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Department of the Environment and Water Resources annual report 2006–07

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Water Resources, 2007
ISSN 1441-9335

Legislation annual reports 2006–07 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)

2. Conserving biodiversity

2.1 Identifying and monitoring biodiversity and making bioregional plans

Inventories of listed threatened species etc. on Commonwealth land (section 172)

Parks Australia Division continued to improve the comprehensiveness and accuracy of inventories of species in Commonwealth reserves.

Surveys of cetaceans, listed threatened species etc. in Commonwealth marine areas (section 173)

The Australian Centre for Applied Marine Mammal Science was established in 2006 and is the first major national research centre focused on understanding, protecting and conserving the whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in Australia's region. The centre is based in Hobart in the Australian Antarctic Division and has an extensive network of science partners throughout Australia.

The centre was established with initial funding from the Australian Government's $100 million Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities programme and existing staff and resources from the Australian Antarctic Division's marine mammal research group.

The Australian Government provided $400,000 from the Natural Heritage Trust and the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities programme for research projects in 2006—07 to improve knowledge of the distribution, abundance and habitat requirements of whales and dolphins. These projects included:

Recent data from research funded through the Natural Heritage Trust indicate that populations of two out of the five threatened species of large whales found near Australia's coastline are increasing. While still much lower than pre-whaling numbers, the Australian populations of southern right whales and humpback whales continue to increase. Currently there are around 2,400 southern right whales and 33,000 humpback whales. There are no current estimates for the abundance of the other three threatened species of large whales, the blue, fin and sei whales. (See whales and other cetaceans in section 2.2.)

Bioregional plans (section 176)

Under section 176 of the EPBC Act, the Australian Government is preparing marine bioregional plans and establishing networks of marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters as part of the Commonwealth's contribution to the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.

Information on the status of the marine bioregional plans is in the chapter on coast and oceans in the first volume of this set of annual reports.

2.2 Protecting species and ecological communities

Listed threatened species and ecological communities

Thirty nominations were received during 2006—07 for the listing of threatened species (22), ecological communities (four) and key threatening processes (four). The timeframes for listing processes mean that very few nominations are determined within the year of their nomination. During 2006—07, the minister made 92 decisions based on public and other nominations, such as those generated by the department. These decisions resulted in 89 amendments to the lists, detailed in Table 9.

The February 2007 amendments to the EPBC Act establish a new process for listing nationally threatened species and ecological communities. The new listing process is designed to improve the effectiveness of listing, focusing on species and ecological communities that are in greatest need of protection.

One key change made by the amendments is that the minister may determine a conservation theme, and invite nominations for species, ecological communities and key threatening processes that reflect this theme. Themes could include, for instance, particular species or groups of species, or geographic regions, which would benefit from particular attention. The minister may consider advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in determining the theme.

Another important change is the establishment of an assessment cycle. Stages of the new process are:

In 2006—07 the department held technical workshops for two ecological communities (sedge rich Eucalyptus camphora swamp community and the bluegrass-dominated grasslands of the Brigalow Belt, north and south). Technical workshops are a way to obtain expert opinion on the nature and extent of a nominated ecological community. The outcomes inform the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in its deliberations on the nominated ecological community.

The outcomes of technical workshops are now made available on the department's website for public comment.

Permits for listed threatened species and ecological communities

Four applications were received under Part 13 of the EPBC Act to 'move, take, kill, injure, trade or keep listed threatened species and ecological communities on or to Commonwealth land'. Four permits were issued for:

The Australian Antarctic Division issued two permits in 2006—07, one to collect moulted elephant seal hair and the other an opportunistic permit to collect dead listed species.

Permits for migratory species

Parks Australia Division received four permit applications and issued all four permits as follows:

The Australian Antarctic Division issued one permit in 2006—07, to opportunistically collect dead listed species.

Marine species
Permits for listed marine species

Three applications were received under Part 13 of the EPBC Act to kill, injure, take, trade, keep or move a listed marine species in or on a Commonwealth area. Three permits were issued for:

The Australian Antarctic Division issued six permits relating to emperor penguins, Adélie penguins and Weddell seals. Activities include collecting abandoned eggs, capturing and releasing to attach satellite trackers and/or tags, and collecting samples and other information. An opportunistic permit was issued to collect dead listed species. The ethics committee modified the Weddell seal proposal before a permit was issued.

