Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council
Department of Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 642 254775 0
4. Best Practice Native Vegetation Management and Monitoring Mechanisms (continued)
Management of native vegetation occurs through the direct actions of land managers and users, who in turn are influenced, supported and constrained by all the other elements of this Framework. At the broadest level, the values that society ascribes to native vegetation, and the resources it is prepared to invest in native vegetation management, are influenced by the depth and breadth of understanding within the community about native vegetation management issues.
Accordingly, no framework for the management of native vegetation could be considered to be comprehensive without provision for educating the wider community about the value and role of native vegetation, the key issues in native vegetation management, and the best practice arrangements being developed and implemented to improve native vegetation management.
Australia is highly urbanised. Major metropolitan centres tend to be among the most fertile regions, with high species richness and high degrees of threat to the native vegetation that remains in urban and peri-urban areas. Most natural resource management agencies, particularly those focused on private lands, have traditionally concentrated extension efforts in rural areas. These facts combine to suggest a need to educate urban and rural communities about native vegetation issues, and also to engage them in activities which enhance their understanding of and involvement in the conservation and enhancement of native vegetation in their own backyards and neighbourhoods.
Education and engagement programs are likely to be most effective if they involve a range of communication and education activity, from structured and institutionalised components such as school curricula, to interactive events such as Arbor Day and community planting, weeding or clean up activities. Core messages would include the idea that vegetation management is not just a rural issue; that native vegetation management is fundamental to long-term outcomes for biodiversity, land and water degradation and greenhouse; and that the impacts of poor vegetation management affect the entire community. Such messages would point to what the individual, family or community group can do to make a difference to native vegetation management, whether in their own backyards and neighbourhoods, or more generally.
The ways through which such community education is delivered are also likely to be diverse. Mass media has an important role in raising awareness, but is less effective in enhancing detailed knowledge or skills. More interactive and engaging methods are required to move beyond background awareness to genuine learning and commitment. Engagement is most likely to occur through activities which are meaningful to people because they align with their values and aspirations, and/or because they appeal to enlightened self interest. Activities which are local in focus, which improve amenity, and which align with hobbies or leisure activities are most likely to attract involvement and support. Existing community networks such as 'Friends of' groups, bird observers, field naturalists, garden clubs and service clubs can form the basis of a comprehensive community engagement strategy.
Sustainable native vegetation management is an issue for which the traditional separation between research and extension activities is not very useful. As well as the information derived from traditional scientific methods and practitioners, observant and inquisitive farmers or field naturalists contribute much to existing knowledge. The thrust of the best practice attributes is thus on the integration of research and practice.
The primary objectives of native vegetation research and extension are to generate and disseminate information, and to provide land managers with awareness, knowledge, skills and access to resources so they can:
- maintain and enhance existing native vegetation through the adoption of successful management practices and regional strategies;
- integrate protection of existing native vegetation with strategic revegetation to enhance biodiversity conservation;
- limit further clearing of native vegetation; and
- develop ecologically sustainable uses of native vegetation for commercial purposes, and become aware of commercial uses that are not ecologically sustainable.
Vegetation management, particularly native vegetation management on private or leasehold lands, has not been a traditional focus of mainstream extension services in Australia. Nor has it, until recently, been the focus of much research and development activity. Consequently, the knowledge base for native vegetation management on private lands is shallow, incomplete, fragmented and highly dispersed across a wide range of individuals and institutions within and outside government and academia. There is a great deal of practical experience, local knowledge and insight among those involved in native vegetation management and revegetation activities, but not much of this is formalised or widely accessible.
Further, on land managed for agriculture, pastoralism, mining or other commercial activities, conservation of all those values intrinsic to native vegetation is rarely the primary objective of the land manager.
For these reasons, research and extension services for native vegetation management on private and leasehold lands ideally should differ from the 'transfer of technology' extension systems prevalent in agriculture.
