National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation

Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council
Department of Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 642 254775 0

Appendix B: Best Practice Attributes of Native Vegetation Management and Monitoring Mechanisms

1. Roles and Responsibilities of Governments

Best Practice

  • Clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of organisations with an interest in natural resource management are required. Roles and responsibilities of levels of government, agencies, and the community need to be clearly defined and understood. This needs to include recognition of the role/s of regional organisations, eg catchment management authorities, local government, industry and land managers and users.
  • A clear distinction should be drawn between the statutory processes and decisions of governments, the involvement of experts and stakeholder groups in providing input and advice to these processes and the delivery of services.
  • Outcome-based legislative frameworks should be maintained to ensure minimum standards are achieved.
  • Administrative or legislative processes should be in place to ensure that social, economic and environmental values are taken into account in decision-making processes.
  • Standards established in legislation should be outcome-based rather than input or process-driven, providing flexibility in how outcomes are achieved. The full range of policy options will be available to achieve outcomes.
  • Decision-making should be informed by principles defined at higher levels of government/legislation.
  • The statutory process should recognise the concept of subsidiarity, that is, the delegation of management responsibilities to the lowest practicable level, with the strictest requirements imposed at any level being the one which must be complied with.
  • Regional processes that meet minimum standards should be accredited by State governments as meeting statutory requirements.
  • Partnerships for delivering sustainable natural resource management programs should be flexible, encouraging innovation and a wide range of government and non-government sector involvement.
  • Funding, information and expertise required to meet minimum standards at a regional level should be secured.
  • Performance indicators and accountability measures should be in place and include provision for regular review of outcomes.

1.1 Local Government Role

Best Practice

The following points outline some of the principles and attributes which are relevant to the framework within which local government may operate when managing vegetation.

  • The role and responsibility of local government is largely dependent on legislation determined by State government. The legislation needs to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of the levels of government in the management of vegetation.
  • Effective partnerships are the most efficient way of managing the relationship between the spheres of government, the local community and industry groups.
  • Given the varying ability of local government to manage vegetation issues, it is important that any framework establishes an outcome-based approach incorporating minimum standards which apply to all managers of vegetation.
  • Any framework must ensure that bioregional issues are dealt with as well as local issues. One way to achieve this may be to ensure that local government statutory and operational planning is consistent with national, state and regional vegetation targets and plans.
  • The framework should provide for both the management of vegetation as well as the clearing of vegetation.
  • A framework for vegetation management should be consistent across all tenures.
  • Councillors and local government officers are well placed to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the community but this can lead to potential conflict of interest. The framework should ensure that conflict of interest is minimised.
  • It is important that the framework is flexible enough to provide for the varying abilities of local governments and issues of local significance. This could include the devolution of certain functions to local government where appropriate.
  • Adequate resourcing, including both funding and the provision of data and information.
  • The provision of information and data is a key feature of a successful devolution program which ensures consistency amongst local governments across a State. Local government needs access to data on assets, priorities for conservation and management, and the regional issues regarding biodiversity conservation.
  • Political commitment from councillors to implement their responsibilities regarding vegetation management.
  • Devolution may incorporate the use of service agreements between the spheres of government.
  • However, there would need to be regular audits of functions carried out by local government. Payments for services would not be made until the services had been carried out.
  • It is important that the framework, and actual implementation by local government's role in managing vegetation are continually monitored and reviewed.
Best Practice Model

Based on these principles and best practice attributes, a best practice model for native vegetation management and monitoring, with respect to local government's role, can be outlined. The following table indicates the benchmark attributes that State governments can effect to better enable local government to implement the model.