Whales and other cetaceans

The EPBC Act requires people who have an interaction with a cetacean or a species listed as threatened, migratory or marine to notify the details to the department within seven days. A memorandum of understanding is being finalised with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries who will submit quarterly reports on behalf of the fishers instead of the individual fisher being required to report within seven days as it was found that this requirement was not being met. Similar arrangements have already been agreed with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries to cover fisheries under their jurisdiction.

The department receives other reports of interaction with listed species. The information is recorded in a database and published on the department's website.

The Australian National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching 2005 were developed jointly by all Australian, state and territory governments through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, and represent a consistent national policy for the management of whale and dolphin watching. The guidelines set out Tier 1 and Tier 2 standards for whale and dolphin watching. Tier 1 standards outline general requirements for protecting animals that apply to all people. Tier 2 standards primarily apply to the commercial whale and dolphin watching industry that may require alternative levels of management.

In 2006—07 the department held discussions with the Victorian and South Australian governments to consider implementing a Tier 2 whale watching management area for blue whales in the Bonney Upwelling off the Victorian coast to ensure proper management and minimise any impacts of whale watching.

Permits for whales and other cetaceans

Amendments to the EPBC Act enacted in February 2007 implement new arrangements for issuing permits relating to cetaceans in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. The amendments change and streamline processing of Part 13 permit applications, which are no longer treated as controlled actions under section 165(2)(b) of the Act.

Section 266A of the EPBC Act has been repealed. The department is no longer required to inform subscribers to the section 266A register of new permit applications. Applicants are no longer required to place an advertisement in a newspaper requesting public comment on their application. Instead, the department will invite comment on permit applications through notification on the internet at www.environment.gov.au/epbc/invitationstocomment.html.

The department received nine applications for interference with whales and other cetaceans in 2006—07. Two permits were issued, two were withdrawn, three are still under consideration, and two were for whale watching permits. Other activities authorised under the permits included scientific research, and approaching cetaceans for documentary filming and photography. Under the amended provisions of the EPBC Act, whale watching permits are no longer required for Tier 1 areas. The department has not yet declared any Tier 2 areas for which permits are required.

The amendments to the EPBC Act removed requirements for export and import permits for cetacean items. These items are now treated in the same manner as all other Australian native wildlife listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). To ensure no relaxation in controls, steps were also taken to introduce stricter domestic measures to treat all cetaceans as though they are listed on Appendix I to CITES. Other amendments brought cetacean permit applications and processes into line with other threatened, migratory and marine species and removed the requirement for them to be treated in the same manner as a referral process. This had been found to be overly bureaucratic, costly and unnecessary given the small amount of feedback received from the public on these proposals. Public notification and comment is now provided on the department's website.

Recovery plans and threat abatement plans (section 284 report)
Recovery planning

Under the amendments to the EPBC Act the minister must decide whether to have a recovery plan for a species within 90 days of it becoming listed as a threatened species.

The department continued to make substantial investment in recovering threatened species through developing and implementing recovery plans. Over 820 nationally threatened species and ecological communities now have recovery plans in place or in preparation, including 80 per cent of critically endangered species and 64 per cent of endangered species. The EPBC Act has now been in operation for nearly seven years, and there is an increasing number of recovery plans due for review. In 2006—07, 26 recovery plan reviews were under way. (See Table 11.)

In 2006—07, 66 recovery plans covering 106 terrestrial threatened species were made or adopted under the EPBC Act. Species covered include 40 Victorian flora species, the Gouldian finch in northern Australia, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and forty-spotted pardalote, the orange-bellied parrot, the south-eastern red-tailed black-cockatoo, the buff-banded rail on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Tasmanian giant freshwater lobster and the northern and southern marsupial moles.

