Mechanisms for protecting biodiversity

19 Aug 2016 - 16:17 | Version 2 |

National policy development

Australia's first national biodiversity strategy, developed to fulfil Australia's obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 1996. The current strategy, Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030, establishes a long-term, national framework for biodiversity conservation. The Strategy focuses on three priorities for action to stop the decline in biodiversity: engaging all Australians; building ecosystem resilience in a changing climate; and getting measurable results. A review of the Strategy was undertaken in 2015.

Australia's Native Vegetation Framework was established by the COAG Standing Council on Environment and Water in 2012. The policy updates the 2001 National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation, and is intended to guide the ecologically sustainable management of Australia's native vegetation. The framework is designed to complement Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 by setting out specific priorities for native vegetation based on the Strategy's principles and priorities. Key goals include increasing the national extent and connectivity of native vegetation; maintaining and improving its condition and function; and building capacity to understand, value and manage native vegetation.

In 2013, the Commonwealth announced a 'One-Stop Shop' policy designed to create a single environmental assessment and approval process for nationally significant environmental matters. The policy is to be implemented through approval bilateral agreements under the EPBC Act, whereby the Commonwealth can transfer its assessment and approval responsibilities to the State or Territory. At the time of writing, all of the states and self-governing territories had entered into bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth, covering assessment procedures only. Bilateral agreements covering environmental approvals are currently in draft form with the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. To date, no bilateral agreements covering approvals have been entered into; therefore all matters must still be referred to the Commonwealth minister for environmental approval (see Chapter 4 in this Handbook for more information on the bilateral agreements).

Regional scale conservation

A small part of the ACT falls within the Australian Alps sub-bioregion, while the remainder falls within the South-Eastern Highlands sub-bioregion. Environment ACT is a party to the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperative Management of the Alps Parks (together with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Parks Victoria, and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment) and participates actively in the Alps Cooperative Management Program. The Alps bioregion is recognised by the World Conservation Union as one of the 167 world centres of biodiversity, and the Kosciuszko National Park was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997.

The ACT is part of the Murrumbidgee River Catchment within the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority oversees the implementation of the Basin Plan under the Water Act 2007 (Cth), which aims to enable the Commonwealth and Basin States to manage water resources and protect biodiversity in the MurrayDarling Basin (see Chapter 8 in this Handbook for more information on water law).

The value of a regional planning approach is recognised in the ACT Nature Conservation Strategy 2013-2023, particularly in relation to habitat linkages and wildlife corridors. Regional connectivity is also recognised in the Australian Government's National Wildlife Corridors Plan 2012, which establishes a framework for landscape-scale conservation. The December 2011 ACT-NSW Memorandum of Understanding for Regional Collaboration also provides a framework for a regional approach to resource management.

The ACT has interests in regional and continental-scale wildlife corridor projects such as the Bush Heritage Australia initiated 'Kosciuzsko to Coast' project, which involves a broad partnership of government agencies, catchment authorities and large and small conservation groups. Kosciuszko to Coast has received funding from the 'Great Eastern Ranges Initiative' since 2008. The Initiative funds community-based habitat restoration projects to promote the connectivity of landscapes across the Great Dividing Range and Great Eastern Escarpment.

As noted in Table 1 (located at the end of this chapter) high quality box woodlands are critically endangered nationally, and are endangered in the ACT. The largest and best surviving stands of these woodlands occur primarily in the ACT/ Queanbeyan/Goulburn region. Similarly, there are some surviving patches of the endangered natural temperate grasslands of south-eastern Australia, and their associated flora and fauna, in the ACT and New South Wales.

Territory scale conservation

More than half of the territory is in designated protected areas and is managed to maintain and protect its biodiversity and associated natural and cultural resources and values. But biodiversity in the territory is also under pressure--already two ecological communities and at least 18 plant and animal species are endangered, and over 15 species are vulnerable, as listed in Table 1. Extreme weather events such as drought, heavy rains, dust storms and bushfires, have a negative impact on biodiversity. These may be related to longer term climate change. Urban expansion, habitat fragmentation, and pest plants and animals also threaten biodiversity and agriculture in the territory.

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Both the Territory Plan (TP) and the National Capital Plan (NCP) seek to protect biodiversity by establishing significant wilderness areas, parks and reserves, hills and ridges, urban open space, river corridors and wildlife corridors (see Chapters 2 and 3 in this Handbook for more information on planning and development in the ACT and Chapter 4 for information on environmental assessment at both the strategic and individual development levels).

