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Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2004-05

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335

Legislation annual reports 2004-05 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

2. Conserving biodiversity

2.1 Identifying and monitoring biodiversity

Inventories of listed threatened species etc. on Commonwealth land

Under section 172 of the EPBC Act, inventories of listed threatened species and ecological communities, listed migratory species and listed marine species on Commonwealth land have been prepared. These inventories identify the presence and abundance of species and continue to be updated to take account of new species information as it becomes available. The information is used to inform decisions under the EPBC Act and to update the Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database.

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 marine areas. During the reporting period, the Australian Government provided Natural Heritage Trust funding to 12 projects which included surveys of cetaceans, including blue, southern right, humpback and sperm whales and other small cetaceans. The information is used to inform decisions under the EPBC Act and to update the Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database.

2.2 Protecting species and ecological communities

Listed threatened species and ecological communities

During 2004-05 the Threatened Species Scientific Committee continued to advise the minister on amending and updating the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes; and on making or adopting recovery plans and threat abatement plans.

Listing process for species

There were 23 public nominations received under the EPBC Act for species during 2004-05. The minister made decisions on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in regard to 30 species nominations, including a number of nominations received prior to July 2004, resulting in 25 amendments to the list of threatened species (see Table 9, Appendix 1 of this report).

The committee must provide advice to the minister within 12 months of receiving a nomination. Due to an administrative error, advice on one species was approximately two weeks late. On all other occasions the deadline was met or an extension sought as required. The minister made all 30 decisions on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee within the statutory 90-day timeframe.

During 2004-05 the minister made a decision to transfer the Galaxias pedderensis (Pedder galaxias), a freshwater fish endemic to Tasmania, from the endangered category to the extinct in the wild category. The Pedder galaxias is the first species to be listed as extinct in the wild. The species was originally listed as endangered under the previous Commonwealth threatened species legislation, the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992, which did not have an extinct in the wild category. The change in category was not representative of an increased level of threat to the species, but an updating of the list to accurately reflect the species' conservation status and the new category available under the EPBC Act.

The species met the criteria for listing as extinct in the wild because it is only found outside its natural range in two translocated populations, which are managed for conservation purposes. As a listed threatened species, the Pedder galaxias is a matter of national environmental significance; that is, if a proposed action is likely to have a significant impact on the species the action must be referred to the Australian Government for approval under the EPBC Act.

Listing process for ecological communities

In addressing the inherent complexity of adequately identifying and defining broad-extent ecological communities, the approach to listing ecological communities has been refined. The new approach more clearly defines the extent and value of ecological communities. Traditionally, ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act have been defined in such a way that a wide range of condition classes are encompassed, from good to poor condition. Under the new approach, developed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and agreed to in-principle by the minister, condition classes are used to clearly define the listed ecological community. While legislative protection is afforded to the listed ecological community, recognition is also given to those components that are degraded, but which could be recovered or which help conserve key ecological functions. These degraded components are identified as suitable for natural resource management investments such as the Natural Heritage Trust.

As at 30 June 2005 the Threatened Species Scientific Committee was considering 31 nominations to list ecological communities, and working through the assessment of over 600 threatened ecological communities listed under relevant state and territory legislation. To ensure that all ecological community listings are scientifically sound, the assessment of nominations includes extensive research, public consultation and receiving the views of relevant experts. Six technical workshops involving experts and Australian Government and state officials were held during the year to assist in identifying the status of nominated ecological communities and to define condition classes. Technical workshops were held for yellow box-red gum grassy woodland, the irongrass natural temperate grassland of South Australia, peppermint box grassy woodland of South Australia, weeping myall woodlands, western (basalt) plains natural temperate grasslands, and Victorian western basalt plains grassy woodland.

Three new public nominations were received during the year, for the Mission Road viney hardwood forest of Norfolk Island, coastal scrub on alkaline sand, and temperate lowland plains grassy wetland. The minister made decisions on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in regard to three ecological community nominations, resulting in three amendments to the list of ecological communities. All three decisions were made within the statutory 90-day timeframe.

Listing process for key threatening processes

Two nominations were received under the EPBC Act for key threatening processes during 2004-05. The minister made decisions on advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in regard to three key threatening processes resulting in two amendments to the list of key threatening processes. These were the listing of the biological effects, including lethal toxic ingestion, caused by cane toads (see case study below), and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity following invasion by the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. The minister made all three decisions within the statutory 90-day timeframe.