Testing more integrated approaches than the single-species approach to threatened species recovery continued in 2006—07. Regional recovery plan pilot projects that adopt a landscape approach to threatened species recovery are progressing well in the Border Ranges region in New South Wales and Queensland, the south coast of Western Australia, the Mount Lofty—Murray Darling Basin region in South Australia and on Norfolk Island. New pilot projects began in the Northern Rivers region in New South Wales and on Christmas Island.

Implementation of priority actions identified in recovery plans continued across Australia and the external territories. Projects will assist in protecting and recovering habitat through fencing and revegetation, on-ground surveys and population monitoring, captive breeding programmes, weed and feral pest control, and community education.

New funding was provided to assist such species and ecological communities as the black-flanked rock wallaby, the giant freshwater lobster, the Tasmanian devil, Kangaroo Island threatened flora, marsupial moles, the shrike-tit in northern Australia, and the Cumberland Plain woodlands in the Sydney Basin bioregion.

For marine species, recovery plans are in place for:

A recovery plan for the Australian sea-lion and a multiple species recovery plan for Pristis microdon (freshwater sawfish), Glyphis sp. A (speartooth shark) and Glyphis sp. C (northern river shark) are under development.

Threat abatement planning

Ten threat abatement plans are in place to address the impacts of feral goats, rabbits, cats, foxes, pigs, root-rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi, chytrid fungus, tramp ants, long-line fishing on seabirds and beak and feather disease of parrots. Plans for the feral goat, rabbit, cat, fox and Phytophthora are being revised.

Two threat abatement plans are currently in preparation, one for injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris and another for exotic rodents on Australian offshore islands of less than 100,000 hectares. Both are expected to be approved in early 2008.

In 2006—07 the updated threat abatement plan for the incidental catch (or bycatch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations received ministerial approval. The plan, developed by the Australian Antarctic Division in consultation with other government agencies, fishing and conservation interests, replaces the first plan approved in 2001. The new plan recognises the substantial progress made in Australian fisheries since 2001 in reducing seabird bycatch and requires government agencies to take a range of actions to further decrease bycatch in domestic and international fisheries. These include applying mitigation measures and seabird bycatch limits to Australian fisheries, and promoting mitigation at international forums.

For information on threat abatement projects funded in 2006—07 refer to the chapter on land and inland waters in the first volume of this set of annual reports.

Wildlife conservation plans (section 298 report)

The Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds was made in February 2006 and is the first wildlife conservation plan developed under the Act. The plan outlines the range of research and management activities to be implemented over the next five years in support of the conservation of 36 species of migratory shorebirds. The plan also represents national level action within the broader Implementation Strategy for the East—Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership 2007—2011.

In 2006—07 the department contributed over $350,000 to the implementation of the plan. Projects funded included $165,000 towards a nationally coordinated monitoring programme. An additional $140,000 was provided to support Australia's international efforts to conserve migratory shorebirds and their habitats across their full range. These efforts include bilateral treaties with China, Korea and Japan and a multilateral partnership for the conservation of migratory shorebirds in the East—Asian Australasian Flyway.

Exemptions under section 303A

No applications under section 303A were received for exemptions from Part 13 of the Act.

2.3 International movement of wildlife

The EPBC Act regulates the export of Australia's native wildlife and the import of live exotic species. The EPBC Act also regulates the movement of internationally recognised endangered species, thereby fulfilling Australia's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The EPBC Act provides good conservation outcomes and supports sustainable commercial activity by:

Sustainable wildlife industries

In 2006—07 representatives for the Australian Government and all state and territory governments prepared national guidelines for the harvesting of tree ferns and grass trees. Both of these are slow-growing and maturing species, valuable in the horticultural trade. The guidelines cover best practice for regulation and harvesting of these species to meet the sustainability requirements of the EPBC Act Part 13A and to facilitate the development of consistent harvesting practices across states and territories.

Wildlife trade management plans and wildlife trade operations approved under the EPBC Act govern the sustainable wild harvest of wildlife and the humane treatment of animals. During the year, two wildlife trade management plans (for the commercial harvest of tree ferns in Tasmania and the commercial harvest of kangaroos in New South Wales) were submitted. The latter was approved, but the former is still being considered. Wildlife trade management plans enable the Australian Government to ensure that wildlife use is renewable.

