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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (continued)

2. Conserving biodiversity

2.1 Identifying and monitoring biodiversity and making bioregional plans

Identifying and monitoring biodiversity
Inventories of listed threatened species, etc. on Commonwealth land

Under section 172 of the Act, inventories of listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species and listed marine species were prepared for Commonwealth land during the reporting period. These inventories identify the presence and abundance of species and will continue to be updated to take account of new species data or information. The inventories also will take into account changes to the acquisition, divestment and leasing of land by the Australian Government. Government and non-government organisations that provided assistance with the inventory during the reporting period included:

Airservices Australia   Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation
Australia Post   Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Australian Customs Service   Australian Rail Track Corporation
Broadcast Australia   Department of Finance and Administration
Bureau of Meteorology   Environment ACT
Surveys of cetaceans, listed threatened species, etc. in Commonwealth marine areas

Section 173 of the EPBC Act requires surveys of cetaceans, listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species and listed marine species in Commonwealth areas. During the reporting period, the Department managed a number of contractors engaged in identifying the presence and extent of the range of the Southern Right Whale, the Blue Whale and the Humpback Whale in Commonwealth marine areas. These data will assist in the management and protection of cetacean populations.

Bioregional planning

The Department provided technical assistance and advice to state and territory governments and to community groups seeking to establish new biosphere reserves. For example assistance was provided on the nomination of Barkindji Biosphere Reserve at Mildura.

2.2 Protecting species and ecological communities

Listed threatened species and ecological communities

During 2003-04, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee continued to advise the Minister on amending and updating the lists for threatened species, threatened ecological communities, and key threatening processes together with the making or adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans.

In 2003-04, the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research and Birds Australia were contracted as consultants to assist the Department with research to support the threatened species listing process.

The Minister has a decision timeframe requirement of 90 days in considering listing advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. He met this for 59 of the 61 decisions that were required to be made. Two decisions were delayed pending the provision of additional information relevant to the potential listings.

Listing process for species

There were 21 public nominations received under the EPBC Act for threatened species, five nominations for threatened ecological communities and two nominations for key threatening processes. In addition to the public nominations, the committee also considered a number of threatened species nominations which were derived from information taken from the Action Plans for Australian Birds, Australian Butterflies and Australian Threatened and Potentially Threatened Marine and Estuarine Fishes.

The Minister made decisions on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee about 56 threatened species nominations and four key threatening process nominations. This resulted in 54 amendments to the list of threatened species, one of which was a change in threatened status, and one amendment to the list of key threatening processes.

The Australian Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) and the Murray Cod (Macchullochella peelii peelii) were listed as threatened. The Australian Lungfish is a freshwater species occurring in south-eastern Queensland and is the sole survivor of a family of fishes present since the age of the dinosaurs. Changes to the quality and extent of the Australian Lungfish's breeding habitat appear to be reducing the likelihood of successful spawning and there is evidence to suggest that in recent years, only small numbers of young are growing into adult lungfish.

The Murray Cod is the largest freshwater fish found in Australia and occurs naturally in the waterways of the Murray-Darling basin. It is threatened by disturbances to the river systems, notably through dams and weirs, and there is evidence to indicate that recruitment to the adult breeding population is unsustainably low.

A total of 46 species of Norfolk Island plants were also listed (see the case study under section 1.5 of this report).

Listing process for ecological communities

The committee is currently considering 31 nominations to list ecological communities, and is working through the assessment of 622 ecological communities listed under relevant state and territory legislation (as required by the EPBC Act). The assessment of nominations for ecological communities is extremely complex, and to address this the committee recently sponsored a technical workshop in Orange, New South Wales. This workshop considered some of the key issues affecting the listing of ecological communities, such as how to define communities that intergrade, how to assess condition and integrity and how to be precise about where the community exists or, alternatively, provide sufficient information to allow people to determine the distribution of the community.

A recent judgement in the New South Wales Land and Environment Court highlighted these complexities. The Chief Justice drew attention to the difficulties in adequately identifying ecological communities, the problems for ordinary citizens in knowing whether such communities exist on their properties, and the difficulties that descriptions of ecological communities pose for the administration of New South Wales threatened species legislation. The regime in New South Wales is sufficiently similar to the EPBC Act that these legal issues are of concern to the Australian Government.

