Back From the Brink: Refining the Threatened Species Recovery Process

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Sally Stephens and Stephanie Maxwell (Editors)
Australian Nature Conservation Agency, 1996
ISBN 0 949 32469 8

Implementation of Recovery Plans: Case Studies

Species recovery planning: some New Zealand case studies

Alan Saunders

Recovery plans have been used as a basis for managing a growing number of New Zealand's threatened species since 1989. The process of plan development and refinement has been important in facilitating better integrated and effective actions, while plans are being used to guide decision making and to increasingly promote wider understanding of conservation issues.

Some case studies are presented to illustrate not only specific benefits of the process as applied in New Zealand, but also some of the difficulties which have been encountered.

Issues for discussion include acknowledging different perspectives, marrying expectations and achievements, integrating research and management and single species recovery as a precursor to ecosystem-based restoration.

Community involvement in the species recovery process: insights into successful partnerships

Stephanie Williams

Involving the general public in the recovery of threatened species and ecological communities provides discrete short-term benefits for conservation programs as well as long-term gains in developing social responsibility for Australia's natural heritage. Guidelines for successful engagement of the community in the species recovery process, based on personal experience, are outlined. It is suggested that government agencies provide community endeavours with honesty, support, expertise and a sensitivity to the community's concerns for conservation. This will help to develop effective partnerships in species recovery initiatives.

Conservation of the endangered plant Grevillea caleyi(Proteaceae) in urban fire-prone habitats

Tony D. Auld and Judith A. Scott

The endangered plant Grevillea caleyi (Proteaceae) occurs in bushland that is adjacent to urban areas in the Sydney region. Within these areas, repeated and frequent fire threatens not only the endangered flora but life and property as well. These threats were well illustrated by the impact of the fires that occurred in January 1994 in Sydney. Management of urban fire-prone areas needs to identify those fire regimes likely to drive the endangered flora to extinction, as well as identifying if any populations of endangered flora occur in locations that pose a fire hazard for the protection of life and property. Research into the population dynamics of G. caleyi, as part of the development of a recovery plan for the species, indicates that a regime of frequent fire will lead to local population declines and extinction. Consequently, burning on a frequent basis for hazard reduction to protect property assets in the vicinity of G. caleyi is inappropriate for the conservation of this plant. Instead, a minimum fire-free interval of 8-12 years is recommended for the conservation of G. caleyi. Additionally, areas unburnt for 20-25 years should be monitored for adult plant survival and seedling recruitment. If all or most adults have died and there is no seedling recruitment then consideration should be given to burning such sites.

Rediscovery program for the endangered plant Haloragodendron lucasii

Marita Sydes, Mark Williams, Rob Blackall and Tony D. Auld

The Haloragodendron lucasii Rediscovery Team was established to try and find new locations of this plant in the wild. Prior to the initiation of the team only three sites were known with a total of four genetically distinct individuals. Each of these individuals is effectively male sterile. Finding more locations of this endangered plant will lead to the protection of more individuals, the possibility of discovering male fertile plants, as well as assisting the planning of conservation measures. The rediscovery team involved joint coordinating efforts by New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, The Australian National University and Ku-ring-gai Council. Community involvement was encouraged through the use of volunteer groups to search for H. lucasii in the field. Instruction to community groups involved an evening session, where the details of the recovery of H. lucasii and associated genetic research were discussed, through to field days where the public were shown what the plant looks like in the wild. The value of the involvement of the community groups for the rediscovery program is highlighted by the discovery of a new location for H. lucasii in late September 1995.

Threatened by discovery: research and management of the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis Jones, Hill and Allen

John Benson

The discovery of the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis in 1994 not only brought to light a new genus in the Araucariaceae and a conifer with at least a 91 million year old Gondwanan history, it also increased the threat to the two known wild populations of 40 adults and about 130 seedlings. Although growing in an inaccessible, warm temperate rainforest-lined gorge in a large national park, the impacts of visitation, and indeed researchers, could prove costly to the species. The main threats from people are trampling of seedlings, compaction of the ground an

d introduction of pathogens. Another threat is wildfire which has the potential to destroy much of the population in one catastrophic event. A range of in situ ecological research and ex situ botanical and horticultural research is being conducted on the species to aid its conservation. A species recovery plan has also been prepared. In the short term, a key research program aims to discover the most efficient way to propagate and cultivate the species to meet market demand for garden plants. This would remove the pressure of illegal seed collection from the fragile wild populations. Since the Wollemi Pine is a relic species, 'recovery' is not the question. Management should aim to maintain the current population and genetic variation. Translocation may arise as an issue in the long run, but there would need to be sound reasons for it to be undertaken.

