Review of the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4734 3

Conclusions

This document has focused on reviewing the objectives of the thematic areas of the Strategy. The achievement of these objectives will, for the most part, be an ongoing task. An assessment of the achievement of these objectives is summarised at Appendix A.

Since the adoption of the Strategy in 1996, a range of activities and processes have been put in place to address the broad goal to protect biological diversity and maintain ecological processes and systems.

Significant progress has been made towards addressing some of the Strategy's objectives, for example, the establishment of a nationwide system of protected areas on public land and waters. However, other issues such as salinity have emerged as being important to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The implementation of the Strategy is also informed by the priority actions. The priority actions are a synthesis of the objectives and actions of the Strategy and concentrate on those issues that require the most urgent attention. They have been developed so that the Strategy can be periodically reviewed and are framed as specific outcomes along with timeframes from which substantive results can be measured. An assessment of the achievement of the priority actions is at Appendix B. The conclusions provided here are derived from the review of the Strategy's objectives and the assessment of the priority actions.

This review has identified a number of areas that pose key threats to Australia's biodiversity and must be addressed if the Strategy's objective is to be achieved. The review has also identified areas that require attention if future threats to biodiversity are to be avoided.

Managing key threatening processes to biodiversity

Australia has made significant inroads into managing threatening processes since the Strategy was adopted in 1996. However, because of the magnitude of the overall environmental problems and the complex nature of ecosystems, threatening processes continue to impact significantly on biodiversity.

The three major existing and emerging threats to biodiversity are native vegetation clearance, invasive species and salinity.

Vegetation clearance

While there has been a great deal of activity in addressing native vegetation clearance, the threat to biodiversity conservation remains significant. As a goal, the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments are committed to reversing the long-term decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation by June 2001. In order to realise this goal to its full extent, this commitment needs to continue in all jurisdictions in Australia. Such a continued commitment has been adopted through the ANZECC National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation.

The framework will provide a mechanism through which native vegetation management commitments agreed by all Australian Governments can be progressed in a consistent and coherent manner. In addition to the existing commitment, specific measures will have to be taken to implement the framework.

Invasive species

There has been considerable activity aimed at reducing the threat posed by invasive species in all jurisdictions. Despite this, invasive species continue to pose a major threat to biodiversity. The National Weeds Program and the National Feral Animal Control Program provide a strategic approach to invasive species. The EPBC Act includes provision for protecting Australia's environment from invasive species.

Salinity

While governments have responded with a range of programs and actions, the magnitude of the salinity problem is such that the situation is likely to deteriorate despite current efforts.

Salinity is a complex issue involving a range of stakeholders, requiring integrated frameworks and responses. It is a major cause of biodiversity loss in many parts of Australia. The scale and nature of the impact of salinity on biodiversity is beginning to be understood, for example, recent biological survey work has shown that some 450 endemic vascular flora species are under threat of extinction in Western Australia from salinity and hydrological changes. However, more work is needed in assessing the scale of the problem. The salinity audit conducted by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission partly addressed this. Consistent with the existing biodiversity strategy, there is a need to develop actions and activities to address salinity such as monitoring, research and coordinated programs.

Avoiding future threats

Key areas identified by the review are identification of the components of biological diversity, ethnobiological knowledge, integration and bioregional planning, awareness raising and improving scientific knowledge.

Identification

Although progress has been made in identifying important biological components and threatening processes in Australia, there is still much to do. For example, the National Vegetation Information System has integrated large quantities of data to provide a snapshot of how Australia is managing its natural resources. However, there is still a long way to go and there is a need for continuing investment in this area. Considerable work still needs to be done on the taxonomic classification of undescribed specimens currently contained in collections, as well as ongoing collection.

Ethnobiological knowledge

There has been an advance in the past few years in the inclusion of indigenous knowledge and cooperation with indigenous people in land and marine resource management and cultural heritage activities, especially on sites with significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Overall, however, implementation of cooperative ethnobiological programs is limited and is not well coordinated Australia-wide. Integration and Bioregional Planning Significant investment has been made in both bioregional planning and integrated projects through the Natural Heritage Trust. Bioregional planning and integrated approaches to biodiversity conservation are being adopted at a policy level in many parts of Australia. However, ongoing effort is required to fully implement these policies. The focus of the Trust on regional and catchment-based approaches to delivering biodiversity objectives has been positive but greater commitment is needed by all spheres of government to implement regional planning processes.

Awareness raising

Biodiversity is conserved (or otherwise) through the cumulative impact of countless everyday decisions and actions taken by the community. However, the concept of biodiversity is not well understood by the community. Communication strategies have been implemented in a number of jurisdictions to address this, but further work is needed.

Improving scientific knowledge

Despite enormous efforts in improving knowledge of biodiversity in recent times, there is a continuing need for a carefully coordinated national taxonomic effort to address this impediment to biodiversity conservation and to provide the information to support decision making under programs such as the Trust.