Case study

Biological effects caused by cane toads listed as a key threatening process

'The biological effects, including lethal toxic ingestion, caused by cane toads (Bufo marinus)' was listed as a key threatening process in 2004-05.

The cane toad was introduced to Australia in 1935 to control two species of cane beetle. Whilst the species was unsuccessful in controlling cane beetles, it has proven to be highly invasive. Since its introduction to Australia, the cane toad has spread south and west and now occurs in Queensland, the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

There is considerable concern amongst experts and the broader community about the impact of the cane toad on native species through predation and competition. Cane toads also possess highly toxic chemical predator defences and there are many scientific and anecdotal reports of deaths of native predators that have attempted to consume cane toads. For example, recent studies in Kakadu National Park have shown that northern quolls are becoming locally extinct following cane toad invasion. The northern quoll was listed as endangered during 2004-05, as it has undergone a substantial reduction in numbers and is likely to continue to decline in the immediate future. Whilst there may be several factors that have contributed to the current status of the northern quoll, including changes in vegetation structure, fire frequency, and the introduction of exotic herbivores, the invasion of cane toads throughout their range has rapidly accelerated this decline.

Measures aimed at addressing cane toads currently under way include research into biological and local control methods, working with the Western Australian and Northern Territory governments and community groups to address the advancing cane toad front, and the development of a national approach to address cane toads by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council.

Changes to the Register of Critical Habitat

In 2004-05 critical habitat for the Ginninderra peppercress (Lepidium ginninderrense) was added to the Register of Critical Habitat under section 207A of the EPBC Act. The listed critical habitat is the northwest corner of the Belconnen Naval Transmission Station, ACT, where the only known population of the species occurs.

Permits for listed threatened species and ecological communities

During the year eight listed threatened species and ecological community permits were issued under section 201 of the EPBC Act. These permits were for a variety of purposes including research, seed collection and export for both plant and animal species.

One of the eight permits was issued by the Australian Antarctic Division for rehabilitating on the decks of vessels any listed threatened bird species injured by bird strikes, and to collect the carcass of any such dead birds for research or display purposes. This permit also applies where the species is a listed marine or migratory species under the EPBC Act.

Two of the eight permits were issued by Parks Australia, one for conducting the annual monitoring programme for the threatened species Dasycercus cristicauda (a small mammal also known as mulgara) as required by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Plan of Management. The other was issued to the Australian Museum for a study of two threatened reptile species (Christinus guentheri and Oligosoma lichenigera, also known as Pseudemoia lichenigera) on Phillip Island, near Norfolk Island. The study aimed to determine the current conservation status of the species and to update a previous survey conducted in 1978. The study included observation, counting, photographing, trapping, marking, measuring, and genetic sampling of the species.

Migratory species

Departmental programmes aim to meet the Australian Government's obligations under international arrangements for migratory and marine species to which Australia is either a party or a signatory. These include the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as 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 Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP); and the Indian Ocean-South East Asian Memorandum of Understanding on Sea Turtles.

Australia is continuing to work with the governments of China and Japan through CAMBA and 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 Convention on Migratory Species as part of a higher taxa. This will ensure that the list of migratory species under Part 13 of the EPBC Act is as accurate and as comprehensive as possible.

The development of the Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (ROKAMBA) is in its final stages and is expected to be finalised and ratified in 2005-06. The department has taken a leading role in ensuring the smooth operation of the Indian Ocean-South East Asian Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Sea Turtles, and encouraging membership by developing countries in the region. At the third meeting of the signatories the Government of the Republic of Indonesia signed the MoU. Australia, as one of the few developed countries participating in the arrangement, will continue to take an active leadership role over the next few years to encourage greater membership and increased participation in its implemention.

Australia also promotes dugong conservation in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian region. To this end the department is cooperating with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand to co-host a meeting to discuss regional dugong conservation, protection and management, with the aim of developing an MoU similar to the Indian Ocean-South East Asian MoU on Sea Turtles.

The department chairs the Marine and Coastal Committee (of the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council) Taskforce on Turtle and Dugong Populations to develop a national approach to ensure that Indigenous harvest of these species is sustainable and legal. The taskforce has prepared a draft document, Sustainable and legal Indigenous harvest of marine turtles and dugongs in Australia-a national approach, which is expected to be finalised in 2005-06.

The development of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, or ACAP, has been another key initiative of the Australian Government. ACAP, developed under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species, is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels by coordinating international activity to mitigate known threats to albatross and petrel populations. ACAP entered into force on 1 February 2004 and the first Meeting of the Parties to the agreement was held in Hobart from 10-12 November 2004.

