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

3. Desired Native Vegetation Outcomes

This section of the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation describes the native vegetation outcomes expected from the implementation of the management and monitoring mechanisms described in Section 4. Such outcomes will serve biodiversity conservation, land protection, greenhouse gas reduction and other objectives specified in the complementary national policy and strategy documents (see Appendix A). The outcomes will be consistent with and enhance the social and economic outcomes being sought within the framework of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD).

3.1 Vision

Australia's native vegetation cover is diverse, rich in species and complexity, and has a very high degree of endemism. It is a priceless element of our natural heritage. It plays a crucial role in sustaining ecosystem function and processes, and consequently the productive capacity of Australia's relatively old and infertile soils and scarce freshwater resources. Native vegetation buffers the impact of harsh and extremely variable climates, binds and nourishes soils, and filters streams and wetlands. Native birds, invertebrates and other animals depend upon the condition and extent of native vegetation communities.

The vision sketched here assumes that native vegetation has, and is seen to have, intrinsic values in addition to ecological values and utilitarian values. It envisages Australian landscapes in which native vegetation is conserved for its ecological values, celebrated for its intrinsic values and enhanced for sustainable production.

This vision also recognises the inextricable link between the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Conservation of vegetation is neither an alternative land use nor an opportunity cost - it is an investment in natural capital, which underwrites material wealth. Conservation of biodiversity means much more than just protecting wildlife and its habitat in nature reserves. Conservation of native species and ecosystems, and the processes they support — the flows and quality of rivers, wetlands and groundwater, and soil structure and landscapes — are all crucial to the sustainability of primary industries.

This vision does not assume a return to some pre-European Arcadia and/or the replacement of all the native vegetation that has been cleared or modified since European settlement. However, it implies that restoring some hydrological balance, enhancing habitat for wildlife, protecting freshwater resources and rehabilitating degraded lands requires land use systems which are responsive to Australian conditions.

The shift towards more sustainable land use systems is likely to include greater use of native Australian species than occurs in conventional agriculture today.

Farming systems may in the future have portions of the landscape occupied by native perennials, some forming the basis of grazing systems, and others generating a range of products including carbon sequestration, timber, fuelwood, craftwood and pulp, cut flowers, essential oils, herbs, solvents and pharmaceuticals. Community revegetation and regeneration activities could be underpinned and complemented by a thriving native vegetation industry and associated infrastructure for native vegetation management.

The sort of infrastructure required would include:

  • 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;
  • equipment such as seed harvesters, e.g. for native grasses, direct seeding machines, mechanical planters, sprayers, pruners and weeders - all adapted to local/regional needs and conditions; and
  • the knowledge base, training capacities and human capital required to apply and refine best practice techniques at the appropriate scale.

The 'wider public benefit' would be understood in reference to robust, regionally specific articulations of the 'duty of care' of land users not to degrade natural resources. 'Duty of care' would be widely accepted and understood as setting out the responsibilities which are inseparable from the privilege of managing land, regardless of its tenure. 'Duty of care' would be defined in regulation where appropriate, but would be more commonly used in industry codes of practice, industry-based environmental management systems, and voluntary incentives programs. Land uses generating insufficient returns to enable land users to fulfil their duty of care would by definition be unsustainable, and hence unsuitable, uses of land.

Markets would be informed and constrained by the understanding that the human economy is a subset of society, which in turn is a subset of, and utterly dependent upon, the biophysical environment. Market forces would work to use natural resources more efficiently, discriminating against products, production systems and processes which deplete or degrade natural resources unsustainably. Linkages between well-informed consumers and all stages of production cycles would be fostered and direct feedback encouraged. Environmental externalities (positive and negative) would be internalised in market prices wherever possible. National accounts would account for natural capital stocks, as well as flows, offering a more true reflection of the relative sustainability of apparent economic performance. The role and limitations of market forces in questions of long-term sustainability would be well understood, and the conditions under which intervention in markets is justified would be well accepted.

Comprehensive incentive regimes would complement markets in encouraging and delivering more sustainable approaches. Management actions seen to be in the public interest, for example through positive externalities, and which are clearly over and above what would be expected under duty of care, would be supported by a wide range of direct and indirect incentives and disincentives. Such incentives would be derived and delivered at a range of scales. For example, nationally through the taxation system and major targeted grants for national priorities; sub-nationally through revolving funds, industry codes of practice, accreditation systems and regulatory approaches; and regionally through regional grants, stewardship payments, planning, zoning and rating systems.

The incentives regime would complement public-sector funding, and would be designed to attract private-sector funding into nature conservation at property and landscape scales through:

  • tax measures encouraging philanthropy;
  • rewards at industry level for best practice and corporate citizenship; and
  • tax and other incentives for the individual or firm to go above and beyond their duty of care in managing for long-term conservation in the public interest.

The general principles informing the design and delivery of incentives would include the principle that natural resource management and resource allocation decisions should be made at the lowest practicable level; that systems should connect people as directly as possible with the consequences of their actions; and that local ownership of problems and solutions is most likely to be genuine when revenue raising and resource allocation operates at the same level.

