National Threatened Ecological Communities Strategic Workshop
March 8 & 9, 2012 Canberra
About the workshop
An inaugural National Threatened Ecological Communities Strategic Workshop (National Strategic Workshop) was held on 8-9th March 2012. The workshop brought together some 50 participants, including technical experts and representatives from State and Territory agencies and scientific committees, NGOs, the Department and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee).
The workshop sought to identify gaps in the National List of terrestrial and aquatic threatened ecological communities (marine ecological communities were excluded due to a separate workshop in 2009). The workshop also aimed to seek feedback on the key principles (Prioritisation Framework) used by the Committee and the Department when prioritising ecological community nominations.
Threatened ecological communities (TECs) are listed under Australia's premier environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), as 'matters of national environmental significance'. As such they are protected under the EPBC Act and actions likely to result in a detrimental significant impact must be referred to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment. The process for nomination, listing and assessment of ecological communities, and the benefits of listing were covered by the workshop, and are outlined in this report.
To date 58 TECs are listed under the EPBC Act with 38 listed since the start of the Act in July 2000 (20 were carried over from previous legislation), including 24 listed since the Act was last amended in February 2007. Another 19 are currently under various stages of assessment. TECs can represent a form of landscape or systems-level protection. Importantly, the current National List of TECs represents more than 150 ECs (or equivalent) recognised as threatened by States and Territories; and over 4.6 million ha of 'protected' environment (which had a former extent of 29 million ha).
There was strong support from the National Strategic Workshop for the principles that make up the Framework for Prioritisation for Ecological Community Nominations (Prioritisation Framework) used by the Committee and the Department for assessing EC nominations. Although there were differing views of which parts of the framework are most important, it was acknowledged that overall, the Prioritisation Framework confers rigour and consistency to the nomination prioritisation process. Some refinements and new ideas were also explored.
Each of three workshop breakout groups undertook a gaps analysis of terrestrial ecological communities (ECs) in three specific regions of Australia, (the North/West, East and Southeast) and another group looked at Aquatic ECs. Overall the workshop suggested 76 ECs or broader landscape entities or groupings across Australia that would benefit from national protection and should inform future nominations for TECs. Thirty-three of these were grouped together further and/or ranked as a higher priority (i.e. North/West suggested 17 ECs (with 6 given highest priority); East 20 (11), Southeast 21 (6), and 18 (10) for Aquatic). A study concurrent to the workshop also identified 6 potential rainforest and vine thicket TECs for priority assessment.
The National Strategic Workshop also discussed the way forward. Overall, workshop outcomes provide guidance for a strategic approach to future EC nominations for both the Committee and for potential nominators. It was agreed that the workshop report should be made available to support future nomination rounds. However, some of the suggested priorities, as broadly defined, may not meet the definition or criteria for a TEC. The Committee note that in some instances, the gaps or priorities for national protection are broad groupings or complexes and further work is needed to identify discrete ecological communities for nomination and potential assessment as threatened. In addition, rather than nominating as TECs, some of the entities identified by the workshop may be better addressed through other types of national protection, either as new protection or as an expansion of existing protection.
The Committee note that nominations for ECs considered to be threatened are not limited to those identified in this report and that all new nominations are given equal consideration. The Committee's Guidelines for nominating and assessing ecological communities, and associated nomination form, remain the key documents for preparing nominations. However, development of a pre-nomination step in the process of nominating was raised by the workshop as a possible approach to focus resources on the highest priorities for future national assessment and listing. As an interim step, the Prioritisation Framework will be updated in line with the workshop and published on the Department's website for use in pre-nomination analysis by nominators prior to the next call for public nominations.
- The listing of TECs under the EPBC Act is an important environment protection and conservation tool that is robust, adaptable and efficient. Protecting TECs also protects native species, natural landscapes and ecosystem services on all land/sea tenures. As 'matters of national environment significance' under the EPBC Act, TECs complement and guide a range of other conservation initiatives. For example, national TECs are effective conservation targets for guiding biodiversity management and recovery actions for particular areas or habitat types, as well as for building the representativeness of the National Reserve System.
- This report highlights the value of developing a strategic approach to listing under the EPBC Act through identifying and assessing high priority TECs that are not yet nationally protected. As demonstrated through the Prioritisation Framework, priority TECs for assessment include those: in areas where biodiversity has been depleted (e.g. by land clearing) and/or facing substantial threats (e.g. rapid development); that represent habitat types or regions under-represented within the National Reserve System or through other protection mechanisms; and/or, in areas where TEC protection and recovery will connect existing conservation areas or enhance ecological resilience through maintaining or restoring ecological function, critical habitat, wildlife corridors and/or refugia.