Advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee on a public nomination of a Key Threatening Process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
1. Name and description of the key threatening process
The nomination for listing 'Land Clearance' as a Key Threatening Process was originally submitted under the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (ESP Act).
The previous committee the Endangered Species Scientific Sub-committee, (ESSS) decided to amend the name of the threatening processes to:
'land clearance affecting nationally critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable species or ecological communities'
TSSC consider that, given our current information base, the effects on listed species/communities cannot be separated from other effects. Furthermore, the previous committee agreed (strongly) that the threatening process could cause unlisted species to become listed ie. the process is threatening a wide range of listed and unlisted species/communities. TSSC therefore recommends the use of the title: 'Land clearance'.
The description of land clearing is based on that provided in the nomination:
Land clearing consists of the destruction of the above ground biomass of native vegetation and its substantial replacement by non-local species or by human artefacts. Native vegetation is defined as vegetation in which native species constitute more than 70% of the plant cover, or other vegetation containing populations of species listed under the EPBC Act. Substantial replacement by non-local species or human artefacts is defined as the achievement of more than 70% of the total cover by species or human artefacts that did not occur previously on the site.
Land clearing includes clearance of native vegetation for crops, improved, pasture, plantations, gardens, houses, mines, buildings and roads. It also includes infilling of wetlands or dumping material on dry land native vegetation, and the drowning of vegetation through the construction of impoundments. It does not include silvicultural operations in native forests and manipulation of native vegetation composition and structure by grazing, burning or other means.
2. How judged by TSSC in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 criteria
- Could the threatening process cause a native species or an ecological community to become eligible for listing as Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable?
- Could the threatening process cause a native species or an ecological community to become eligible to be listed in another category representing a higher degree of endangerment?
- Does the threatening process adversely affect 2 or more listed threatened species (other than conservation dependent species) or 2 or more listed threatened ecological communities?
In its original assessment, the nominated process was found (by ESSS):
- to meet the ESP Act criterion for 'adversely affecting two or more listed species'. ESSS concluded 'that land clearance adversely affects more than two listed species. Among the listed species that are currently threatened by land clearance are Allocasuarina glareicola (Endangered), Cadellia pentastylis (Vulnerable), Petaurus gracilis Mahogany Glider (Endangered) and Dasyornis brachypterus Eastern Birstlebird (Endangered)'; and
- to meet ESP Act criterion 'that it could cause native species that are not endangered to become endangered'. ESSS concluded 'that land clearance could cause native species and ecological communities that are not endangered to become endangered. For example, land clearance is threatening the following ecological communities: 'Cumberland Plains Woodland', 'Low woodland with heathland on indurated sand at Norah Head', 'Duffy's forest vegetation community', 'Communities of Tumulus Springs (Organic Springs, Swan Coastal Plain)' and 'Shrublands and woodlands on Muchea Limestone'.'
Their advice concludes 'ESSS is strongly of the view that land clearance has been the most significant threatening process in Australia since European settlement. ESSS is also strongly of the view that land clearance continues to be a significant threatening process and that if it is not controlled it will lead to additional species becoming endangered, to additional species being listed in Schedule 1, and to ecological communities being listed in Schedule 2.'
Subsequent to this advice the process could not legally be added to the list of key threatening processes under the ESP Act, since it occurs both in and outside Commonwealth areas. This restriction is no longer applicable under the EPBC Act.
Additional recent information provided by the nominator adds to the list of species considered to be adversely affected by the threatening process: 30 listed threatened species and subspecies (22 birds and 8 reptiles); 80 unlisted species and subspecies (71 birds, 7 reptiles, 1 plant); and 'a number of ' regional ecosystems identified as endangered and of concern in Queensland.
Further updated information (since ESSS advice was prepared) includes:
- the ecological communities 'Cumberland Plain Woodland', 'Assemblages of plants and invertebrate animals of tumulus (organic mound) Springs of the Swan Coastal Plain' and 'Shrublands and Woodlands on Muchea Limestone of the Swan Coastal Plain' have been listed as Endangered under the EPBC Act; and
- the NSW Scientific Committee has made a Preliminary Determination to support a proposal to list 'Loss of biodiversity as a result of loss and/or degradation of habitat following clearing and fragmentation of native vegetation' as a Key Threatening Process on Schedule 3 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
Conclusion - The TSSC re-affirmed the conclusions of ESSS regarding the effects of this threatening process on listed and unlisted species and ecological communities. TSSC believe that land clearance:
- could cause a native species or an ecological community to become eligible for listing in any category, other than conservation dependant;
- could cause a listed threatened species or a listed threatened ecological community to become eligible to be listed in another category representing a higher degree of endangerment; and
- adversely affects 2 or more listed threatened species (other than conservation dependant) or 2 or more listed threatened ecological communities.
The threatening process meets s188(4)(a), s188(4)(b) and s188(4)(c) of the EPBC Act.
3. Threat Abatement Plan
In their original assessment of the nomination ESSS provided extensive advice on the feasibility of a threat abatement plan. This advice concluded that 'the Minister can, after consulting with the State and Territories, and with business, industry, conservation and other organisations as appropriate, make a decision as the whether the preparation and implementation of a threat abatement plan is a feasible, effective and efficient way to abate the process'.
In the last three and a half years (since the nomination was prepared), there have been many changes in land clearing policies and regulations in Australia. Examples include: drafting and endorsement of the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation by ANZECC; introduction of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 in NSW; and introduction of the Queensland Vegetation Management Act 1999.
The Draft Outline Threat Abatement Plan suggested by the nominator, is based on the ANZECC Framework, and states 'that with so many pieces of Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation relating to native vegetation management and land clearance that a common goal or plan would greatly assist in producing uniform measures and guidelines for the mitigation of the threat of land clearance'.
The introductory paragraph of the ANZECC Framework states: 'Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments have committed themselves, through the Natural Heritage Trust, to reverse the long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation cover by June 2001. The National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation is an initiative of the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council to provide a vehicle through which to implement this goal in a unified and consistent manner, against an agreed framework of best practice management and monitoring measures.'
In the development of the ANZECC Framework, consultation was wide, and included non-government agencies, Government agencies and other relevant stakeholders. The ANZECC Framework has been endorsed by all ANZECC Ministers, representing all jurisdictions in Australia.
Subsequently, the Commonwealth, State and Territories have developed workplans as a mechanism to implement the Framework objectives. An independent evaluator has just completed an assessment of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Framework and the Workplans. The evaluation report is currently being considered by each jurisdiction and ANZECC.
Conclusion - The TSSC believe that a threat abatement plan would not contribute any additional threat mitigation over and above current initiatives, would involve setting up further consultative working groups (as suggested by the nominator), and would be duplicative of best practice already stated in the National Framework. TSSC therefore consider that a threat abatement plan would not be a feasible, effective or efficient way to abate the process at this time.
- The TSSC recommends that the list referred to in section 183 of the EPBC Act be amended by including in the list as a key threatening process: 'Land Clearance'.
- TSSC recommend that a threat abatement plan is not considered a feasible, effective or efficient way to abate the process.
- The Committee recognises that each State and Territory needs an appropriate response to this Key Threatening Process and further advises the Minister that the Commonwealth should encourage and support land management quality assurance and planning mechanisms at the appropriate scales to ensure the conservation of biodiversity, especially threatened species and ecological communities.