Components of Best Practice
Native Vegetation Management and Monitoring
- Local Government Role
State Government Role
- Benchmark Attributes
Commitment and resourcing
  • political commitment from local councils
  • allocation of resources, particularly for appointment of environmental officers (these may be shared at a regional level where appropriate)
  • recognise significant role of local government, including resourcing issue (Commonwealth issue also)
  • raising environment levies to support vegetation management.
  • legislative capacity to collect environmental levies
  • community consultation
  • coordination for regional partnerships
  • access to best available data and guidelines
  • quality and appropriate (eg scale) biodiversity data/information
  • quality guidelines
  • ease of access to data
  • unrestrictive licensing
  • minimal cost in obtaining data (ie. cost of supply)
  • access to regional and State plans/priorities
  • access to expertise (GIS, planning)
  • technical and extension expertise available?
  • quality planning framework, linking local government and regional catchment bodies
  • clearly defines state/local government vegetation management responsibilities
  • has regard to biodiversity provisions
  • integration of state initiatives with local level ones
  • bonus development rights/trade-off scheme
  • legislative capacity for councils to implement
  • environmental zoning/protection orders
  • rate relief/differential rating
  • covenants/management agreements
  • devolved grants
  • community education
  • locally/regionally relevant material and educators available
  • community support
  • technical and extension expertise available
  • land management
  • legislative capacity for local government to implement
  • education and training of council staff and elected representatives
  • access to State education/training initiatives
  • monitoring and evaluation framework
  • quality guidelines, indicators and baseline data
  • state of environment reporting
  • clearly defines State/Local Government reporting responsibilities

2. Planning and Assessment

2.1 Vegetation Inventory, Data Collection and Mapping

Best Practice

  • Purpose of mapping should be specified.
Survey and mapping standards
  • Methods for vegetation survey, mapping and monitoring should be in accordance with the National Vegetation Information System (NVIS) (see Reference to NLWRA Theme 3 Workplan).
  • Differing map scales are appropriate for different purposes and depend on a range of factors including the size of the area being mapped, funds available, detail required, and the mapping method used.
  • Vegetation survey data and mapping should be transferred onto a topographically accurate map base or at least collected with reference to accurate geographic data. Using this procedure will enable data to be transferred to geographic information systems and be used for spatial modelling.
  • Regional level vegetation survey and mapping should be independent of land tenure types eg conservation reserve areas, state forests and agricultural areas.
  • Local level vegetation survey and mapping should include native vegetation, revegetation areas and cleared areas.
  • Vegetation survey and mapping should be coordinated across Australia through the NVIS. Each of the States are involved in developing consistent national approaches, and to maximise the efficient use of limited Commonwealth, State and Territory resources. Each State has a representative who is responsible for coordinating NVIS standards and protocols within their jurisdiction.
Mapping units
  • Mapping units should be delineated and described in accordance with the National Vegetation Information System. The type of attributes and mapping units selected will depend on the purpose.
  • Vegetation condition attributes need to be defined and will depend on the purpose. Methods for measuring vegetation condition should be well documented and should involve a core set of standard attributes.
Survey and Mapping Procedures
  • Procedures used to identify and delineate vegetation map units will depend on a range of factors including the size of the area being mapped, funds available, detail required, skills and expertise of the interpreters, desired products, accuracy required and the mapping method to be used.
  • Where possible vegetation mapping should be backed up by detailed site data, ie. species, structural and environmental data that are sampled across the environmental gradients and land use management regimes in the study area.
  • Where vegetation surveying and mapping involves a number of surveyors and mappers, care should be taken to standardise the field survey procedures and the methods used for delineating and describing the final map units particularly over large areas and across different land tenure and jurisdiction boundaries.
  • Vegetation survey and mapping should be informed by regional and local patterns in geology, soil and topography, land use, fire history, indigenous land management practices etc.
  • Metadata should be compiled at the same time the vegetation survey and mapping is carried out and should be done in accordance with the NVIS standards. Metadata is data about data, such as what is the data, what is its source, how comprehensive is it, and who is responsible for its maintenance and access.
Maintenance of vegetation data and mapping
  • Vegetation survey and mapping data and information needs to have a custodian.
  • State and Territory NVIS coordinators should periodically audit the vegetation surveys and mapping activities in their jurisdiction. These results should be published and circulated to relevant stakeholders.
  • Given that the native vegetation has been surveyed and mapped, remote sensing techniques combined with ground truthing, can be used to monitor changes in vegetation type and extent at regional scales. Survey methodology involving remote sensing is a rapidly changing field of expertise. Prior to planning a vegetation survey or mapping the vegetation of an area it is advisable to seek professional advice on what cost effective methods are available for obtaining the required vegetation information products.

