Biodiversity Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3

Biodiversity Issues and Challenges (continued)

Disturbance Regimes and Biodiversity (continued)

Clearing, Fragmentation, Degradation of Native Vegetation or Marine Habitat (continued)

Integrated bioregional planning [BD Indicator 12]
  • Biogeographical regions
  • Regional planning directly concerned with biodiversity
  • Other regional initiatives
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    Bioregional planning has been a relatively recent policy and planning response to the myriad of land and water management issues that Australia faces. What precisely constitutes 'integrated bioregional planning ' is unclear and probably will remain so, partly because of the varying contexts where the concept is implemented in different jurisdictions. However, the core principle is that biodiversity occurs and functions across spatial scales that rarely match traditional political, administrative and other boundaries and functions, and that this feature needs to be explicitly catered for in policy, planning and management. The features of biodiversity are reflected in the NSCABD which includes the objective to 'manage biodiversity on a regional basis, using natural boundaries to facilitate the integration of conservation and production-oriented management techniques'. This objective has been assessed as 'partially achieved' (ANZECC 2001). The incorporation of biodiversity into an environmental management system (EMS) at both the bioregional and farm scale is starting to receive greater attention (Anderson et al. 2001).

    Biogeographical regions

    A key to making progress with bioregional planning is to have an agreed system of regionalisation, which has been achieved in recent years. Identification of biogeographical regions is well advanced across Australia through IBRA (Thackway & Cresswell 1995) and IMCRA (Thackway & Cresswell 1996) processes. IBRA was developed in the mid-1990s to support the NRSP, and has become well established as a land-planning framework. IMCRA, which addresses marine and coastal areas, was published in June 1998.

    Several recent initiatives advance capacities for bioregional planning and these fall into two groups: those directly concerned with biodiversity, and a much larger array of other 'regional' arrangements which may or may not integrate biodiversity issues.

    Regional planning directly concerned with biodiversity

    Significant examples of this category, indicating trends in planning approaches, are outlined under the Commonwealth and various states as follows.

    Commonwealth:

    • The EPBC Act contains provision for the Commonwealth Minister to prepare bioregional plans for any Commonwealth area, and a requirement for the Minister to take account of such a plan in decision making.
    • The cooperative management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by the Queensland and Commonwealth governments has been achieved since 1975 and stands as the most long-standing and most internationally recognised integrated marine conservation approach.

    Western Australia:

    • The State government, through the NRSP has continued a series of regional biological surveys.
    • In late 2000, a large-scale integrated regional research and development and planning program was established, covering the Ord River catchment and Bonaparte Gulf in northern Western Australia. The Ord Bonaparte Program (OBP) will combine analysis of marine, coastal and terrestrial components to integrate biophysical data-gathering and analysis with social, economic and institutional research and development. The aim is to develop regional resource management options to inform future decision-making.
    The Ord River diversion dam in north-west Australia

    The Ord River diversion dam in north-west Australia.
    The dam was completed and commercial-scale irrigation commenced in 1963. In 1972, the main dam was opened providing a water storage capacity in Lake Argyle of 10.76 billion cubic metres, several times the capacity of Sydney Harbour.

    Source: C. Read

    Queensland: A basis for future planning and management has been established with the publication of Conservation Status of Queensland's Bioregional Ecosystems (Sattler & Williams 1999).

    South Australia: A biodiversity plan for the south-east region has been prepared, and draft plans are under development for other regions.

    Victoria: Victoria's Biodiversity, the state strategy, uses bioregions to assess and plan for nature conservation and threatened species and ecosystems, and to integrate these issues in land and water planning. Regional biodiversity strategies are being prepared and the first comprehensive draft strategy, for the Goldfields Bioregion, was released for discussion in August 2000 (Ahern et al. 2001). Victoria seems likely to be the first Australian jurisdiction to substantively connect bioregional and catchment planning and management, and this attempted coordination represents an important opportunity to monitor success and challenges.

    New South Wales:

    • Regional vegetation management committees have been established and RVMPs are under development for a range of areas across the state (as required under the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997).
    • The NSW Biodiversity Strategy of 1999 lists bioregional assessment and planning as a priority. Several bioregional assessments are underway, such as the Darling Riverine Plains Project. This Project highlights the important role of the community in making decisions that will assist in the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.
    • Conservation assessments for a series of IBRA regions in New South Wales, for example the NSW Riverina and the Cobar Peneplain, have also been funded under the NRSP to help determine priorities for protection.

    Northern Territory: Bioregional conservation planning has been undertaken in the Finke, Daly Basin and Sturt Plateau regions.

    Australian Capital Territory: Regional SoE reporting, including biodiversity, is being developed by the Australian Capital Territory and 17 regional local government bodies.

    Multijurisdictional planning:

    • Coordinated management of protected areas and biodiversity in the Australian Alps is enabled by a Memorandum of Understanding between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victorian and Australian Capital Territory governments. This is effected mostly through interaction at the regional and district level by operational staff, and is regarded as a leading international example of effective conservation planning and management across jurisdictions.
    • Increasing integrative regional planning endeavours in the coastal zone in several jurisdictions. Examples are the regional coastal management plans specified under the Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995 (Qld), and the preparation of six coastal management strategies in Tasmania. Such integration of development and conservation was a major focus of recommendations arising from the Resources Assessment Commission's Coastal Zone inquiry.
    Other regional initiatives

    This category encompasses a large range of regional initiatives that have arisen in recent years. These encompass social, environmental and economic issues and vary greatly in their structure, style of operation, issue and sectoral coverage, and stage of progress. A hallmark of new regional initiatives is their inclusion of, or more often initiation by, community groups - unlike most of the more biodiversity specific initiatives above. A comprehensive review of emerging regional arrangements, including those examples mentioned here, was provided by Dore and Woodhill (1999).

    Although the primary focus of many of these arrangements is regional economic development or land and water management, many include biodiversity. Examples include the Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy (CYPLUS), the Blackwood Catchment Initiative and the Lake Eyre Basin Management Group. The lack of government support for the associated Cape York Heads of Agreement, that was negotiated between pastoral, mining, Indigenous and conservation interests, diminished what many saw as a crucial precedent in negotiated regional strategic planning that had incorporated production, cultural and biodiversity issues.

    The most long-standing and influential regional assessment and planning process that takes biodiversity into account was implemented by Victoria's LCC. The LCC provided the informational and consultative underpinning for Victoria's reserve estate. The LCC was reconstituted in a different form under the Environment Conservation Council Act 1997.

    The RFA process involved assessment and conservation area planning for biodiversity and production values in publicly owned native forests at regional (but not bioregional) scale. The RFA process involved the development of conservation criteria for biodiversity values. Unfortunately, the development and application of the criteria for reservation targets have not been consistent with the stated objectives of the RFAs and therefore have not resulted in the protection of forests with high biological values or the development of a CAR reserve system at the regional level.

    Most land and water planning exercises have biodiversity implications, whether explicit or implicit, and increasingly these are developed at regional scales (including catchments). For example, the Macquarie Marshes Land and Water Management Plan (Brock 1997) covers environmental water flows and vegetation and fauna conservation. Provision of environment flows, which have to be considered under the COAG water reforms, will influence both instream and riparian biodiversity (Fisher 2000).