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

4. Best Practice Native Vegetation Management and Monitoring Mechanisms

Similar suites of vegetation management mechanisms are being pursued in each of the States and Territories, albeit with different emphases that reflect the different circumstances facing natural resource managers in each jurisdiction.

Notwithstanding the differences between jurisdictions and regions, it is possible to describe generally agreed best practice approaches within a framework of vegetation management and monitoring mechanisms across the country. The purpose of native vegetation management and monitoring mechanisms is to achieve the outcomes specified in Section 3.

Within each broad category of vegetation management and/or monitoring mechanism, the attributes or qualities of each mechanism generally considered to constitute a best practice approach have been described.

Jurisdictional and regional circumstances will require particular tailoring of these management and monitoring mechanisms, and of the emphasis that any one of them assumes in an overall approach to vegetation management. Notwithstanding this fact, the specific management and monitoring mechanisms described below, and their component attributes, are considered to constitute a best practice vegetation management and monitoring framework for Australian Governments.

Sections 4.1 to 4.7 below present each of the management and monitoring mechanisms under the broad headings of Roles and Responsibilities of Governments, Planning and Assessment, Reserve System, Communication and Capacity Building, Incentives, Regulatory Mechanisms, and Monitoring and Evaluation respectively. These headings are intended to emphasise important elements of a management cycle commencing with assessment and planning, ranging through implementation components, and concluding with monitoring and evaluation.

Though this is a useful structure within which to sort the individual management and monitoring mechanisms of an overall vegetation management strategy, some mechanisms will play a role at various times throughout the management cycle. As well, the concept of initial assessment and planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and continuous improvement applies to any individual mechanism as much as it does to an overall strategy. This point has been captured in the best practice attributes described for each mechanism.

Against the management and monitoring mechanisms identified below is a brief description of the nature, purpose and objectives of each. A detailed description of the attributes considered to constitute a best practice approach to each of these mechanisms is at Appendix B.

4.1 Roles and Responsibilities of Governments and Community

Though individual States and Territories have primary responsibility in the general area of nature conservation and natural resource management, all levels of government and the community share certain responsibilities for native vegetation management.

Within a jurisdiction, many levels of government, agencies and community sectors are involved in the delivery of an overall vegetation management strategy. This raises the issue of determination of roles and responsibilities in an overall implementation scenario.

The efficiency and effectiveness of administrative and political processes and systems for the development and implementation of vegetation management policy and programs is a function of:

  1. the extent to which roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government can be clearly and unambiguously defined;
  2. the extent to which duplication of functions between different levels of government can be avoided;
  3. the extent to which the total benefits and costs of decisions to the community are explicit and transparent;
  4. the extent to which effective processes are established for cooperation between governments on vegetation management issues; and
  5. the extent to which responsible governments are clearly accountable to the electorate for the development and implementation of policy.

A national partnership between all levels of government on native vegetation management issues should be based on the following principles:

  • cooperation - the achievement of native vegetation management goals should be enhanced by increased cooperative efforts between the different levels of government and with stakeholders. This would include appropriate consultation between governments, communities and landholders;
  • effectiveness - policy and program development and implementation should be undertaken to achieve improved native vegetation management outcomes on the ground;
  • efficiency - unnecessary duplication and overlap between governments should be minimised;
  • seamlessness - policies and programs within and between governments should be designed and administered to ensure that clients experience integrated processes and interfaces;
  • simplicity - administrative and legislative systems should be simple to understand and designed to minimise compliance costs; and
  • transparency - decision-making processes, accountability for decisions and delivery of policy and program outcomes should be clear and public.

Policy development, program delivery and decision-making should be the responsibility of the level of government best placed to deliver agreed outcomes. Often this means devolution to the lowest practicable level.

Consideration of the roles and responsibilities of the various sectors of the community and government with regard to native vegetation management raises issues concerning the determination of cost-sharing arrangements and prioritisation of resource allocation. Determination of cost-sharing arrangements requires consideration and agreement of what constitutes duty of care in native vegetation management.

Duty of Care, Cost Sharing Arrangements and Prioritisation of Resource Allocation

The clear definition of the property rights and associated entitlements and obligations tied to land ownership is an essential starting point for addressing native vegetation management issues. A distinction can be drawn between:

  • the Duty of Care for sustainable land management faced by a landholder; and
  • the provision of a non-marketable Public Conservation Service by landholders managing vegetation to meet conservation objectives.