Many native vegetation management issues, including catchment hydrology, wildlife habitat management and water quality, operate at scales greater than the individual paddock or property. Coupled with the fact that much of the necessary practical knowledge resides in leading landholders, this means that group approaches based on adult learning principles are likely to form an extremely important element of successful extension programs. Such programs would be designed around providing opportunities for farmers to learn from each other, to visit sites regarded as demonstrating best practice, and to use leading farmers as much as possible as extension agents or facilitators. The Landcare movement provides an excellent platform for such decentralised, community-based programs.
Effective extension on native vegetation management issues would be integrated with research activities, with researchers working alongside practitioners and vice-versa. As so much of the necessary research needs to be applied at a farm and landscape scale, landholder ownership of research outputs is critical. It is also necessary from the perspective of informing and refining extension messages on issues such as farm design, habitat management, salinity abatement, riparian restoration, vegetation establishment techniques and species/provenance selection.
Effective research and extension programs are likely to have a clear view of their contribution towards having the right vegetation in the right places under the right form of management for the right reasons, and they are likely to engage the relevant players in negotiating what 'right' means in a given context.
Sustainable native vegetation management on a broad scale, particularly outside the reserve system, often requires land managers and users to have, or have access to, more than just a sound, locally relevant information base. Both 'soft' and 'hard' infrastructure is required to underpin the efforts of individual landholders, communities, industries and governments to deliver sustainable native vegetation management.
The sort of hard infrastructure required includes: regional facilities and services to support ecological inventory, mapping and monitoring activities; local and regional seedbanks and nurseries stocking the full range of locally indigenous flora, by provenance; and equipment such as seed harvesters, direct seeding machines, mechanical planters, sprayers, pruners and weeders. The infrastructure needs to be adapted to local/regional needs and conditions.
Soft infrastructure encompasses the knowledge base, training capacities and people needed to apply and refine best practice techniques at the appropriate scale. Various combinations of specialist consultants and contractors, community groups and grower cooperatives, state and local government and regional organisations, eg catchment bodies, can assist land users in delivering best practice native vegetation management.
Incentives are a reward or payment for the provision of services that conserve native vegetation. Incentives may be financial or non-financial, such as cash grants or provision of training for whole-farm planning.
The rationale for the use of incentives comes from the fact that there are both private and public benefits associated with the management of native vegetation. Benefits of vegetation management are often located off-site/farm such as in the case of biodiversity and salinity management, whilst the costs are located on-site/farm. The costs are met by the landholder, but the benefits are enjoyed by the broader community. The result is that in the absence of government intervention native vegetation conservation will tend to be under-provided in the market place.
Best practice incentives can be designed in different ways to meet different objectives. It is useful to distinguish between the use to which incentives are directed, the size/magnitude of the incentive as determined through cost-sharing arrangements, and the definition and design of different types of incentive mechanisms. Each of these issues is discussed below.
Uses of Incentives
Incentives can be used for different policy purposes. In theory a distinction can be drawn between payment for changing property right entitlements, such as through compliance with new legislation, or voluntary entry into a conservation covenant.
Incentive programs can be envisaged that contribute to achieving three different kinds of outcomes:
Transition Incentives: These are one-off payments to assist landholders to meet new requirements imposed through legislative and land use planning processes. Policy or legislative change is accompanied by incentives that assist landholders in meeting new vegetation management obligations. The emphasis is on equity so as to retain landholder support and motivation for the transition to a new management standard.
- In South Australia incentive payments for protecting vegetation under Heritage Agreements were available following refusal of a clearance application under the native vegetation clearing legislation between 1985 and 1991.
- The NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation recently introduced Property Agreements that assist landholders in managing native vegetation following the introduction of broadscale clearing controls in NSW.
Features of transition incentives would include:
- links to legislative and policy changes that secure a permanent change in landholder entitlements/property rights regarding actual or prospective land use and conservation;
- one-off payments that secure compliance with legislative change; and
- a requirement to take up the incentive within a certain time.