The committee and the Department are firmly of the view these matters need to be addressed promptly. This is a matter of priority because without an appropriate level of resourcing these issues will continue to be major impediment to progressing the nominations of ecological communities.

Listing process of key threatening processes

A further key threatening process was listed, namely 'Injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris'. This listing recognises that a number of threatened species, including marine turtles, whales and seabirds are adversely affected by marine debris such as plastic garbage and abandoned fishing gear.

Cooperation with states and territories

The Department, in association with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, has been working towards improving the alignment of Australian Government, state and territory lists of threatened species. During 2003-04, the Department met with a number of state and territory government agencies to progress this issue.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee held a workshop to progress the identification of nationally threatened ecological communities and to identify ways to ensure effective conservation outcomes for listed ecological communities. The workshop was attended by a number of experts and stakeholders, including representatives from state agencies.

The Department also worked cooperatively with the New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland governments to implement a joint approach to the management and conservation of Grey-headed Flying-foxes. As part of this approach, in December 2003, the Department published the Administrative Guidelines on Significance - Supplement for the Grey-headed Flying-fox, to assist landholders decide whether their actions need to be referred to the Australian Government for approval under the EPBC Act. The guidelines and joint approach were reviewed by the Australian and state governments in May 2004 and will continue to be implemented in 2004-05.

Changes to the Register of Critical Habitat

Critical Habitat for the Endangered Black-eared Miner (Manorina melanotis) was added to the Register of Critical Habitat under section 207A of the Act. The listed Critical Habitat is in South Australia and comprises Gluepot Reserve, Taylorville Station and Calperum Station, excluding the area of Calperum Station south and east of Main Wentworth Road. Over 95 per cent of known colonies of Black-eared Miner occur within the listed area.

Permits

During the year, 12 listed threatened species and community permits were issued. These permits were for a variety of activities such as population studies, relocations of individuals, auditory census of birds, surveys requiring capture, and land management actions such as fire hazard reduction that may interfere with a listed species. Permits covered a broad range of species including, mammals, plants (such as orchids) and ecological communities (for example Cumberland Plain Woodland).

Migratory species

Departmental programmes are aimed to meet the Australian Government's obligations under international arrangements for migratory and marine species to which we are either a party or a signatory. These include the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Danger of Extinction and their Environment (JAMBA), the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People's Republic of China for the Protection of Migratory Birds and their Environment (CAMBA), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Indian Ocean-South East Asian Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.

Australia is working with the Governments of China and Japan through the auspices of the CAMBA and the JAMBA to validate and update the taxonomy of migratory birds listed under the agreements. This work also aims to define the species considered to be migratory by virtue of listing under the CMS as part of a higher taxa. As the list of migratory birds established under the EPBC Act was derived from lists made under CAMBA, JAMBA and CMS, a priority for 2004-05 will be to update the list of migratory birds in accordance with any changes made under these agreements.

A great deal of progress has been made in 2003-04 to develop the Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (ROKAMBA). Negotiations on the text of the agreement in the final stages. This agreement should be finalised and ratified in the 2004-05 financial year.

The Department has taken a leading role in ensuring the smooth operation of the Indian Ocean-South East Asian Turtle Memorandum of Understanding and encouraging membership of developing countries in the region. At the second meeting of the signatories the governments of Oman and Jordan signed the arrangement. Australia, as one of the few developing countries participating in the arrangement will as a priority, continue to take an active leadership role over the next years to encourage greater membership and increased participation in implementing the arrangement.

Increasing concerns about the declining conservation status of the dugong in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian region mean that a key priority for 2004-05 must be the development of a regional arrangement for this species, similar to the one for marine turtles. The Department has used opportunities provided by meetings of the signatories to the Indian Ocean-South East Asian Turtle Memorandum of Understanding to begin to raise awareness within the region of the plight of the dugong. In 2004-05 additional steps to develop an effective regional protection and conservation arrangement will be taken.

As part of meeting obligations for listed migratory species under Part 13 of the Act, the Department addresses emerging policy issues affecting the conservation status of those species.