Determining where 'duty of care' stops and 'public conservation service' begins is a difficult issue. It is suggested that the dividing line should be drawn between those management practices required to achieve land use objectives at a landscape or regional scale and any additional practices required to sustain sites of unique conservation value. Hence, a public conservation service is provided when the community's interest lies in securing active and ongoing management of a particular site.

In the long run, the higher the duty of care, the less expensive remnant vegetation conservation will be. In practice, duty of care is defined by existing property rights, that is the legal institutions, legislation and regulations that control land use. Duty of care is not a static concept because scientific knowledge and community expectations will shift through time. For example, the provision of incentives for vegetation clearance, maintained into the 1970s, provides a pertinent case study of Australia's evolving understanding of sustainable land management as public policy is now directed strongly at the conservation of vegetation. The challenge is to develop mechanisms that allow duty of care to be revised and adapted through time.

A 'duty of care' with regard to native vegetation management could reasonably be expected to include protection of endangered species and/or ecosystems, protection of vegetation on land at risk of land degradation, e.g. from salinity or erosion, protection of riparian vegetation, protection of vegetation on lands of low agricultural capability and protection of vegetation on acid sulphate soils. Depending on regional circumstances, duty of care may invoke other management actions or priorities.

Tension exists between providing clear guidance through State and Commonwealth legislative frameworks and maintaining flexibility to take account of regional differences and changing vegetation management objectives. Practical lessons can be learnt from other natural resource industries which have developed Codes of Practice to resolve these issues by institutionalising adaptive management. An adaptive approach to determining duty of care can also be pursued by agreeing and describing what comprises duty of care at the regional scale through regional planning processes. Having determined duty of care, it is possible to consider cost-sharing arrangements on a more informed basis.

The following policy guidelines for cost-sharing arrangements are proposed.

  • It is appropriate that native vegetation management involve both private and public investment, and that public investment include investment from all levels of government.
  • Public investment should be contributed by the three levels of government in proportion to their roles and responsibilities in given circumstances. In some cases a native vegetation management issue would be substantially a Commonwealth, State or Territory Government responsibility and it would be appropriate for these levels of government to make the bulk of the public investment. Conversely, in other cases a native vegetation management issue may largely be a Local Government responsibility and it would be appropriate for Local Government to contribute the bulk of public investment. In many circumstances however, the issue being addressed will appropriately involve investment from all levels of government. Cost sharing arrangements then need to be determined in a manner that reflects the relative responsibilities of each level of government.
  • Where community expectations resulting in legislative or policy changes cause duty of care to be shifted significantly over a short period of time, financial assistance may be provided to speed the transition to the new arrangements and maintain community support. Such payments should be one-off payments in recognition of the need to adjust to a new regime.
  • There are cases where the community may seek landholders to manage areas of remnant vegetation at a higher standard than normally expected. In these cases ongoing payments can be justified on the grounds of equity because a conservation service is being provided by the landholder.
  • Financial assistance should generally not be paid to landholders to meet their duty of care for sustainable land management.

The roles, responsibilities and interests of the community and all levels of government in relation to native vegetation management are described in further detail below.

4.1.1 Community Role

Communities have a role to:

  • sustainably manage native vegetation on land for which they and individual land managers are responsible. Duty of care needs to be exercised in the management of individual parcels of land;
  • coordinate local group development and action on native vegetation management issues;
  • encourage local involvement in the management of public land;
  • communicate to government the native vegetation management issues of their local area;
  • communicate to government the solutions to native vegetation management issues they believe are appropriate to their local area;
  • participate in local and regional native vegetation management planning and programs;
  • raise awareness and improve education regarding native vegetation management issues; and
  • form partnerships to increase investment in local native vegetation management issues. This may include partnerships with industry and/or other private sector sources to promote philanthropy towards native vegetation management issues.

4.1.2 Local Government Role

Local government plays an important role as one of the three levels of government in Australia. Many of the decisions regarding on-ground vegetation management are made by local government.

Local government has a responsibility for the development and implementation of locally relevant and applicable environmental policies within its jurisdiction in cooperation with other levels of government and the local community.

Local government also has an interest in the development and implementation of regional, statewide and national policies, programs and mechanisms which affect more than one local government unit.

Local government has its own areas of expertise and capacity, such as the ability to respond quickly to local issues. This means that it has a role to play in the management of vegetation throughout Australia. However, the capacity of local government to make these decisions or to achieve their potential as a positive contributor to vegetation management has often been constrained by legislation or lack of it. Other constraints include the often limited resources and access to expertise in the area of native vegetation management.

