Nature Conservation Act 2014

09 Aug 2016 - 15:41 | Version 1 |

Introduction

The recently enacted Nature Conservation Act 2014 ('Nature Conservation Act') aims to 'protect, conserve and enhance the biodiversity of the ACT' (s 6). The Act replaces the Nature Conservation Act 1980, and seeks to strengthen the existing ACT nature conservation framework.

The Nature Conservation Act expands the role of the Conservator of Flora and Fauna in managing and monitoring nature conservation in the ACT (part 2.1) and aligns the ACT process for listing threatened species and ecological communities with the Commonwealth EPBC Act.

The Act provides for the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (part 2.2) and the Scientific Committee (part 2.4). The Act requires a Nature Conservation Strategy for the ACT (ch 3) (mentioned above) and provides special protection measures for threatened native species and ecological communities (ch 4), including action plans (part 4.5), conservation plans (ch 5) and management plans (ch 7 and 8). The Act and its subordinate legislation also provide for monitoring, compliance and enforcement activities.

The Conservator and the Parks and Conservation Service

The Conservator of Flora and Fauna (the conservator), or the person exercising the conservator's duties, is a public servant appointed under the Nature Conservation Act (s 20). At the time of writing the conservator was the Executive Director of Policy at the Environment and Planning Directorate. The conservator has statutory powers under the Nature Conservation Act, the Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT), the Tree Protection Act 2005 (ACT), and the Fisheries Act 2000 (ACT). Under the Nature Conservation Act, the conservator has the following functions:
  • developing and overseeing a range of policies, programs and plans for the effective management of nature conservation in the ACT
  • monitoring the state of nature conservation in the ACT, including through the preparation and implementation of a biodiversity research and monitoring program (ss 24-26)
  • providing information to the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment for inclusion in the state of the environment report (s 21).
The conservator also has a role in managing the nature reserve system in the ACT (ch 10), including advising the minister on whether to declare Resource Protection Areas within reserves, and making declarations restricting or prohibiting activities that may have a negative impact if carried out in reserves, or closing reserves for public safety or reserve management purposes (ch 10) (for further detail about public land see Chapter 7 in this Handbook). Further, the conservator has a role in granting nature conservation licences for the sustainable use of biodiversity (ch 11); entering into management agreements with agencies who manage land, such as utility suppliers and land developers (ch 12) (for further detail on Land Management Agreements see Chapter 7 in this Handbook); and giving advice about the adverse environmental impacts of proposed developments, and ways to minimise those impacts and suitable offsets (ch 13) (for further information on development applications see Chapter 3 in this Handbook).

The Act also establishes the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (the 'Service') (s 27). The Service comprises conservation officers, including the rangers we see in parks and reserves (s 27). The role of the Service is to assist the conservator in the exercise of his or her functions under the Act (s 27). The conservator may delegate any of his or her functions under the Act to conservation officers (s 22), who also have specified investigation and enforcement powers (ch 14).

A conservation officer can direct a person to leave a reserved area if they are acting in an offensive manner, or are reasonably suspected of having acted in an offensive manner; or if they are creating a public nuisance or committing an offence against the Act (s 325). Conservation officers can also direct persons to provide certain information or stop certain activities, and have powers of inspection, search and seizure in relation to land, premises, vehicles and vessels for enforcement purposes (ch 14). Offences under the Nature Conservation Act are described further below.

The Service also conducts research and monitoring work, and assists the many volunteer environment and conservation organisations that contribute to biodiversity conservation in the ACT, including organisations in the Parkcare network.

The Scientific Committee

The Scientific Committee (the 'Committee') established under the Nature Conservation Act (s 31) is responsible for advising the minister and the conservator about nature conservation and exercising any other functions given to it under the Act or another ACT law (s 32). The Committee is required to provide the minister with a report on its activities each year, and to make the report publicly available (s 33). The minister can give the Committee written directions to provide advice about a conservation matter (s 34). The conservator has to include a copy of any directions, and information about the actions taken to implement them, in his or her annual report (s 34) (see Contacts list at the back of this book.)

The appointees to the Committee must have scientific expertise in biology, ecology or conservation, and at least four must not be public servants (s 36). Seven members are appointed by the minister on a part time basis and hold office for up to 3 years, but can be reappointed.

The minister may also set up additional advisory committees (s 46).

Nature Conservation Strategy

The Nature Conservation Strategy, discussed above, is a policy document required by the Nature Conservation Act (ch 3). The Strategy is developed by the conservator and approved by the minister. In developing the Strategy, the conservator must consult with the Committee, the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment and the public. The conservator is responsible for implementing, monitoring the effectiveness of the Strategy (with a report to the minister every 5 years), and reviewing the Strategy (every 10 years).

The current Nature Conservation Strategy is the Nature Conservation Strategy 2013-2023. The document builds on the original 1997 strategy and aims to enhance the resilience of natural areas at wider 'landscape scales' including by better integrating and extending conservation efforts beyond reserves to include natural areas across a range of land uses and tenures, and cross-border, to ensure ecosystems remain healthy and well-managed (p 2). Its vision is for 'biodiversity rich, resilient landscapes stretching from the inner city to the mountains, where wellfunctioning ecosystems can meet the needs of people and the environment' (p 3).

It sets out strategies and actions for:
  • enhancing habitat connectivity and ecosystem function
  • managing threats to biodiversity
  • protecting species and ecological communities
  • enhancing the biodiversity value of urban areas
  • strengthening community engagement
  • implementing the strategy and monitoring and reviewing its effectiveness.

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