While a great number of measures are in place, or being put in place, to mitigate threats to migratory marine turtles and dugong, it appears that in some areas of northern Australia Indigenous take of these species may be occurring at greater levels than has been traditionally the case. Combined with other threats operating on the populations of marine turtles and dugong, it may be that in some areas the level of harvesting may be unsustainable. The Department brought this concern to the attention of the Marine and Coastal Committee of the Natural Resource Management Council with the result that a government taskforce was established and directed to develop a national approach to manage Indigenous take of marine turtles and dugong. A key priority for 2004-05 will be to develop a national approach that is widely accepted and owned, especially by Indigenous communities.

Permits

During the year, five migratory species permits were issued under the EPBC Act. These permits were for activities including the movement overseas of samples of dead specimens for scientific research that will contribute to the conservation of migratory species.

Listed marine species
Permits

During the year, five marine species permits were issued. These permits were for activities involving scientific research which will contribute to the conservation of the species.

Whales and other cetaceans

During 2003-04, a number of activities were undertaken to improve the management and conservation status of whales and other cetaceans in Australian waters. During May 2004, four National Heritage Trust funded whales and dolphins workshops were held.

Over 100 people attended the Research Partnerships Workshop which brought together researchers involved in and organisations providing funding for cetacean research in Australia. The workshop identified threats to populations and individuals such as broad-scale ecosystem disruption, including habitat degradation and prey depletion, noise impacts from industry (including ecotourism) and interactions with fisheries. From the discussions and outcomes, the Department will further identify key research priorities to address the issues relevant to the Australian Government and the EPBC Act.

Eight humpback whale photo-identification catalogue holders convened for the first time in Australia as a group. This workshop provided a forum to facilitate collaborative working partnerships among Humpback Whale researchers in Australia leading to the exchange of key information, sharing skills and techniques and encouraging peer-reviewed publications.

The third national workshop on whale disentanglement was hosted by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. This was a training workshop demonstrating best practice techniques for large whale disentanglement. The workshop also covered safety issues, species' behaviour, awareness and conservation status. Sponsorship of these workshops by the Department is designed to promote adoption of best practice techniques across all jurisdictions in Australia, facilitating an effective and safe response to whale entanglements.

The need for a more coordinated approach to marine mammal strandings across Australia is recognised by all stakeholders and was the purpose of a further workshop. Participants agreed to the establishment of a committee to progress the formation of a national coordinator position and a strandings network.

Permits

During the year, 14 cetacean permits were issued under the EPBC Act. These permits were for activities including the interference with species for scientific research and the export and import of parts of species for scientific research.

Under section 165 of the EPBC Act, the impact assessment provisions apply to an application for a cetacean permit as if it were a controlled action. Under this requirement, the assessment approach for all permit applications was by the preliminary documentation level of assessment.

Non-compliance within timeframes relating to the notice of decision on assessment approach under section 91 of the EPBC Act and the invitation to comment on preliminary documentation under section 93 of the EPBC Act occurred on two occasions.

Recovery plans and threat abatement plans - report pursuant to section 284

The effective recovery of threatened species is a mammoth undertaking and over recent years the Australian Government has made substantial investments in this work. Almost 700 nationally threatened species and ecological communities now have recovery plans in place or in preparation though much still needs to be done. The endeavour to improve outcomes given the available resources continues, with the Department revising the approach to recovery plans to increase the emphasis on developing concise plans that are better targeted and that focus on key threats and priority actions that will make the greatest contribution to recovery of the species.

During 2003-04, a total of 23 recovery plans were made or adopted covering 27 terrestrial species listed. In addition, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee recommended a further 35 recovery plans, covering 47 listed species, for forwarding for the Minister's consideration. Species covered by the adopted recovery plans include the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, Coxen's Fig Parrot, Southern Corroboree Frog, Tallong Midge Orchid and Woolcock's Spider Orchid.

Recovery plans will continue to be implemented during 2004-05. Plans in place for marine threatened species include the Great White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plans and the National Marine Turtle Recovery Plan. Recovery plans for Sub-Antarctic Fur Seals and Southern Elephant Seals, and the Whale Shark are likely to be made in early 2004-05. The key recovery action identified for the seal species is regular monitoring of populations to determine rates of population change and to identify emerging or actual impacts so that, where appropriate, management responses can be facilitated. In the case of the Whale Shark, as the threats impacting on its recovery are largely occurring outside Australian waters, the priority approach likely to be included in the recovery plan is to work with other range states to develop a regional arrangement to protect the world's largest fish.