Local government's role has traditionally been limited in some States through the granting of specific powers to maintain local infrastructure. In recent years these powers have extended to enable local government to become involved in natural resource and environmental management. There is considerable variation between States.

Local government currently uses a range of tools and mechanisms to manage vegetation. They include:

  • its role in land use planning and the development of planning schemes;
  • implementation of State and Commonwealth initiatives including Natural Heritage Trust programs and projects, e.g. Land for Wildlife in Queensland;
  • local initiatives such as environmental levies to provide funds for land buy back schemes, bonus development rights and trade-off schemes, environmental zoning and protection orders, rate relief and differential rating, covenants and management agreements, devolved grants, and community education;
  • local government's role as a land manager and administrator for large areas of remnant vegetation including roadsides and undeveloped townsites;
  • employment of Greening Australia personnel to assist with vegetation management; and
  • provision of administrative support to community groups in relation to the management of vegetation.

4.1.3 State Government Role

State and Territory Governments have primary responsibility for native vegetation management, in recognition of the constitutional responsibility of the States for land use decisions and their ownership of large areas of native vegetation. The management of parks and protected areas is largely a function of the States. The Commonwealth has a responsibility for parks and protected areas on its own land.

Each State has responsibility for the policy, legislative and administrative framework within which native vegetation is managed within the State. This includes establishing the framework within which local government operates and exercises native vegetation management.

The States have an interest in the development of Australia's position in relation to any proposed international agreements relating to native vegetation management which may impact on the discharge of their responsibilities.

The States have an interest and responsibility to participate in the development of national policies and standards regarding native vegetation management.

4.1.4 Commonwealth Government Role

The Commonwealth has a particular responsibility in the area of native vegetation management in relation to:

  • management of areas that lie within its own jurisdiction;
  • Australia's obligations under international law including treaties; and
  • exports, imports and quarantine.

The Commonwealth also has a particular interest in facilitating the effective and efficient coordination of native vegetation management across all jurisdictions. This may include facilitating the cooperative development of national standards and guidelines, the establishment and delivery of programs, and the provision of funding.

Through its taxation role the Commonwealth has the potential to influence native vegetation management, either positively or negatively due to the incentives and disincentives that taxation mechanisms can create.

The Commonwealth has a role in ensuring that the policies or practices of a State do not result in significant adverse effects on the environment of another State or the lands or territories of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth has an interest in implementation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. Similarly the Commonwealth has an interest in the development and implementation of measures and agreed programs to control feral animals and weeds identified in national strategies, agreements, policies and control plans.

The Commonwealth has a responsibility and an interest in implementing programs under the Natural Heritage Trust in accordance with the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997 and the Partnership Agreements entered into with the States and Territories.

It is the Commonwealth that has the responsibility for negotiating and entering into international agreements that may have regard to native vegetation management.

4.2 Planning and Assessment

4.2.1 Vegetation Inventory, Data Collection and Mapping

Vegetation includes the entirety of plant cover. Individual plants collectively form distinct species associations and spatial patterns. Vegetation includes vegetative cover present in terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments. It comprises spatial and temporal attributes which are recognised as different vegetation types including forest, heath, shrubland and grassland. Attributes of threat and disturbance, e.g. invasive species, logging history and fire history, are used to describe the condition of vegetation.

Vegetation attributes of plant height, spacing and taxonomic groups may be surveyed in the field and/or using remote sensing techniques, eg aerial photographs and satellite images. Data is collected at sites and/or across broader areas and classified into 'structural forms', 'floristic associations' or a combination of both, and represented as spatial patterns using map units. Hierarchical classifications may be developed by subdividing structural forms by the understorey type and by the taxonomic group of the dominant plants, usually to the level of genus or family, or by a combination of other contextual data, eg soils, geology, topography, climate or land use. The type of vegetation information product/s produced, eg maps or tables, is determined by the client's requirements.

Vegetation mapping is arguably one of the most valuable information requirements for conservation planning and natural resource management. Vegetation mapping provides an understanding of vegetation types and extent. Vegetation maps also provide an important resource for answering questions at local, regional, state, and national scales.

Australia's vegetation has been mapped consistently at a small scale while mapping at larger scales is patchy, at varying scales and uses different mapping methods and classification systems. Of the numerous systems in use Specht (1970) is one of the most widely used.

Vegetation maps are used for a wide range of applications underpinning much of the work of resource planners and managers. Vegetation maps enable conservation and land use planning and management, and provide baselines against which changes in vegetation type and extent can be measured.