A number of conservation strategies are in place to guide the protection and management of the territory environment. The Nature Conservation Strategy 20132023, mentioned above, provides a long-term framework for conservation in the ACT (see further below). The ACT Weeds Strategy 2009-2019 and ACT Pest Animal Management Strategy 2012-2022 seek to reduce the damaging impact of weeds and pest animals on native plants and animals in the ACT.

The ACT Natural Resource Management Councils' 2009 Bush Capital Legacy is a strategic document which sets out a road map for addressing challenge such as improving land and water quality, maintaining and improving environmental flows or rivers, reducing the rate of biodiversity loss and reducing the ACT's ecological footprint. The vision for biodiversity is that biodiversity decline is halted, then sustainably managed to ensure resilient ecosystem functioning. The document sets targets for biodiversity conservation and identifies actions and monitoring that needs to be done. Funding to implement the Council's strategy will be drawn from the National Landcare Programme.

The ACT government's sustainability policy, People Place Prosperity, last revised in 2009, includes as a guiding principle 'valuing and conserving biodiversity and ecological integrity' (p 4).

The ACT government has also introduced legislation and policies to address climate change and its impact on biodiversity. The Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act 2010 establishes emissions reduction targets. The strategy for meeting the 2020 targets is set out in AP2: A New Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan for the ACT (2012) (see Chapter 11 in this Handbook for more information on climate change law in the ACT). At the time of writing, the ACT government is preparing the ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy will build on the Nature Conservation Strategy 2013-2023 to enhance the resilience of the natural environment.

The Conservation Council ACT Region, the peak non-government environment organisation for the Canberra region, argues that in addition to current TP and NCP corridors, additional and enhanced woodland, grassland and riparian corridors should be created through urban Canberra. Lobbying will continue for such corridors to be recognised as a conservation overlay in both plans (see Chapter 2 in this Handbook for more information on the ACT planning strategy).

The ACT has a commendable record of community participation in all aspects of biodiversity conservation, such as on-ground work, public education, research, and advocacy. The territory has several sub-catchment community organisations involved in prioritising the implementation of agreed sub-catchment plans, for example, for Tuggeranong-Tharwa, Weston-Woden, south-west rural ACT, and the upper Murrumbidgee. Volunteers in community groups such as Landcare, Park Care, Waterwatch and Frogwatch actively contribute to conservation in the territory. The Conservation Council ACT Region, and many of its member groups have a strong history of advocacy, education, research and on-ground work and generally improving community understanding of flora and fauna issues. This work is complemented by that of national organisations such as Greening Australia and Conservation Volunteers Australia.

While some environmental groups are sometimes dissatisfied with the lack of policy responsiveness to the often expert submissions they have made and views they have expressed during consultation processes, so too are industry and other stakeholders sometimes critical of various planning and development decisions that the ACT government has taken. Some of these concerns have been taken up by the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, and some have been pursued through the courts, with mixed success (see Chapter 12 in this Handbook for more information on taking action and the Contacts list at the back of this book for contact details for the groups mentioned above).

Local scale biodiversity conservation

Local scale biodiversity conservation can concern small areas of vegetation or even individual trees, and can involve various land uses. Local scale ecological connectivity can reduce the environmental pressures created by urban development. For example, indigenous trees that are retained in ecological communities, native grasslands and grassy woodland paddocks, and remnant indigenous trees that have been retained in the urban landscape, all serve a biodiversity purpose. Other introduced trees, such as arboreta for research and other purposes, and trees in rural areas, public landscapes, street trees and home gardens, while generally not serving a biodiversity function (except in the case of certain native trees) often have an amenity and heritage value and perform a range of ecological services. Debate continues amongst ecologists, landscape architects and heritage stakeholders, amongst others, about how the territory should change the exotic/indigenous balance in its urban forest. The ACT government has an ambitious long-term tree replacement program, and also replaces trees that have died as a result of drought, old age or other causes (see Chapter 6 in this Handbook for more information on tree preservation).

Local scale biodiversity conservation can be protected under territory planning and implementation processes. For example, management plans for public lands, master plans, and neighbourhood plans usually address local-scale environmental protection. So too can development application assessments, and lease management. The territory's Design Standards for Urban Infrastructure such as 'Plant Species for Urban Landscape Projects' apply to all infrastructure works constructed by, or to be managed by, the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate of the ACT Government (TAMS). The Design Standards recognise that high quality landscape development, enhancement and protection should be pursued as an integral part of the development of Canberra.

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