The first step towards delivery of Australia's native vegetation objectives is to improve our knowledge base, in both theoretical and practical terms, about how to conserve, manage, enhance or re-establish native vegetation for various combinations of objectives at various scales. Basic toolkits for native vegetation management are needed - whether to assist a community group to plan wildlife habitat, or to assist a landholder to work out a burning regime in a remnant patch of bush. This vision assumes that such toolkits will be developed and readily utilised.

3.2 Principles

Underpinning this Framework is a basic set of principles that should encourage actions to achieve sustainable native vegetation management. These include:

  • recognition that all vegetation management should be based on the overall goal of Ecologically Sustainable Development which recognises environmental, economic and social values;
  • recognition of the important role of native vegetation in the functioning of ecosystems in maintaining productivity capacity of agricultural lands;
  • recognition that the biological diversity of vegetation should be maintained through appropriate land management practices. These include a suite of measures from environmental protection through to sustainable use and production using best practice management techniques;
  • recognition that vegetation management requires the continuing partnership of government, land managers, industry and the wider community;
  • recognition that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. In the application of the precautionary principle, public and private decisions should be guided by:
    • careful evaluation to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment; and
    • an assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options;
  • recognition that protecting existing remnant vegetation is the most efficient way of conserving biodiversity.

3.3 Outcomes

Native vegetation is usually managed within the broader natural resource management context that takes account of economic and social objectives additional to environmental objectives. However, sustainable native vegetation management does not only serve environmental objectives. Outcomes from sustainable native vegetation management also contribute substantially to important economic and social objectives.

The native vegetation outcomes being sought in this Framework are:

  • a reversal in the long-term decline in the extent and quality of Australia's native vegetation cover by:
    • conserving native vegetation, and substantially reducing land clearing;
    • conserving Australia's biodiversity; and
    • restoring, by means of substantially increased revegetation, the environmental values and productive capacity of Australia's degraded land and water;
  • conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of native vegetation to maintain and enhance biodiversity, protect water quality and conserve soil resources, including on private land managed for agriculture, forestry and urban development;
  • retention and enhancement of biodiversity and native vegetation at both regional and national levels; and
  • an improvement in the condition of existing native vegetation.

Specific vegetation outcomes being sought, within the context of integrated natural resource management, are described below.

3.3.1 Biodiversity

Biodiversity outcomes sought:

  • protection of biological diversity and maintenance of essential ecological processes and life-support systems;
  • maintenance of viable examples of native vegetation communities, species and dependent fauna throughout their natural ranges;
  • maintenance of the genetic diversity of native vegetation species;
  • enabling Australia's native vegetation species and communities threatened with extinction to survive and thrive in their natural habitats, and to retain their genetic diversity and potential for evolutionary development, and prevent additional species and communities from becoming threatened;
  • return of threatened native vegetation species and communities to a secure status in the wild;
  • reduction in the numbers of listed threatened native vegetation species and downgrading of the conservation threat category of listed threatened species;
  • limitation of broad-scale clearance of native vegetation to those instances in which the proponent can clearly demonstrate that regional biodiversity objectives are not compromised;
  • no clearing of endangered or vulnerable vegetation communities, critical habitat for threatened species, or other threatened species or communities listed under State or Commonwealth legislation, or identified through the NRMMC or other government processes;
  • no activities that adversely affect the conservation status of vegetation communities or the species dependent on them.

3.3.2 Soil and Water Resources

Soil and water resource outcomes sought:

  • maintenance and enhancement of the ecological integrity and physical stability of ground and surface water systems, including associated riparian zones and wetlands;
  • revegetation of the upslope recharge areas in order to reduce the volume of groundwater movement to lowland areas;
  • revegetation, where appropriate, of the highest priority degraded riparian areas;
  • protection and rehabilitation of lowland wetlands and saltmarshes;
  • protection of vegetation in erosion prone areas;
  • protection of native vegetation on areas of potential acid sulphate soils.

3.3.3 Hydrology

Hydrology outcomes sought:

  • protection of vegetation in areas at risk from dryland salinity;
  • revegetation of recharge areas to slow or reverse rising groundwater tables and ameliorate dryland salinity;
  • maintenance of native vegetation in water catchments to protect water quality and water yield.

3.3.4 Land Productivity

Land productivity outcomes sought:

  • protection and management of native vegetation in the landscape such that biomass production is sustained, providing the capacity for continued productivity;
  • reduction and minimisation of the detrimental economic, environmental and social impact of weeds on the sustainability of Australia's productive capacity and natural ecosystems;
  • prevention of the development of new weed and pest problems.

3.3.5 Sustainable Land Use

Sustainable land use outcomes sought:

  • protection, management and establishment of native vegetation to provide for the social and economic value derived from the ecologically sustainable use and harvesting of native vegetation products such as wood, oils, flowers, seed and honey.

3.3.6 Natural and Cultural Heritage

Natural and cultural heritage outcomes sought:

  • protection and management of native vegetation to retain the natural and cultural significance of a place or landscape.

3.3.7 Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples outcomes sought:

  • maintenance of biological diversity on lands and waters over which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have title or in which they have an interest, to ensure the wellbeing, identity, cultural heritage and economy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

3.3.8 Climate Change

Climate change outcomes sought:

  • conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs for all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass and forests.