Some specific applications for vegetation mapping include:

  • fire risk and fuel load assessment;
  • sensitive area mapping;
  • vegetation asset identification;
  • resource mapping;
  • calculating sequestered carbon;
  • protected area planning for biodiversity conservation; and
  • a planning tool for cross-referencing and supporting other policy and/or legislative approaches to sustainable native vegetation management.

4.2.2 Biodiversity Status Assessment

Biodiversity status assessment is the determination of the relative or empirical value of an area of native vegetation in terms of the conservation of nature (biodiversity) within a jurisdiction. The aim of a biodiversity status assessment is to identify vegetation types, tenure categories and conservation status across regions, for the purpose of identifying the extent to which the various ecosystems are appropriately represented and managed. The best practice described for undertaking biodiversity status assessments is a two-level approach, comprising a broad scale for the initial review or assessment of large tracts of land, and a more detailed scale for fine tuning or assessment of small areas.

Aspects to be taken into account in making such an assessment are:

  • the scale at which the assessment is being made;
  • the values considered significant to an assessment;
  • the number of those values applicable to the area; and
  • the relative quality of those values in the area.

Such information can then be used within vegetation management frameworks, such as the reservation process, for:

  • identifying gaps in the current system of protected areas and setting priorities using a bioregional planning framework;
  • identifying representative ecosystem areas, i.e. sites of key conservation significance;
  • selecting potential reserve areas, i.e. potential candidate protected areas;
  • assessing the feasibility of potential reserve areas and negotiating new protected areas;
  • establishing and managing new reserve areas, i.e. acquisition and implementation; and
  • developing assessment criteria for vegetation management and planning.

4.2.3 Regional Vegetation Management Planning

National and State biodiversity strategies identify the accumulated impacts of past and ongoing habitat loss as major causes of recorded declines in biodiversity. Accordingly, the successful implementation of these strategies depends on an active approach to the retention and protection of native vegetation, one that identifies clear goals and consistent processes but also accommodates regional variations. Vegetation management planning as a component of integrated natural resource management at a regional level (catchment and/or bioregion-based) is recognised as a particularly effective approach to addressing a range of issues including biodiversity, land and water protection and greenhouse gas reduction. Regional vegetation plans should reflect the goals and priorities of the statewide biodiversity strategies and be one of the tools to implement regional catchment strategies, where prepared. Potential greenhouse and land degradation impacts should be taken fully into account in regional vegetation management plans.

A holistic approach that considers the status of native vegetation on public and private land and associated biodiversity assets across all tenures is required to provide the context for development of the regional vegetation plans. While vegetation on public land in conservation reserves needs to be considered with regard to the establishment of conservation targets and active management of fire, weeds, feral animals, dieback, salinity and so on, the regional vegetation plan actions should be predominantly focussing on appropriate protection, management and revegetation regimes over private and leasehold land. Vegetation management programs on public and private land should consider links across the landscape and coordinated pest plant and animal management, as examples of coordinated actions. The vision identified in the regional vegetation plan will be achieved through a combination of public land management and vegetation management actions undertaken on private land.

4.3 Formal Reserve System

A formal reserve system is one established with a sound statutory basis. Typically it would be an Executive Council and Parliamentary process which not only formally established the reserves in the network, but Parliamentary approval would be required to revoke previous reservation action. This security of tenure is one of the key distinguishing features of formal reserves. Plans of management, prepared with public consultation and formally adopted, are also a feature of formal reserves, with implementation by a State-based Government agency.

Reserve systems are devised to represent the array of ecosystems and natural and cultural features throughout the landscape. Increasingly they are based on fulfilling the principles of comprehensiveness (sampling all ecosystems), adequacy (long-term viability) and representativeness (sampling the variation within ecosystems), at least for natural heritage.

Reserves serve an array of purposes and reserve categories have been devised to accommodate these. The formal reserve system includes a range of reserve types which have a statutory basis and are managed for biodiversity conservation. Strict nature reserves, with limited public use and access, are established to protect special scientific values. National parks tend to be larger areas, incorporating a wide range of habitats and natural features, having the primary purpose of nature conservation and providing opportunities for nature-based recreation. Other categories for cultural heritage protection and more active recreation often also include significant areas of vegetation, and these contribute to the protection of biodiversity as well.

Broad objectives for formal reserves are usually covered in the legislation which establishes them. For natural heritage, reserve management objectives are mostly associated with the long-term functioning and viability of ecosystems. Individual reserves will then express this in relation to the particular suite of values they contain, especially for threatened species, the protection of which is often a primary objective.