Incentives for Voluntary Management: Incentives provided to landholders to voluntarily undertake conservation activities aim to secure the participation of those that already have some commitment to conservation management. Most Landcare/Bushcare grants fall within this category. Emphasis is on supporting voluntary participation and facilitating community uptake of sustainable native vegetation management practices.
- Landcare and Bushcare grants;
- Greening Australia fencing assistance;
- Victorian Trust for Nature covenants;
- Western Australian Remnant Vegetation Protection Scheme.
Features of incentives for voluntary management would include:
- inducement to voluntary participation by landholders;
- catering for different levels of landholder commitment to achieve conservation outcomes ranging from in-perpetuity conservation covenants, eg Trust for Nature (Vic), to non-binding programs, eg Land for Wildlife;
- making incentives available to community groups. eg Landcare, and to individuals, eg Greening Australia fencing assistance.
Incentives for the Management of Unique Sites: Incentives are provided to secure conservation and management of sites that contain individual species or ecological communities that are of high conservation value. Sites are targeted through scientific assessment and meet the criteria for achieving specified conservation objectives, for example gaps in the public reserve system. Rationale for larger incentives is provided through the provision of the public conservation service of protecting sites of national or State significance.
- Program to protect Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) values on private land in the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement;
- Grassy White Box Woodlands Program of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Community Solutions.
Features of incentives for the management of unique sites would include:
- scientific selection of sites;
- landholder participation that is voluntary but binding, through an in-perpetuity covenant, once agreement is reached; and
- an up-front consideration for entering the covenant agreement and access to ongoing payments for management.
Cost-sharing: size/magnitude of incentives
The size or magnitude of the incentive provided to landholders is of critical importance to how successful the vegetation management program will be, particularly if landholder participation is voluntary. Different approaches to cost-sharing can be used.
Catalytic Incentives: The size of incentive is based on a judgement of the payment required to secure landholder participation. This approach is based on capturing the 'private rents' or goodwill that landholders have to undertake on-ground works in the public interest. Those landholders willing to take action at the lowest price participate. Such an approach is aimed at maximising return from public investment, with equity considerations playing a secondary role. Payments that cover the material costs of on-ground works, eg funding for fencing materials, have been shown to generate significant uptake.
- Bushcare/Landcare grants
- Fencing assistance programs
Formal Cost-sharing Frameworks: Costs of vegetation management are distributed on the basis of distinguishing between the public and private benefits associated with on-ground works. Non-market values are quantified and included within an applied cost-benefit framework. The costs are distributed on the basis of clearly defined allocation principles, eg beneficiary pays or polluter pays. Cost-sharing frameworks for native vegetation management tend to yield incentive payments that are higher than those generally available within Australia. They do, however, provide the most equitable way of calculating the size of incentive payments.
- Coorong Regional Action Plan (SA)
Compensation: Payments may be based on the value of opportunities foregone by managing land for the conservation of native vegetation. Compensation will generally require the highest incentive payments. Compensation arrangements are generally not favoured because of the potential to set a legal or political precedent. Compensation payments are also backward looking in that they do not address the need for ongoing management. However, compensation payments may be justified in situations where an individual landholder is involuntarily forced to manage vegetation at a standard higher than that required of other landholders.
Allocation of property rights: An alternative approach to setting an incentive level outside the market is to allocate tradeable property rights and let the market reveal the value of the service created. Tradeable property rights are not currently used for vegetation management in Australia, although as discussed below there is potential in several areas.
- Tradeable water rights (Murray Darling Basin)
- Individual transferable quotas for fisheries (South East Trawl Fishery)
It is difficult to develop generalised best practice attributes for determining the size of incentive payments. It is clear that the larger the size of the incentive the greater the level of up-take and participation will be. This statement reveals the paradox facing policy makers. If the most equitable method, formal cost-sharing, was adopted nationally it is estimated that public funding for vegetation management would have to rise by at least an order of magnitude. Smaller catalytic incentives have therefore tended to be used to reinforce existing landholder motivation.
Features of cost-sharing and the size or magnitude of incentives include the following.
