat Degradation

  • Fire management needs to be planned at a landscape scale (both reserve and off-reserve), based on the precautionary principle and good science and must prioritise the maintenance of natural biodiversity protection.

Threatened Species

  • The No Species Loss Strategy needs to be supported by (the State Biodiversity Act) to ensure that targets are set and objectives are met. These should also be included in the State Strategic Plan.

Forests

  • South Australian forestry management practise, legislation, regulation and administrative arrangements (permits) need to better take into account the use of natural resources (specifically water resources) and the conservation of biological diversity.
  • There is a need to provide private forest owners with technical advice about improved ways of managing for the conservation of biological diversity and offer incentives to promote conservation activities, including rehabilitation programs.
  • There is a need to review agroforestry’s impact on indigenous environments due to including groundwater drawdown through water affecting activities, and encourage the use of indigenous species over exotic species.

Wetlands

  • The assessment of wetlands and other water-dependant ecosystems in Water Allocation Plans needs to be monitored carefully in the first few years of the program. This will require sufficient resources for R&D research, monitoring and evaluation.
  • Wetland services to an area need to be evaluated in the context of the regional impact of clearance and development. This could include:
    • nutrient and carbon cycling
    • substrate stabilisation
    • contribution to flood mitigation and aquifer storage & re-charge
  • Given the problem of land availability within the Adelaide metropolitan region, we should:
    • increase the use of wetland areas in small to medium green strips. These could include small parklands and sports fields. These would encourage a greater appreciation of biodiversity in local areas
    • introduce, where possible, area-specific flora within created wetlands to assist in encouraging back our native fauna etc.

Wildlife Utilisation and Take

  • There is a need to ensure that native vegetation protection intersects development and planning processes at an inter-agency, whole of government scale by promoting its proper and early consideration in relevant policy and legislation.
  • The State Biodiversity Conservation Act must be established following a review of other relevant legislation and all matters relating to biodiversity management incorporated into the one Act that provides guidance to other Acts engaged in supporting biodiversity conservation – the NPW Act, the WP Act, the NRM Act, the Native Vegetation Act are examples.

National Parks and Wildlife Act

  • The provisions relating to conservation of plants and native animals and threatened species should be included in the State Biodiversity Conservation Act and updated in line with legislation in other Australian jurisdictions to give legislative backing to planning measures such as threat abatement plans, as in the EPBC Act (C’wth) or the Threatened Species Conservation Act (NSW).
  • The statutory protection of game reserves should be increased, including higher penalties for breaches. It is preferable that State Game Reserves be re-proclaimed as Conservation Parks.

Wilderness Protection Act

  • The Wilderness Protection Act needs greater implementation. The nature of and difference between wilderness protection areas and wilderness protection zones needs to be made clearer (it is not spelt out in the Act).

Native Vegetation Act

  • The many exemptions to the Native Vegetation Act should be streamlined, particularly as they relate to subdivision.
  • The Native Vegetation Act urgently requires stronger regulations and management, not the opposite, which has been the trend for the last 5 years.
  • The Native Vegetation Program continues to be under resourced. Existing levels of resourcing are inadequate to provide for compliance audits to ensure offsetting activities are being undertaken, or for the necessary monitoring and evaluation of offsets to ensure benefits are being achieved.
  • There needs to be an expansion of third party appeal and enforcement rights, and a review of the credit system.

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

  • The open nomination and listing process should be reinstated.
  • The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act needs to deal more effectively with outstanding nominations, and strengthen critical habitat provisions and recovery planning.

Natural Resource Management Act

  • The Natural Resource Management Act needs biodiversity management guidelines to be developed to provide guidance on the management and protection of natural resources as required under the general statutory duty.

State Strategic Plan

  • The SA Strategic Plan needs to demonstrate why its population growth targets will benefit sustainability in general, and biodiversity protection in particular.