Population changes from 1990 to 1995 and management of the endangered rainforest palm Ptychosperma bleeseri Burret (Arecaceae)

David T. Liddle, Stephen M. Taylor and Darren R. Larcombe

Ptychosperma bleeseri is an endangered endemic palm known from eight rainforests near Darwin in the Northern Territory. Management actions target the threat of habitat disturbance from fire, weeds and introduced animals (buffalo, cattle and pigs). Population data from 1990 and 1995 are presented for adult and juvenile palms, along with more detailed size class data for one population for the period from 1992 to 1995.

There has been a positive response in the survival and growth of juvenile P. bleeseri in two populations where introduced animals have been controlled. This response reflects a general increase in the cover of rainforest understorey species through a reduction in trampling and grazing by introduced animals.

A third population has been affected by wildfire twice in the last five years. It has lost more than 75% of the adult and more than 50% of juvenile plants. Fire effects are apparent in other components of the rainforest, including formation of canopy gaps and the invasion of weedy grasses. Trends in P. bleeseri populations may provide a useful index of the health of the rainforests and illustrate the impact of disturbance by fire and introduced animals. Ptychosperma bleeseri provides an example where the management of an endangered species confers a significant conservation benefit for the habitat through addressing commonly occurring disturbance factors which impinge, more generally, on rainforests throughout the Northern Territory.

Threatened plant species management in National Parks and Wildlife Act reserves in South Australia

Richard J.-P. Davies

A summary of research and monitoring of threatened plant species in National Parks and Wildlife Act reserves in South Australia is given. Study of a sample of parks indicates that the most frequent threats to populations are weed invasion, goats, bulldozing of firebreaks, rabbits and off road vehicles. Examples are given of populations threatened in parks by the various factors. The causes of inadequate or inappropriate management are 1. paucity of information, 2. inadequate use of existing information, 3. shortages of resources, and 4. the lack of targeted funding. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 'Threatened Plant Population Database' has been developed to facilitate information access. The use of volunteers to assist in threatened species management needs to be further encouraged and coordinated. The South Australian park system does not adequately reserve all threatened plant species, and a deliberate program of acquisition or negotiation is needed to protect viable populations of each species in parks or Heritage Agreement areas.

Defining priorities for achieving practical outcomes from the genetic studies of rare plants

Rod Peakall and Marita A. Sydes

With the aid of case studies, priorities for achieving practical conservation management outcomes from the genetic studies of rare plants are defined. In Acronychia littoralis, genetic analysis did not support the hypothesis that the species was a hybrid. Rather A. littoralis was found to be genetically very similar to another species, highlighting the need for further taxonomic research. It is now apparent from a genetic study of Haloragodendron lucasii, that clonality is extensive with fewer than 10 genetic individuals represented among thousands of stems. Thus the location of new populations is now the highest management priority and is currently being attempted by an integrated conservation initiative. Zieria prostrata has been the subject of an ex situ and translocation program. Genetic study has revealed that the initial ex situ collection may fail to adequately conserve genetic diversity and has raised the possibility of mislabelled plants. Consequently, a postponement of the translocation program has been recommended. With respect to achieving practical conservation outcomes in future studies, we rank the genetic study of clonal plants, plants targeted for translocation, and plants of uncertain taxonomic status a high priority, particularly when conducted within a hypothesis testing framework. In contrast, we rank other areas, including many of those proposed for genetic study in existing recovery plans, a lower priority. Clearly a more critical evaluation and justification of the need for conservation genetic research on a case by case basis is essential for more effective recovery plans.

An area-based multiple species approach to threatened flora conservation and management in the Merredin area of Western Australia

Andrew Brown, David Coates, Mike Fitzgerald and Claire Welbon

The vascular flora of Western Australia is extremely rich, particularly in the largely cleared and highly populated areas of the South-west land division. Here, about 8 000 of the 11 000 named species are found, including most of the State's 282 declared threatened flora and 1 700 poorly known priority 1-4 flora. Recovery plans and interim recovery plans are being written and implemented for 41 taxa of declared threatened flora, of which 38 are ranked as critically endangered. However, because of limited resources, individual recovery plans are unlikely to be developed for most flora in the lower endangered and vulnerable categories, and it is unlikely that surveys will be carried out for individual taxa of poorly known priority flora in anything but an opportunistic ad hoc manner. Alternative strategies are therefore required. An approach taken in Western Australia is to address the conservation and management of declared threatened and poorly known flora on a geographical area basis. This area-based approach has advantages over single taxon approaches as it has the potential to be more efficient in its use of resources, is more cost-effective and many taxa are covered by a single recovery team. It also provides broader options for management in relation to threatening processes. In this paper we outline the implementation and operation of the first area-based threatened flora recovery program in Western Australia. This case study covers the problems encountered, lessons learned and solutions developed in the first 20 months of managing many threatened flora over a large, extensively cleared area of the South-west agricultural region.