2.2 Biodiversity Status Assessment

Best Practice

The best practice described here for undertaking biodiversity status assessments is a two-level approach:

  • A broad-scale for initial review or assessment of larger tracts of land.
  • A more detailed scale for fine tuning or assessment of smaller areas.
Broad-scale Assessment

By overlaying land tenure information, vegetation mapping and remote imaging of existing vegetation occurrence in a geographical information system environment, the current total representation of vegetation types, and the occurrence in different land tenure categories, such as conservation reserves, pastoral leases, Aboriginal lands, other Crown land and private property, can be determined. Such information provides a low resolution basis for conservation status assessment on a State-wide scale, and identifies land tenure and general management issues pertinent to each vegetation type and within each IBRA (Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia) region.

The nature of the conservation status assessment depends on the parameters set, but simplistically will include:

  • total area of vegetation remaining for each vegetation type identified;
  • percentage of the original coverage of the vegetation type remaining;
  • relative representation in formal conservation reserves;
  • relative representation in other secure areas, such as covenanted lands; and
  • target or purpose for conservation, including scientific and community based targets.
Local-scale Assessment

The conservation status of a discrete area of vegetation is a reflection of, and should take account of:

  • regional significance of the type of vegetation represented in the area;
  • size of the area of vegetation;
  • individual types of vegetation in it;
  • occurrence of special habitat or species of flora or fauna;
  • quality (degree of disturbance or degradation) of the vegetation;
  • threat to, or vulnerability of, the vegetation;
  • land tenure and degree of existing protection;
  • shape of the area in relation to its function; and
  • linkages to other areas of vegetation that increase the effective area of habitat.

To undertake a local-scale assessment, adequate data is required, which is consistent across the region over which the assessment comparison is being made. The following data sets are suggested as tools for undertaking the sort of assessment outlined above, through a GIS analysis.

  • threatened flora
  • threatened ecological communities
  • threatened fauna (habitats)
  • threats such as weeds, disease, salinity etc
  • regional vegetation mapping
  • land tenure
  • remote imaging of vegetation occurrence

2.3 Regional Vegetation Management Planning

Best Practice

The best practice attributes that should be incorporated in a Regional Vegetation Plan are:

Vision Statement
  • Identify the vision for the native vegetation landscape in the future considering a balance between biodiversity conservation, land protection and resource utilisation issues.
  • Objectives and goals for the regional plan also need to be incorporated.
Retention, rehabilitation and revegetation targets
  • The plan should identify regional targets for retention, rehabilitation and revegetation of vegetation communities on freehold land and public land other than conservation reserves.
  • These targets should be established on a bioregion or sub-catchment basis and ensure that remnant vegetation on private land continues to make an appropriate contribution to maintenance of the diversity of vegetation communities across their geographic range and to protection of significant biodiversity assets (particularly rare or threatened species and communities and their habitat) and greenhouse values. This approach should complement the National Reserve System currently being developed. Habitat linking potential should be identified and condition targets agreed.
  • There is a need to distinguish between replanting for windbreaks, aesthetics etc. and replanting/revegetating that is undertaken with the aim of re-establishing native vegetation cover.
  • Regional targets need to be linked to statutory instruments - clearance controls and other instruments protecting threatened species and communities.
  • The greenhouse gas sequestration associated with revegetation targets could be an additional measure for consideration.
  • Plans should incorporate appropriate linkages to land clearing regulation and threatened species legislation.
Management actions
  • The plans should provide management actions based on an understanding of the current status of native vegetation, across land tenure in the region, and the requirements to achieve the stated vision for a future native vegetation landscape.
  • The plans should provide a basis for landholders to develop individual plans.
  • The actions need to be prioritised on the basis of clearly stated principles that recognise:
    • retention, protection and on-going management of remnants as the primary means for achieving the vegetation vision. (Management actions include: fencing and removal of grazing impacts; management of weeds using minimum disturbance methods; controlling the spread of plant pathogens; eradicating introduced animals, particularly rabbits, goats, foxes and cats; management of altered fire regimes through fire protection and where appropriate and feasible the use of prescribed burning and revegetation to enlarge remnant blocks and create buffers and linkages.)
    • the importance of protecting rare and threatened species and communities and their habitat; and
    • protection of publicly funded revegetation projects by covenant and non-compliance provisions.
  • The priorities identified in the regional vegetation plan should provide direction to government bodies for the distribution of funds from grants programs and should provide clear links with other statutory environmental planning/land use frameworks.
  • The plan should also assist community groups in gaining funding for vegetation management activities by allowing them to target priority actions in their planning activities.
  • Identification of conservation threats to vegetation communities and to plant and animal species should be incorporated and the management actions should be based on these threats.
  • Actions should recognise and be integrated with other land-use/management actions and priorities, particularly if these have been identified through existing plans or strategies (such as Catchment Management Plans/Regional Strategies).
  • Actions should identify responsible bodies, time frames and required resources.
  • The following attributes provide a guide to best practice for revegetation:
    • mapping of both pre-European and existing landcover to form a basis for revegetation planning;
    • planning at the State/Territory, regional, district and property levels to determine the most appropriate and strategic locations;
    • integration with other plans, particularly where important biodiversity assets or strategic goals have been identified;
    • research and development, including appropriate and cost effective revegetation techniques for different areas and soil types;
    • support of appropriate funding and incentives from both public and private sources, made available to landholders, community groups and local government;
    • provision of appropriate extension and training of landholders, community and local government officers to encourage revegetation for biodiversity;
    • ensure expert advice and assistance on revegetation best practice is readily accessible to the community;
    • ensure appropriate preparation of revegetation sites through weed and pest animal control, and disease prevention;
    • use local provenance plant material; and
    • avoid planting in inappropriate areas (eg grasslands).
Shared Investment
  • Appropriate investment sharing should be identified for major vegetation management actions.
  • Benefit cost analysis should be undertaken for the whole plan.
Stakeholder Participation
  • The vegetation plans should be developed regionally so that stakeholder participation can be maximised and the best use made of local knowledge.
  • A steering committee, consisting of the range of stakeholders including State and local government, farmer representation, forestry (where appropriate) and environment groups, may be useful to guide the development of the plan, with a technical group for detailed support.
  • Community and agency consultation should occur during development of the plan and the draft plan should have a period of formal public exhibition before being finally approved.
Formal Approval
  • The vegetation plans should be formally approved by the appropriate Minister, following a public consultation process and should include relevant regional group and local government support.
  • The process would need to consider the obligations placed on landholders and the legal status of the approved plan.
Information requirements
  • Estimate of pre-European extent of vegetation communities.
  • Current extent, condition and viability of vegetation communities, particularly in intensive land use zones, using a standard method to identify and map the communities that is consistent with the approach for public land.
  • Vegetation should be mapped at 1:25 000 scale for intensive land use areas where important remnants are typically small, at 1:100 000 scale for intensive land use areas where important remnants are typically large and at a coarser scale for extensive land use areas.
  • Information on the actual and likely occurrences of rare or threatened species and their habitats.
  • Gaps in data and knowledge should be identified and where possible filled.
  • Information on land degradation or degradation potential.
  • Information on Aboriginal, cultural and/or geological sites of significance.
  • Information on the role/benefits of native vegetation in regard to the region's ecological, social and economic situation.
Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Monitoring and evaluation should focus on management actions, the likelihood of their successful implementation, and achievement of the overall plan objectives. Monitoring and evaluation needs to focus on inputs, outputs and outcomes.
  • A timeframe for implementation of the plan should be identified.
  • The plan needs to be linked to a monitoring program and assessed against criteria for success and the performance reported publicly.
  • Performance indicators and success criteria need to be clearly articulated in the plan and a system put in place from the outset to collect the necessary information to allow monitoring and evaluation.
  • Periodic review of the plan is necessary to accommodate improved information or changes in legislation or planning schemes.