NatureLinks

  • The scale of the restoration task ahead needs greater recognition, eg 30% minimum for bioregions if we are to keep our landscapes functioning.
  • Specific partnerships need to be developed with relevant environmental NGOs and NRM Boards to implement Nature-links.

Heritage Agreement Grant Scheme

  • The Heritage Agreement Scheme needs to be amended to accommodate biodiversity management stewardship incentives to help progress biodiversity corridors between protected reserves.

Protected Areas

  • There needs to be an increase in the amount/area of the reserve system protected from the impacts of mining exploration and production.
  • We need to increase investment for protected areas/reserves acquisition to achieve CARRS (20% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems) and management and subsequently increase the health of habitat in reserves.
  • The Classification Review for Protected Areas needs to be completed with appropriate public consultation.
  • The NPW Act needs review in the context of a State Biodiversity Act and to refocus on protected area management as habitat for native species.

Wildlife Corridors

  • The State and Federal Governments need to invest strategically in the concept of ‘stewardship’ and other forms of incentives for farmers/landholders in particular to participate in biodiversity conservation. As well as contributing to biodiversity management in wildlife corridors in landscape scale land planning, it offers an option for a struggling farmer to stay on the land.

Natural Resource Management

  • The State Government needs to better incorporate local government into the NRM process. They deliver many of the on-ground services that can enhance biodiversity conservation.
  • Greater priority needs to be placed on biodiversity outcomes in NRM Regional plans. This would require greater detail of data, targets and priorities, supported by increased resourcing.

Integration Beyond NRM

  • South Australia needs a comprehensive Biodiversity Act.

Research and Data

  • The current scientific and baseline data on biodiversity is poor, particularly in the marine environment. Resources need to be significantly increased to provide:
    • a greater understanding of what elements of the landscape are critical to provide ecosystem services
    • a better understanding of the management activities that need to be made available, including ecological restoration and implementing disturbance regimes
    • long-term ecological research and strategic monitoring of key biodiversity indicators.
  • There needs to be consistency of access to information between government agencies, as well as cooperative agreements of information sharing between government, NGOs and industry.
  • GIS technology provides the opportunity to record quality data on key areas of biodiversity that we have not had until recently. Research needs to be significantly resourced.
  • The State Government needs to complete SA’s Biological Survey program, in both the terrestrial and marine sectors.

Offsets and Incentives

  • The State Government needs to review the existing frameworks being implemented and discussed for biodiversity offsets, to deliver consistent biodiversity conservation outcomes. These could include using income from voluntary offsets to fund the expansion of WildCountry/NatureLinks corridors.
  • Bio-carbon- bio-planting and credits for biodiversity need to be explored for accreditation.

Aboriginal People

  • Given the extent of indigenous managed land within SA, and the largely high quality of its vegetation, communities there need to be more involved and better equipped in habitat and species protection. The State Government must expand the co-operative management program with Aboriginal communities for protected areas.

Industry

  • Businesses, particularly corporate workers, need to be targeted in a biodiversity awareness campaign, to help them understand how to minimise risk to biodiversity and how to make a more positive contribution.
  • The environment sector needs to view business engagement as an opportunity to source investment in biodiversity.

State Government

  • The State Government needs to work with local government to:
    • address the lack of urban environmental corridors. These could deliver increased biodiversity benefits, and help engage an urban populace as to the value of increased native vegetation in an urban environment
    • use the opportunity to link South Australian waterways as biodiversity corridors.

Biodiversity Education

  • Education needs to extend beyond single aspects of biodiversity such as trees, to incorporate projects such as NatureLinks, which can demonstrate how those single aspects contribute to the bigger picture.
  • We need to mandate the knowledge, education and requirements of biodiversity conservation in school curriculums. Currently it is up to individual schools or passionate teachers to educate children about our local biodiversity.

Strengthening Capacity to Act

  • Public liability can be prohibitive for community groups engaging volunteers in their work. Government resourcing would make a big difference in this capacity.

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