Five species of whale (Blue, Humpback, Sei, Fin and Southern Right) are listed as threatened under the Act. Recovery planning for these five species is under way. Completion of recovery plans for these species will be a priority activity for the next reporting period.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee has made a series of recommendations regarding recovery plans. The recommendations express the committee's concerns that plans often are for single species when multi-species plans would be more effective and efficient. Accordingly multi-species and regional recovery plans are being given priority where appropriate. This new approach has been applied to the draft recovery plan for fur seals and elephant seals. In addition a pilot project is currently under way in two regions whereby the one recovery plan will be developed to apply to as many threatened species and communities as possible that occur in the region. This approach reflects the fact that, for many threatened species and communities, protection and enhancement of natural habitat is the most significant action that can aid recovery. Should the pilot prove successful then, with appropriate resources, this approach could improve the performance of species recovery effort and thus address the large backlog of species requiring effective recovery planning.

Two species of Southern Ocean seabirds, the Antarctic Tern (Sterna vittata bethunei) and the Goulds Petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera leucoptera) are overdue for recovery plans. These plans are being progressed and it is anticipated they will be finalised in 2004-05.

In addition to the six threat abatement plans (TAPs) in place for key threatening processes such as predation by the European Red Fox and feral cats, preparation of a further three TAPs continued in 2003-04. The key threatening processes being addressed through these TAPs are:

Work commenced on two further TAPs:

Development of the TAP addressing beak and feather disease has recently exceeded the three year period allowed and is now overdue. However, the plan is in the latter stages of development and it is anticipated it will be finalised in 2004-05.

Recovery plans being implemented

The Australian Government has made significant investments in recovery plan implementation. Projects have included recovery actions for species such as the Orange-bellied Parrot, Swift Parrot, Regent Honeyeater, Tammar Wallaby, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, and stream frogs of southeast Queensland. Activities to recover these species have included community education, captive breeding programmes, weed and feral pest control, and protecting and expanding important areas of habitat through fencing and revegetation.

Recovery plans will continue to be implemented during 2004-05, including the Great White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plans, the Western Swamp Tortoise Recovery Plan and the Draft South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Recovery Plan.

On 15 April 2004, the National Turtle Recovery Group (NTRG) met for the first time. The NTRG consists of representatives who have a demonstrated interest in the implementation of the Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles and includes members from the Australian Government, state and territory government agencies, non-government organisations, and Indigenous and industry representatives. A key outcome of the meeting was to recommend three priority areas for action, namely: awareness raising of sustainability issues surrounding Indigenous take; development of national protocols for monitoring; and interactions with fisheries, noting that any work should build on the excellent progress already being made by this industry.

Implementation of specific recovery objectives contained in the Great White Shark Recovery Plan has progressed significantly in the 2003-04 financial year. In particular, the Department actively promoted the monitoring and reduction of international trade in Great White Shark specimens and products through nominating the Great White Shark to Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This nomination will be considered at the 13th Conference of the Parties to CITES in October 2004. In addition, CSIRO was commissioned under the recovery plan to research the movement patterns and habitats of the Great White Shark in order to help meet specific recovery objectives contained in the recovery plan.

Implementation of recovery objectives in the Grey Nurse Shark Recovery Plan continued in 2003-04. In particular, the Department encouraged and funded the following work:

To ensure all shark tagging is undertaken in the most ethical and humane manner possible, the Department commissioned a review of tagging methods which included a number of recommendations designed to enhance the welfare of tagged sharks.

Wildlife conservation plans - report pursuant to section 298

In December 2002, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee determined that a Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds was a priority. The Wildlife Conservation Plan is currently being developed in consultation with interested stakeholders. An issues paper was distributed widely and was made available on the Department of the Environment and Heritage web site in July 2004. It is anticipated that a draft Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds will be made available for public comment in 2004-05.