At the meeting Australia offered to host the secretariat permanently in Hobart. There was unanimous support for this proposal from the parties present. A process to establish the permanent secretariat was agreed, with Australia to continue to provide the interim secretariat in the meantime. An advisory committee was also established to provide scientific, technical and other advice to the Meeting of the Parties, and a work programme for this committee was endorsed. The advisory committee will hold its first meeting on 20-22 July 2005, which will be hosted by Australia in Hobart. The second Meeting of the Parties will take place in late 2006 and may be hosted by the United Kingdom, although no formal offer to host the meeting has yet been made.

Permits for migratory species

During the year one migratory species permit was issued under section 216 of the EPBC Act by Parks Australia for the purpose of transporting estuarine crocodile eggs through Kakadu National Park.

Listed marine species
Permits for listed marine species

In addition to the permit discussed on page 32, during the year two permits were issued by the Australian Antarctic Division under section 258 of the EPBC Act: one for activities including tagging, taking blood, implanting transponders, weighing, marking, dyeing and checking existing tagged Adelie penguins; the other for collecting tissue samples from dead penguins found opportunistically.

Whales and other cetaceans

Activities undertaken during the year to improve the management and conservation status of whales and other cetaceans in Australian waters included:

Permits for whales and other cetaceans

During the year six cetacean permits were issued under the EPBC Act (see Table 10, Appendix 1 of this report). These permits were for such activities as interference with species for seismic exploration, documentary filming, whale watching, and the export and import of parts of species for scientific research.

Under section 165 of the EPBC Act, the impact assessment provisions of the EPBC Act apply to an action for which a person is applying for a cetacean permit as if it were a controlled action. In 2004-05 all applications for a cetacean permit were assessed by the preliminary documentation level of assessment.

Recovery plans and threat abatement plans-section 284 report
Recovery planning

The Australian Government continued to make a substantial investment in recovering threatened species through developing and implementing recovery plans. Over 800 nationally threatened species and ecological communities now have recovery plans in place or in preparation.

During 2004-05 recovery plan completion accelerated with 61 recovery plans covering 91 terrestrial threatened species and one ecological community being made or adopted under the EPBC Act. Species and communities covered by the adopted recovery plans include the golden bandicoot and golden-backed tree-rat from northern Australia; the Eastern Suburbs banksia scrub endangered ecological community, which occurs in Sydney's coastal areas; and a critically endangered rainforest tree, the nightcap oak, which is restricted to one small population in northern New South Wales. A recovery plan for 25 threatened orchids of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales was adopted, as well as plans for 32 Western Australian flora species.

The Government also focused on completing plans for species in Commonwealth areas, with the making of recovery plans for eight Christmas Island species including Abbott's booby, the Christmas Island pipistrelle, and the Christmas Island goshawk, considered to be the rarest endemic bird on Christmas Island.

More strategic and integrated approaches to threatened species recovery and threat abatement also continued to be explored in 2004-05. A regional pilot project for the south coast region of Western Australia commenced. The project is testing the feasibility and effectiveness of developing threatened species recovery plans at the regional scale. A key element is to promote increased integration of landscape-scale threat abatement activities with species recovery. The project will also trial incorporating climate change considerations into regional recovery and threat abatement planning. Regional recovery plans for the Mount Lofty Ranges region of South Australia and for Norfolk Island were also begun.

Implementation of recovery plans for many priority species continued during 2004-05, including the northern hairy-nosed wombat, Gilbert's potoroo, western swamp tortoise, regent honeyeater, and natural temperate grasslands of southern New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Activities to recover these species included protecting and expanding habitat through fencing and revegetation, captive breeding programmes, weed and feral pest control, and community education.

In 2004-05 three recovery plans were made for cetaceans-for the humpback whale, the southern right whale, and blue, fin and sei whales. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee recommended making these plans. The plans reflect the new streamlined approach to recovery planning, which focuses on the key threats of whaling and habitat degradation, and outlines necessary actions to ensure species recovery.

As at 30 June 2005 there were six recovery plans in place under the EPBC Act for marine species. These plans cover six marine turtle species; 10 seabird species; great white shark; grey nurse shark; whale shark; and sub-Antarctic fur seal and southern elephant seal. Three of these, for the seals, seabirds and whale shark, were made during 2004-05. There are a further two recovery plans in preparation for marine species, covering four species of handfish and the sea lion.