- Smaller, catalytic incentives will be most appropriately used to encourage voluntary participation incentive programs.
- Formal cost-sharing frameworks may be most effective in regions where there are complex natural resource management issues with strong off-site/external impacts that require coordinated regional responses by a large number of landholders, eg in the management of salinity. Formal cost-sharing frameworks should always be linked to formal management agreements/covenants that secure public investment. Stewardship payments could cover the cost of on-going management beyond a landholder's duty of care where the public benefit is high.
- Compensation payments should only be associated with involuntary acquisition of property rights.
- Greater consideration should be given to the use of tradeable rights in creating markets for native vegetation.
There are a wide range of potential mechanisms for providing incentives. A range of these are described below.
4.5.1 Grant Programs/Incentives
These incentives are based on providing funding to landholders through an application process. Grants can be targeted at multiple scales: regional, local, community group and individual landholder. For smaller grants, the administrative approvals process should be simplified and involve direct on-site assessment and management advice.
The strength of grant programs lies in their flexibility. They are best suited to situations where there is a need for strong interaction and negotiation between the funding organisation and the grant recipient.
- Bushcare/Landcare grants
- Greening Australia fencing grants
As discussed above an alternative approach to incentives is to create markets for the conservation and management of native vegetation. The approach is to create a value for a scarce environmental asset by creating tradeable property rights over its use. For example, in the case of water management, quotas are allocated to individual water users who may trade them. In this way environmental flows are secured through regulation, at the level of the total allowable quota, and the market is used to determine the price and allocation of any remaining rights.
In the context of vegetation management, two market-based initiatives can be envisaged in a best practice framework in the foreseeable future. The first relates to markets created through greenhouse gas emission trading. The conservation of existing vegetation, and revegetation, may have a market value as a carbon sink in off-setting emissions. Another potential application could be in salinity management, where recharge must be managed at a catchment scale. In this case rights to recharge could be created and landholders who re-establish native vegetation could sell their rights to others wishing to undertake cropping or grazing activities. To facilitate structural adjustment, recharge rights could be phased in over a number of years, with the value of rights dependent on their location within the catchment.
Another approach would be to auction rights to clear or harvest products from native vegetation. Careful consideration would need to be given to the variability in conservation value of different sites. Nevertheless, harvesting rights for apiculture, seeds and timber may raise the financial value of native vegetation. The establishment of a system which incorporated the auctioning of clearing rights for native vegetation would require the careful documentation of areas of conservation significance and condition and the acceptance that the biodiversity value of cleared areas cannot be replaced with revegetation. The system could be used to manage a transition to 'no net loss of native vegetation' by reducing the area available for clearing over a specified period.
- Auctioned native forest clearance and/or harvesting rights
- Greenhouse gas emissions/sinks trading
- Salinity/recharge trading
A revolving fund for biodiversity conservation involves the establishment of capital funds for the purchase of land with conservation significance. When such land is purchased, a covenant is placed on its title to ensure future maintenance of the conservation values identified. The land is then sold to sympathetic purchasers.
Revolving funds have the potential to be a highly effective incentive, particularly if one accepts that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get resistant landholders to change their management practices. Voluntary agreements are unlikely to be of assistance in securing sustainable management of vegetation on land owned by an individual who does not value vegetation highly, is suspicious of government involvement or is not attracted to binding agreements for areas of high conservation value. As the property right is changed, via the revolving fund and covenant, it is more likely that a landholder committed to vegetation management will purchase the land.
These incentives provide a deduction or rebate on income, capital or land taxes and/or local government rates. The strengths of taxation incentives are their accessibility through existing administrative processes and their capacity to reinforce the motivations of landholders to privately invest in public goods. Unlike a grants program that must be applied for, they are an entitlement that can be claimed. Tax incentives will be strengthened when clear criteria, which can be efficiently administered and enforced, are established.
Tax incentives are most effectively targeted at management actions that governments are seeking to promote to a wide range of landholders and that are equally applicable across an entire jurisdiction, eg revegetation.