Amendments to the EPBC Act of direct relevance to international wildlife trade maintain the requirement for a wildlife trade import permit, but limit the need for imports to be part of a commercial import programme. A commercial import programme is now required only for specimens that have been identified as declared specimens through publication of a gazette notice, and where the specimen is not, or is not derived from, an animal bred in captivity or from a plant that has been artificially propagated. The specimen must still be accompanied by an export permit from the relevant CITES management authority of the exporting country. This added regulation ensures a higher level of protection is provided where required for CITES listed species.

Other amendments to the EPBC Act now require a cooperative conservation programme to be established for the international movement of all cetacean species, as they are now regarded as being listed in Appendix I of CITES. This is a stricter domestic measure allowed by, but not required under, CITES.

Forty-eight applications were received to amend the list of specimens suitable for live import and 20 amendments to this list were registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments and tabled (including two corrections).

Wildlife trade permits and programmes

For information on wildlife trade permit efficiencies, see Part 1.4 of this report.

In 2006—07, 2810 wildlife trade permits and 24,908 personal accompanied baggage permits were issued.

A total of 240 non-commercial wildlife trade permits were issued to zoological institutions and scientific researchers. Three cooperative conservation programmes (breeding programmes that are operated with the intention of conserving a species) for a number of CITES I listed species were developed. This enabled the export of gorillas to zoos in Portugal, Germany and Japan and approval for Perth Zoo to export a female captive-born orang-utan for rehabilitation and release into the wild under the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Project at Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Indonesia.

This is the first approved cooperative conservation programme that has included the release of an animal into the wild. It represents an important step towards establishing new populations and achieving increased gene diversity for this critically endangered species. In 2006—07 the Australian Government provided funding for the rehabilitation programme in Bukit Tigapuluh National Park under the Regional Natural Heritage Programme.

The import of Asian elephants in 2006 raised some concerns over welfare aspects associated with international wildlife trade. The department continued to consult with key stakeholders, in particular the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in relation to this issue.

As a result of the increasing number of requests to import or export live wildlife specimens from persons interested in starting up new zoos, aquaria and wildlife parks, the department developed guidelines and assessment criteria. These will provide a more simplified and consistent method for assessing such applications in the future.

The department enters into ambassador agreements with overseas countries to export native species including koalas, wombats and EPBC Act listed threatened species. These agreements require the receiving institution to comply with specific conditions on husbandry requirements, health and the transfer of an animal and its progeny. Agreements entered into in 2006—07 include the export of common wombats to Dusit Zoo in Thailand and four koalas to Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand.

The department is working closely with ARAZPA to develop policies, within the legislative framework, on assisted reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilisation, sperm sorting and embryo transfer. These techniques are becoming an important option to manage the future demography and genetic diversity of animal populations in Australian and overseas zoos.

The minister refused an application for a commercial import programme for ramin timber from Peninsula Malaysia, based on concerns raised within CITES on the sustainability of the ramin harvest and the establishment of an effective harvesting management regime.

The following wildlife programmes were approved:

The department has enhanced its permit verification system as part of its efforts to ensure compliance with the EPBC Act. The system combines desk top reviews and site visits to measure the level of compliance by individuals and businesses involved in the international trade of regulated species. The system provides an opportunity for departmental staff to learn of issues faced by industry in complying with the legislation, while educating business operators about international trade requirements under the EPBC Act.

The department continued to cooperate with the Australian Customs Service in regulating international wildlife trade, under an established memorandum of understanding. Customs provide a range of border and post-border enforcement services in partnership with the department. The department provides Customs with training and decision support tools; 175 Customs officers attended training sessions during the year. Training in international wildlife trade regulation was also provided to 95 Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers.

2.4 Conservation agreements

The EPBC Act enables the environment minister to enter into conservation agreements with another party to protect and conserve biodiversity or heritage. Since the EPBC Act came into force in 2000, 10 conservation agreements have been entered into to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as threatened species and ecological communities, including the mountain pygmy possum, the giant barred frog and the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef. More information is at www.environment.gov.au/epbc/species/conservationagreements.html.