During 2004-05 the National Turtle Recovery Group and the National Shark Recovery Group were convened to report on progress toward implementation of the Recovery plan for marine turtles in Australia, the White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) recovery plan and the Recovery plan for grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia, and to identify priority actions to implement the recovery plans.

Case study

Recovery planning for the endangered Wollemi pine

The dramatic discovery in 1994 of the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) brought to light a remarkable tale of survival. The evolutionary line of this species was thought to be extinct, even though these tall and striking trees grow only 150 kilometres from Sydney in the Wollemi National Park. The species has exceedingly low numbers, within a very restricted distribution, and is now listed as endangered under the EPBC Act. To provide protection for the species and to aid its recovery, the New South Wales Government developed a recovery plan that has been adopted under the EPBC Act.

The overall objective of the recovery plan is to protect the known populations of the Wollemi pine from decline brought about by non-natural sources, and to ensure that the wild populations of the Wollemi pine remain viable in the long term. During 2004-05 a review and update of the recovery plan was funded through the Natural Heritage Trust.

In 1999 the Wollemi pine was known from two sites, located about a kilometre apart with plants distributed over more than a hectare. The population of the two sites includes approximately 40 adult plants and about 200 juveniles. An additional third population was discovered in 2000. However the total number of adult trees remains fewer than 100. Due to its restricted distribution, recovery actions focus on preventing loss caused by catastrophic fire and introduced pathogens, such as Phytophthora cinnamomi. A Wollemi pine access strategy has been implemented, including the introduction of site hygiene protocols. A fire management plan is also being established and the New South Wales Government has developed a protocol for fighting fires that threaten a population of the tree.

Access to the site is restricted and information on the location is confidential. These actions help prevent unauthorised visits which are likely to threaten the species through trampling of seedlings, compaction of soil, the introduction of weeds and the collection of seeds. The species has been cultivated and will be made available to the public in the future through a commercialisation program. By making plant material widely available to the public, it is hoped that the risk of illegal and potentially devastating collection of the species in the wild will be reduced.

Threat abatement planning

During the year the Australian Government continued implementing actions through threat abatement plans to address key threatening processes. Six threat abatement plans are in place to address the impacts of feral goats, rabbits, cats, foxes, and the root-rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi, and for bycatch of seabirds due to longline fishing. In accordance with the EPBC Act requirement for five-yearly review of threat abatement plans, a review process is currently underway for the threat abatement plans addressing the impacts of feral goats, rabbits, cats and foxes. The review is expected to be completed midway through 2005-06. A review process has also commenced for the threat abatement plan addressing the impacts of P. cinnamomi.

The Threat abatement plan for the incidental catch (or by-catch) of seabirds during oceanic longline fishing operations was reviewed during the year, and a draft revised threat abatement plan was considered by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The draft threat abatement plan was prepared in consultation with the Threat Abatement Plan Team, which includes representatives of all major stakeholders, and should be released for public comment early in 2005-06.

As at 30 June 2005 threat abatement plans addressing feral pigs, psittacine circoviral (beak and feather) disease and chytrid fungus were close to completion. A further two plans, one addressing tramp ant species (including red imported fire ant) and one on the impacts of marine debris, are under development.

Key outcomes achieved in the implementation of threat abatement plans over the year included progress in developing direct control measures for particular invasive species (such as a poisoned bait for feral cats and the development of a vaccine to protect psittacine species against beak and feather disease), or for groups of invasive species (such as trial fencing designs for excluding invasive vertebrates from areas of value, including conservation areas).

Best practice guidelines for managing invasive species have progressed, such as guidelines for managing sites that are threatened by the root-rot disease P. cinnamomi and for reviewing methods used to determine the abundance of feral cats. To better understand species ecology and impacts, research has been funded through the Natural Heritage Trust to look at the causes and spread of P. cinnamomi and amphibian chytrid disease.

Wildlife conservation plans-section 298 report

Preparation of a wildlife conservation plan for migratory shorebirds continues. An issues paper was widely distributed and published on the department's web site in July 2004. It is expected that a draft conservation plan will be made available for public comment early in 2005-06.

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 good conservation outcomes and benefits for industry by:

CITES activities

In 2004-05 the department, as the Australian Management Authority for CITES, cooperated with the Government of Madagascar to propose the great white shark for listing on Appendix II to the convention. Appendix II species are those that, although not threatened with extinction now, might become so unless trade in them is strictly controlled and monitored.

The thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, held in Bangkok, Thailand from 2-14 October 2004, voted to list the great white shark. The Irrawaddy dolphin was upgraded from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I (listing those species threatened with extinction that are, or may be, affected by trade) and the humphead Maori wrasse was listed on Appendix II. The list of CITES species under the EPBC Act was amended in line with listing changes agreed by the meeting and the changes came into force on 12 January 2005.

To assist in regulating illegal trade in CITES listed species the department is managing a project to design a great white shark DNA protocol to assist Australian Customs Service officers to identify great white shark parts or products. The department is also cooperating with the governments of the Philippines, the United Kingdom and India to produce guides to assist customs officers to identify CITES- listed shark species, parts or products.

Australia continued in a leadership role as the regional representative for Oceania (incorporating CITES parties Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Palau and Vanuatu) on the CITES Standing Committee. Australia has been active in this role, ensuring that the interests of the Oceania region are represented in CITES business and providing capacity building assistance to other regional parties. The fifty-third Meeting of the Standing Committee took place from 27 June-1 July 2005.

Australia's capacity building efforts have included assisting Fiji to legislate to enable it to meet its CITES obligations, and supporting the preparation of the Fiji Management Authority to assume the role of Oceania regional representative following the fourteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Another major initiative for the region in 2004-05 was the second capacity building workshop, held in Brisbane in August 2004. The workshop was convened by the department (in its role as Australian Management Authority) and TRAFFIC Oceania, and was funded by the CITES Secretariat. The meeting focused on the issue of non-detriment findings, a process of establishing that proposed trade of a species will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.

The department will continue to look for opportunities to provide capacity building assistance to CITES parties in the Oceania region.

Sustainable wildlife industries

In 2004-05 the department successfully managed the Natural Heritage Trust programme Supporting Sustainable Flora Industries. The Natural Heritage Trust grant funded research on a number of aspects of sustainable flora management and a national flora workshop. The workshop was held in Hobart in May 2005. The workshop agreed that the Australian Government, states and territories should work cooperatively towards national consistency in the management of flora harvesting and propagation, with particular focus on developing a national strategy for sustainable flora management.

Wildlife trade management plans and wildlife trade operations, approved under the EPBC Act, govern the sustainable wild harvest 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. On 14 October 2004 the Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld the decisions to approve the kangaroo management plans for Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia following an appeal by animal rights groups.

Wildlife trade permits and programmes

During 2004-05 3 284 wildlife trade permits and 19 418 personal accompanied baggage permits were issued. Thirty-seven applications were received to amend the list of specimens suitable for live import and 26 amendments to this list were gazetted or registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments and tabled. Two species-Cichlasoma sp hybrid (blood parrot cichlid) and Hypancistrus zebra (a catfish)-were rejected for inclusion on the live import list.

The department handled one request for a statement of reasons relating to the minister's decision to amend the live import list to include six ornamental fish species.

The department assessed 378 wildlife trade permit applications for non-commercial purposes to ensure that they complied with legislative conservation and animal welfare requirements. A total of 374 of these permits were issued, mainly to zoos and scientific researchers. Where applicants were receiving mammals, reptiles, birds or amphibians, their facilities were assessed for animal welfare requirements.

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 numbers and types of programmes were approved 1:

Other outcomes during the year included:

The department also commenced developing guidelines on the provisions of the EPBC Act that govern the trade in zoo animals. The guidelines will provide stakeholders with a clearer understanding of the approval process and the requirements of import and export permits granted under the EPBC Act.

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.

In 2004-05 the department engaged a locally based consultant to assess the suitability of 25 parcels of land on Norfolk Island with high conservation values to be the subject of conservation agreement offers. Where parties considered it desirable to enter into such an agreement, the consultant was to describe and map the subject properties; conduct surveys to verify the presence and condition of EPBC Act listed species and their habitat; identify threats and responses; prepare a programme of works, activities and associated costs; and develop an implementation plan.

As a result, the department has entered into two conservation agreements on Norfolk Island and these are expected to provide immediate benefits in protecting those blocks with the highest rated conservation value outside the Norfolk Island National Park. The longer-term benefits of these conservation agreements will be assessed over the three-year term of the agreements. Concurrently, those parcels of land ranked as having the next highest conservation value will be assessed for their suitability as the subject of further conservation agreements.

1. The department also accesses the environmental performance of all fisheries with an export component