- The 34 cents in the dollar rebate that is available to farmers for landcare works (s387-55 Income Tax Assessment Act 1997)
- Local government rate rebates, eg Brisbane City Council, Melton Shire Council, Cooloola Shire Council
Offsets are mechanisms through which clearing one area is made subject to the landholder revegetating another area or fencing part of the area proposed for clearing. A performance or assurance bond may be used to ensure that the conditions associated with clearing consent are met. Precedents for both offsets and performance bonds exist within the mining industry.
Once again, application to native vegetation would have to take account of the different values of different areas of native vegetation.
- Minesite rehabilitation bonds (NSW, Queensland, WA)
Threatened species/ecological communities legislation is broadly enacted to ensure that no native species or ecosystem becomes extinct and that preferably such assets survive and flourish in the wild. This objective is typically pursued through identification of the assets at risk and coordination of the activities required to ameliorate the associated threats.
Threatened species and communities are usually identified by listing under State or Commonwealth legislation. The listing process is based on sets of criteria that are, as far as possible, objective and quantitative. Listing is made on biological grounds and is usually subject to independent scientific advice.
Listing triggers requirements for the preparation of recovery plans. These plans provide the framework for management and conservation and for decision making on planning and development issues that could affect the listed taxon.
Strategic planning provisions are often included to determine the most effective approaches and to identify priority groups of species and threats.
Threatened species legislation may also contain provisions for interim or emergency protection where an activity poses an immediate threat to a listed item.
Land clearing regulations are formal mechanisms of government regulating the clearing of land on a range of land tenures. They can either be part of a special purpose Act of Parliament or be a regulation or planning instrument under other legislation such as environmental planning legislation. Regulations would contain the following elements:
- a statutory requirement to seek approval to clear by a government agency or local authority;
- definitions of the type of land, vegetation or clearing that requires approval and identification of exemptions;
- a process and criteria for assessing applications to clear. This process would also include an assessment of the conservation, land degradation, eg salinity, social, and economic impacts and benefits of clearing proposals;
- a set of objectives which would include maintenance of biodiversity at regional scales;
- provisions for other vegetation management mechanisms such as regional planning, management agreements and provision of incentives;
- provisions for offences and sanctions for activities in breach of the regulations;
- links to requirements of other legislation;
- mechanisms for public participation, appeals, monitoring and compliance.
Land clearing regulation is generally aimed at preventing the inappropriate clearing of native vegetation. Governments have committed themselves to outcomes including a reversal in the long-term decline in the extent and quality of Australia's native vegetation cover and a reduction in the rate of vegetation clearance. The success of land clearing regulation should be measured by how well it contributes to achieving broader native vegetation outcomes.
Land clearing regulation is often the focus of attention with regard to vegetation management and legislation. Regulation is generally perceived by landholders as a restriction on private property rights of individuals and a hindrance to economic activity. It can be counterproductive to building partnerships for sustainable vegetation management with these same landholders.
Without appropriate regulation there is no ability to prevent unsustainable land clearing and consequent negative externalities. Land clearing regulation should provide all landholders with a clear indication of what the community considers as appropriate practice. Best practice regulation should support and encourage sustainable management.
Codes of practice are tools which can be used to assist with the management of vegetation. The advantage of codes of practice is that they can be used in any number of ways. As long as there are incentives to encourage compliance with the code, they can be an effective tool for self regulation.
Codes of practice generally are documents prepared by industry groups to highlight appropriate environmental practices for their particular industry. Codes usually go beyond what is 'current practice', rather they strive for 'best practice'.
There are a number of roles that codes can play. Firstly, depending upon the statutory framework, codes may be used by individuals who have been prosecuted as a defence. If an individual is able to show that they complied with a code of practice, they may be able to prove that they have taken all reasonable measures. In other words, they were duly diligent.
Codes can also be used to address community concerns. Codes of practice can be a way for an industry group as well as its individual members to show the community that they are aware of the impact of their activities on the environment and have provided a process for dealing with those impacts.
Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
An EMS is a systems approach to managing the impact of a business on the environment. An effective EMS is a tool that allows for the management, measurement and review of work procedures with the goal of improved environmental management. In natural resource management, it is an overall approach that allows for management, measurement and improvement of the environmental aspects of management operations. It provides a framework for accountability and continual improvement.
There are already over 200 quality assurance schemes existing in Australian agriculture. They may or may not qualify as an EMS, depending on whether they address environmental aspects of industry or farm operation. Quality assurance can either be a self regulation process or imposed on providers by people further up the supply chain. For example the Property Management Planning program is a process for land managers to set economic, environmental and social goals for their property in a holistic manner and establishes a work plan for the landholder to implement and monitor.
Different models of EMS
International Standards Organisation (ISO) Standards - International models
The ISO standard most relevant to EMS is the ISO 14000 series. ISO 14001 sets out the requirements for development of an EMS for certification purposes. It focuses on elements which can be objectively audited. The ISO 14001 is currently being reviewed to consider the inclusion of natural resource monitoring. This will significantly improve EMS but the changes are not likely to occur before 2001.
Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)
This scheme was begun in June 1993 by the Council of European Communities. The intent of this scheme is to "restore market forces in the environmental field by promoting competition on environmental grounds". Participants must release an externally audited public statement on environmental performance, and this has meant that some industries have not wanted to be involved in the scheme.
Best Practice elements of EMS
The critical components of a standard that need to be assessed are that it:
- is internationally recognised;
- is practical and economically beneficial to individuals and the industry;
- is market driven with linkages from the resource base to the consumer;
- can be phased in over time;
- allows businesses to set their own performance targets; and
- includes natural resource monitoring.
Monitoring can be defined as sampling and analysis designed to ascertain the extent of compliance with a predetermined standard or the degree of deviation from an expected norm. Monitoring is not only required to assess on-ground change, it should also be used to gauge the effectiveness of policy or legislation and the performance of guidelines and protocols.
The efficacy of native vegetation monitoring programs depends on data sampling that is sensitive to the qualitative and quantitative attributes of the changes they are intending to detect. These sensitivities need to consider the statistical power of the design (ie. the confidence with which a particular effect can be detected, if it exists) and application of the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle, as defined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, states that lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing a measure to prevent degradation of the environment where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage.
The development of a monitoring program should be an iterative process that establishes feedback between management planning and its consequences. Monitoring change in cover and condition is an essential component of improving and adapting best practice in native vegetation management.
The effective management of native vegetation is dependent on at least a rudimentary understanding of the key processes that underpin function and response to the impacts of perturbations, such as disturbance, eg the impacts of grazing, salinity or clearing. Hence any monitoring program must include (or be preceded by) a data collection and collation phase to establish relevant baselines against which assessment of change can be taken. Best practice in monitoring requires that the context and objectives of the study be clearly identified, and the scale of sampling is sufficient to detect change. To adequately assess change in native vegetation cover and condition, it may be necessary to take a whole-of-landscape approach that considers both the biological and functional values of native vegetation.
One of the keys to best practice native vegetation management is a strong link between management planning and policy making, and monitoring and empirical validation. Generally, monitoring and evaluation take a back seat, and are the first processes to suffer from budgetary constraints and funding cuts. In particular, long-term monitoring studies typically receive limited funding and are consequently treated as an afterthought to program or policy implementation. Without monitoring and evaluation, the quality of planning decisions cannot be assessed, and management cannot be adaptive to experience and improved knowledge.
One of the key outcomes in developing a national framework for best practice management of native vegetation is fully integrating robust and adequately funded monitoring programs into all aspects of policy and planning.
Agreed formats for the monitoring of the nation's vegetation resources are imperative if progress towards agreed outcomes is to be transparently, and credibly, measured. It is vital that issues of both vegetation extent and condition are monitored. This will also have great relevance for the development of a National Carbon Accounting System.