Native grasslands and threatened species in the Australian Capital Territory: steps towards protection and recovery

Sarah B. Sharp and David J. Shorthouse

Only about 1 000 hectares (5%) of the original natural temperate grasslands in the Australian Capital Territory remain in more or less natural condition. A Recovery Plan for the ACT Lowland Native Grasslands being implemented by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service guides a systematic approach to determine the distribution and ecological requirements of grassland communities and selected threatened species, and to develop monitoring and management strategies for remnant grassland sites.

Significant areas of native grassland and habitat for the threatened Striped Legless Lizard Delma impar will be protected as part of revised plans for the new Gungahlin Town Centre. The location and site plans for new offices are being modified to retain important grassland habitats, and management of peri-urban and rural grasslands is taking greater account of the need to protect conservation values.

The focus for grassland recovery in the Australian Capital Territory is shifting towards research into the long-term management requirements and rehabilitation of degraded sites, including weed control, recovery of forbs, conservation of threatened fauna and the role of grazing stock. Active community interest in native grasslands is encouraged and community involvement in conservation activities is anticipated.

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat recovery program: trials and triumphs

Alan Horsup

The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii, Australia's rarest mammal species, survives in one small population of approximately 65 individuals on Epping Forest National Park in central Queensland. The species has been the subject of a major recovery program since 1991 which aims to establish at least one other geographically disjunct population within 10 years. There are many difficulties with the recovery program. L. krefftii is almost totally nocturnal and very difficult to trap. Wombat numbers have not increased in the last decade and the population is dominated by old individuals and skewed towards males. There has been a major drought in central Queensland during most of the 1990s. Epping Forest National Park is a remote, unstaffed park, which complicates the recovery program. On the plus side, L. krefftii is a long-lived and sedentary species whose current known range is totally protected on the one national park. Other aims of the recovery program are to improve our ability to accurately census the wombats and to reduce the stress caused by trapping. Both have been achieved through the development of a DNA fingerprinting technique which identifies and sexes individuals from hairs collected remotely at burrow entrances. Other projects include population viability analysis, a study of the feeding ecology of L. krefftii and pasture improvement trials on Epping Forest National Park. A study of the reproductive biology of the closely related Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat L. latifrons is developing artificial reproductive techniques. The establishment of a captive population is now underway so that these reproductive techniques can be applied to L. krefftii. This process will also meet the major objective of the recovery plan.

Recovery of the Mala Lagorchestes hirsutus: a 30 year unfinished journey

Ken A. Johnson, David F. Gibson, Donald G. Langford and Jeffrey R. Cole

Discovery of Mala Lagorchestes hirsutus in a remote part of the Tanami Desert in the early 1960s set in place a recovery program that persists more than 30 years on. The program has survived through substantial organizational and staffing changes, major shifts in tenure and conservation status of the land, and has required a partnership of Aboriginal and western cultures with clearly different conceptual views of the landscape. That the project has survived these challenges is testament to the accommodation of varying needs and perspectives of the participating interest groups.

The project has played a major role in alerting Australian conservationists to the importance of fire management and feral predators in the recovery of critical weight range desert mammals. It has also been responsible for preventing the last mainland representation of the species from becoming extinct.

There has been an evolution in the practical and theoretical approach of the project resulting from the many successes and failures experienced during the three decades of its existence. These and other experiences are discussed in the hope that they will be instructive to others embarking on recovery programs.

Developing and implementing a recovery plan: the Mala recovery program

Geoff Lundie-Jenkins

The Mala was once one of the most abundant and widespread macropods of central Australia but has declined to the point where it is now one of the rarest and most limited in distribution. Efforts to recover and conserve the Mala have been considerable and predate the national Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 which provides a framework for preparing and implementing recovery plans for threatened species and communities. The initial recovery plan for the Mala was developed in 1992 and focussed on research and management actions related to the central Australian form of Mala. Implementation of this plan commenced in 1992 with Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia funding to support major actions related to management and translocation of mainland populations. The formation of a recovery team in 1993 was the initial stage in the more formal review of the program. This review examined both progress towards implementing the plan and any need to refine existing actions and define new ones. Several program highlights were identified including establishment of captive colonies, implementation of translocation programs, cooperative programs with Aboriginal landholders and an enhanced understanding of the ecology of the Mala. A revised plan was finalized during 1995 providing a more national focus to the recovery effort, the critically endangered status of the Mala ensures that this effort will be ongoing. The development, implementation and revision of the Mala Recovery Plan has provided a useful insight into the potential achievements and shortcomings of the recovery process for conservation of threatened species.