3. Formal Reserve System

Best Practice

Establishing and managing a formal conservation reserve system involves best practice in a range of areas including:

  • selecting the most appropriate areas for formal reservation for the protection of the full range of vegetation types;
  • establishing reservation categories over such areas that are appropriate for the objective of the protection of all vegetation types in any region;
  • managing those areas for the purpose of protection of the vegetation types the reserves were established to protect and integrating this management with other conservation programs and land management programs operating outside the reserve boundaries;
  • involving the community in all aspects of the program; and
  • planning and administering all activities mentioned and monitoring and reporting progress in establishing the reserve system relative to predetermined goals.

Features of a reserve establishment program that may contribute to assessing the quality and effectiveness of the reserve system in protecting native vegetation include the following.

Identification of Areas for Reservation
  • degree to which reserve networks seek to protect the full range of vegetation types in a region;
  • degree to which assessments are based on firm scientific techniques:
    • data issues
      • degree to which assessments are based on utilisation of best available data and information;
      • degree to which assessments are based on datasets with region-wide coverage;
      • degree to which assessments are based on accurate datasets;
      • degree to which surrogates for vegetation type are used in analyses;
      • degree to which assessments are based on finer scale data (vs coarse level data), eg ecosystem level vs species level;
      • degree to which assessments are based on data verified on site;
    • analysis issues
      • degree to which assessments are based on bioregional context;
      • level to which reserve establishment is driven and guided by explicit reserve design principles and targets for components of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness (CAR);
      • the level to which analyses utilise latest scientific research (ecology, evolutionary biology, island biogeography, genetics, molecular biology, statistics, reserve design, etc) in the selection of areas for reservation.
  • degree to which reserve design ensures the long term viability of the vegetation within reserves;
  • degree to which research and reserve establishment programs focus on those areas in most immediate need of reservation (ie. vegetation communities which are rare or at risk from existing and future land uses, etc);
  • degree to which systematically derived assessments of vulnerability and threat to vegetation communities and species influence reservation priorities.
Reserve Uses
  • degree to which reserve categories afford long term protection to vegetation attributes from various threatening processes (non-native grazers and browsers, mining, logging, recreation, fire etc);
  • the effectiveness of any protected area programs on private land (including indigenous-owned lands).
Reserve Management
  • degree to which reserve categories afford the capacity for long term protection to the vegetation type for which the reserve was established to protect from weeds, feral animals, disease, climate change, changed fire regimes, etc;
  • degree to which reserve establishment is matched by institutional capacity and resources to manage reserved areas to protect the vegetation types they were established to help protect;
  • degree to which surrounding lands are managed in a complementary manner.
Government Support
  • degree to which reserve establishment is guided by clear government policies;
  • degree to which land purchased for reserve establishment is financed.
Agency Support
  • degree to which reserve establishment is driven and guided by strategic planning and direction;
  • degree to which jurisdictions cooperate to establish comprehensive, adequate and representative regional reserve systems;
  • degree of coordination of reserve establishment programs;
  • degree to which reserve establishment programs are facilitated by clear procedures and accountabilities;
  • degree to which reserve establishment programs are guided by clear guidelines and standards;
  • degree to which reserve establishment programs are supported by best practice technical systems;
  • degree of administrative support to reserve establishment programs;
  • degree to which reserve establishment practitioners are provided with training and/or exposure to latest techniques.
Community Support
  • degree of stakeholder ownership and participation in the establishment and management of reserves.
  • degree of integration of reserve selection and management with other conservation programs underway outside reserves.
Monitoring and Reporting
  • degree to which information systems are in place to enable ongoing or periodic monitoring or progress in protecting the full range of vegetation types in each region;
  • degree of periodic monitoring of progress in reserve establishment;
  • degree of quantitative monitoring of ecosystem and species health and persistence within existing reserves;
  • degree to which recent reservations are taking the reserve system towards explicit reservation targets for comprehensiveness, representativeness and adequacy (CAR) in the areas of most need.