Other measures

Funding of $138 000 was provided to Wetlands International-Oceania to provide core support for implementation of the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Action Plan 2001-05 and to help the conservation of species of migratory shorebirds in those countries in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

Australia has also provided approximately $100 000 towards the implementation of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asian Memorandum of Understanding on Marine Turtles aimed at encouraging developing countries in the region to undertake conservation activities for marine turtles.

Exemptions

One exemption was granted under section 303A of the Act. This exemption was for the importation of a tomahawk with a whalebone handle for the National Museum of Australia's exhibition Outlawed! The World's Rebels, Revolutionaries and Bushrangers.

2.3 International movement of wildlife

The EPBC Act controls the export of Australia's native wildlife and import of live exotic species. It also controls the movement of internationally recognised endangered species, thereby fulfilling Australia's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The EPBC Act provides better conservation outcomes and benefits for industry by:

Management plans, approved under the EPBC Act, govern the sustainable use of wildlife and the humane treatment of animals. These plans have enabled the Australian Government to ensure that wildlife may be used as a natural renewable resource. Other programmes, such as captive breeding and artificial propagation programmes, have permitted the abundant use of specimens from these sources and reduced demand for the same species in the wild. Permits have enabled the Australian Government to strictly and accurately monitor and assess the use and derivation of wildlife specimens, thus protecting Australia's rich and diverse wildlife from unsustainable use.

The rigorous assessment of proposals to import live animal species, including bio-control agents, has helped to protect and conserve Australia's biodiversity and agricultural industries from further attack by non-native species. If found suitable for import, species are publicly listed under the EPBC Act to provide the public with clear and accurate information on what is allowed and what is not allowed into the country.

Higher standards of animal welfare have been achieved through progressive assessments and approvals of management plans and programmes and the regulation of animals transferring between zoos and wildlife parks. In addition, the Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos is under review and the Code of Practice for the Humane Handling of Crocodiles is near completion.

During the year, a total of 4228 wildlife trade permit applications were received. There were 55 108 personal baggage permits and 4000 other permits (commercial and non-commercial) issued. Thirty-two applications were received to amend the list of animal species approved for live import and 11 amendments to this list were gazetted and tabled. Six testing permits where granted to researchers assessing host specificity of proposed biological control agents.

A total of 284 wildlife trade permit applications for non-commercial purposes were assessed to ensure that they complied with legislative conservation and animal welfare requirements. These permits were mainly issued to zoos and scientific researchers. Where applicants were receiving mammals, reptiles, birds or amphibians, their facilities were assessed for animal welfare requirements.

International wildlife trade is controlled in close collaboration with the Australian Customs Service. A total of 4252 seizure notices were issued in the 2003-04 year and prosecution included the following:

In some cases, a permit cannot be issued unless the items are being exported or imported from or to an approved programme. During the year, the following programmes were approved:

Case study
Capacity building in the South Pacific

The Department continues to provide strong leadership in the protection of threatened species in the South Pacific region. As the regional representative for the Oceania region in CITES, Australia has provided legislative and administrative expertise to assist Fiji and Papua New Guinea update wildlife legislation and improve CITES implementation. As a result, for the first time, all CITES parties in the region now have CITES implementing legislation in place and are in full compliance with the convention.

Through an innovative capacity building programme, the Department is also providing assistance in the development of administrative and enforcement systems. A comprehensive programme of capacity building activities has been developed in collaboration with the Fijian Government, the CITES secretariat and relevant non government organisations, to which the Department will provide administrative and technical expertise.

Building on the Department's strong relationship with counterpart agencies in Papua New Guinea and Fiji, two in-country youth ambassador placements have also been negotiated to improve communication and cooperation between regional parties, and to facilitate the sharing of administrative and technical expertise throughout the region.

2.4 Conservation agreements

As part of the Natural Heritage Trust 'Assistance to Landholders' project the Department has been developing policies and financial mechanisms to support farmers and other landholders in the management of important environmental values on private land. The development of a small number of initial conservation agreements under the EPBC Act is a key part of this project.

The Department has engaged an expert to map the Bluegrass ecological communities on a number of properties in the Emerald district of central Queensland. This mapping will provide accurate information on the distribution and quality of the communities on various property that then may be the subject of conservation agreements (see report on the National Farmers' Federation EPBC Act Information Officer position in section 1.5).

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