Better Prospects for the Future of South Australia’s Biodiversity

21 11 2018

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A major environmental event quietly slipped through the major news outlets in South Australia this week without much of a mention at all. Yet, I argue it’s one of the most important collective assessments of the state of South Australia’s environment to date. 

Yes, it’s been exactly five years since the last State of the Environment Report released by the South Australia Environment Protection Authority (EPA), and on Monday this week they released the 2018 Report. What’s perhaps even sadder than the poor performance of our state’s environmental performance is that it barely got a mention, nor does seem to have been noticed by many South Australians at all. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, when major protests like the UK’s Extinction Rebellion movement hardly got a mention at all last week, it’s no wonder that the release of the Report fails to raise the interest of average citizens in South Australia.

Full disclosure here — I contributed to this year’s State of the Environment Report as one of several independent ‘experts’ commenting on particular aspects of our environment. Yes, this year’s report has made a major leap in this regard by not merely reporting the trends of various indicators (and with rather unconvincing conclusions in many cases because of a lack of monitoring data), but by also including independent overviews of Aquatic Ecosystems, Biodiversity, and Coastal Protection. I was the one asked to write the Biodiversity Issues paper.

While you can download the full report here, I thought it best to summarise the key findings in this blog post (supporting references can be found in the report itself):

Status

  • native forests cover only about 9% of the South Australia’s land area, with less than 10% of the original forest cover remaining in the Mount Lofty Ranges, and less than 4% remaining in the Adelaide Plains relative to their extents immediately before Europeans first came to Australia
  • overall native vegetation is in a State-wide decline in cover, with the regions doing the worst also those with the most people
  • 12% of native plant species are threatened with extinction across the State, of which the South East has the highest proportion (25%)
  • 12% of South Australia’s native animal species are considered threatened with extinction, with the highest proportion of threatened species (23%) reported in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges
  • over 70% of the State’s wetlands have been lost since European colonisation, and 99% of those remaining cannot be considered ‘intact’

Things we’re doing right

  • many different revegetation programs have been initiated with the intent of bringing back some semblance of native forest and/or grassland function
  • there have been several successful attempts to reintroduce or restock native wildlife in areas where they are threatened with extinction
  • several eradication programs of invasive predators have been successfully implemented in certain parts of the State
  • more and more councils are adopting increasingly restrictive by-laws for cat ownership and management that will likely reduce their predation pressure on native wildlife to some extent
  • increasing ‘environmental flows’ of water to mimic natural cycles is being done in certain areas
  • there have been several examples of successful restoration and even entirely new creation of wetlands in South Australia
  • approximately 30% of the State’s land area is protected in part for its biodiversity values, albeit most of this is the semi-arid and arid regions of the State where there is relatively lower species richness and endemism compared to the wetter regions to the south
  • the number of protected areas and their total area coverage is increasing throughout most of the state
  • to improve the engagement with people,  many programs have been rolled out to promote awareness and appreciation of natural values in South Australia
  • land owners in South Australia can apply for a Heritage Agreement, which essentially establishes a conservation area on private land in perpetuity

What we need to change or fix

  • South Australia requires conservation goals that will enhance the resilience of the most species for the lowest costs; the essence of our policies should be testing improvement via effective monitoring and the estimation of counterfactuals
  • we need to establish conservation goals based on the ecological fundamentals of species persistence, rather than adhering to arbitrary and unrealistic historical baselines
  • establish a State Register of past, ongoing, and planned revegetation projects
  • establish a State Revegetation Council that uses data from the Register to prioritise projects to promote connectivity
  • establish a State Register of Wetland-Restoration projects and a State Wetlands Council
  • all restoration projects should incorporate carbon accounting to estimate the carbon sequestration component
  • increase the coverage of our most endangered, and under-representative habitats in protected areas
  • coordinate with landholders to improve agricultural practices that harm wildlife, establish conservation covenants or Heritage Agreements, and exclude livestock and other species from conservation assets
  • establish an act that specifically focusses on biodiversity conservation in South Australia
  • the Native Vegetation Council needs better connection to the planning process for projects proposing to clear native vegetation
  • prevent separate legislation from being created at the discretion of the sitting government to circumvent the Native Vegetation Act
  • specifically address clearing for renewable-energy projects in the Native Vegetation Act
  • avoid biodiversity-offset programs
  • establish a state-wide system of monitoring points for the most important and underrepresented biodiversity values
  • arrest the declining State Budget funding of the Department of Environment and Water and the EPA, and plan future budget increases

I provide many other specific recommendations that you can read in detail; however, the main point is that we need to get this message out to the widest possible range of South Australians. I therefore plea to the environmental community in South Australia to distribute this information far and wide. I leave you with the final paragraph of the Biodiversity Assessment:

While better and broader scientific information will most certainly help in our quest to maintain and enhance South Australia’s biodiversity, the most challenging issues that remain are more social, economic, and psychological in nature than they are scientific. In other words, our challenges are related more to managing people and their choices and behaviours, rather than biodiversity per se. The human element in biodiversity conservation therefore cannot be understated, so the important task of managing ourselves is essential for long-term success in our conservation approaches. From encouraging people to value nature, to amending legislation that limits destructive economic behaviour, to providing a viable business framework for maintaining, financing, and restoring biodiversity on public and private lands — these all play the most important roles in today’s biodiversity-conservation challenge. If we forget the people in our quest to save other species, we are doomed to fail; but if we include everyone in the challenge, we will prevail.

CJA Bradshaw


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10 12 2018
Perseverance eventually gets the policy makers’ attention | ConservationBytes.com

[…] place this morning, is potentially more influential. As some readers might recall, I recently wrote an overview essay about managing biodiversity in South Australia that accompanied the 2018 State of the Environment […]

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