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Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2005–06

Volume two
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006
ISSN 1441 9335

Legislation annual reports 2005-06 (continued)

Operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

2. Conserving biodiversity

2.1 Identifying and monitoring biodiversity and making bioregional plans

Identifying and monitoring biodiversity (section 171)

The department provided Natural Heritage Trust funding for projects in the Northern Territory and Torres Strait involving traditional owners in monitoring work. Projects include:

Inventories of listed threatened species etc. on Commonwealth land (section 172)

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 were prepared. The 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 database.

Surveys of cetaceans, listed threatened species etc. in Commonwealth marine areas (section 173)

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 2005–06, the department provided Natural Heritage Trust funding for five cetacean projects. These projects were:

Bioregional planning (section 176)

Under the Australian Government’s new approach to regional marine planning, marine bioregional plans are being developed for waters within the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction under section 176 of the EPBC Act. Marine bioregional plans focus on meeting Australian Government conservation and heritage responsibilities within these waters. The plans will therefore be key documents to guide the minister, sectoral managers and industry about the conservation issues and priorities in each marine region.

The plans will draw on Australia’s growing marine science and socio-economic information base to provide a detailed picture of each marine region. Each plan will describe a region’s key habitats and species; natural processes; human uses and benefits; and threats to the long-term ecological sustainability of the region. The plans will detail the statutory obligations under the EPBC Act that apply in any region, and will describe the conservation measures in place, such as those relating to recovery planning for threatened species.

The plans will also assist in developing the National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters around Australia. This was previously undertaken as a separate programme. A proposed network of marine protected areas will be included in each draft marine bioregional plan.

The department continues to lead the new approach to regional marine planning. Four-year funding of the programme until 2010 will see planning undertaken in all five of Australia’s marine regions, and include a national network of marine protected areas in Commonwealth waters.

2.2 Protecting species and ecological communities

Listed threatened species and ecological communities

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.

Process for listing species

There were 15 public nominations received under the EPBC Act for species during 2005–06. The minister made decisions on advice from the committee in regard to 13 species nominations, including nominations received in 2004–05, resulting in nine 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 or seek a formal extension to this statutory timeframe. On all occasions the deadline was met or an extension sought and approved as required in the legislation. The minister made decisions on advice from the committee within the 90-day statutory timeframe for 12 species. Due to the complexity of the koala nomination and the need for extensive consultation, the statutory 90-day timeframe was exceeded for this species.

Process for listing ecological communities

As at 30 June 2006 the committee was considering 33 nominations to list ecological communities, and working through the assessment of over 640 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. Twelve technical workshops involving experts and Australian Government and state officials were held to assist in identifying the status of nominated ecological communities and to define condition classes. Technical workshops were held for the following ecological communities: ribbon gum–mountain gum–snow gum–black sallee woodlands on basalt north of the Hunter Valley; New England peppermint (Eucalyptus nova-anglica) woodland on sediment on the northern tablelands; New England peppermint woodland on basalt on the New South Wales northern tablelands; mixed microphyll/notophyll rainforest; coolabah (Eucalyptus coolabah)–black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) woodlands of the northern New South Wales wheat belt and Queensland brigalow belt bioregion; Brogo wet vine forest; dry rainforest of south-east New South Wales; Candelo dry grass forest of south-east New South Wales; Bega dry grass forest of south-east New South Wales; Murray Valley grassland of the Riverina bioregion; lowland temperate grasslands of Tasmania; and Arnhem Plateau sandstone heath.

The outcomes of the technical workshops are on the department’s website for public comment along with the nominations and expert questions.

Nine new public nominations were received: for the white gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) wet forest; Eucalyptus ovata forest and woodland in Tasmania; sedge-rich Eucalyptus camphora swamp community; Arnhem Plateau sandstone heath; lowland temperate grasslands of Tasmania; forest red gum grassy woodland of Gippsland, Victoria; central Gippsland plain grassland of the south-east coastal plain; Murray Valley grassland of the Riverina bioregion; and temperate lowland plains grassy wetland.

The minister made decisions on advice from the committee in regard to five ecological community nominations, resulting in six amendments to the list of ecological communities. Five ecological communities were added to the EPBC Act and one ecological community, the grassy white box woodlands, was removed. This ecological community is now part of the newly listed white box–yellow box–Blakely’s red gum grassy woodland and derived native grassland ecological community.

The five ecological communities listed in 2005–06 are:

All decisions were made within the 90-day statutory timeframe.

Process for listing key threatening processes

Five nominations were received under the EPBC Act for key threatening processes during 2005–06. The minister made decisions on advice from the committee in regard to two key threatening processes, which resulted in one amendment to the list of key threatening processes. These decisions were the listing of ‘predation by exotic rats on Australian offshore islands’ and the rejection of a nomination to list the ‘loss of hollow-bearing trees in native forests and woodlands due to ecologically unsustainable firewood harvesting practices’.

The minister’s decision regarding the ‘predation by exotic rats on Australian offshore islands’ nomination was made within the 90-day statutory timeframe. The timeframe for decision on the ‘loss of hollow-bearing trees in native forests and woodlands due to ecologically unsustainable firewood harvesting’ nomination was exceeded due to the need for thorough consultation and consideration of the complex issues.

Case study

Predation by exotic rats on Australian offshore islands

‘Predation by exotic rats on Australian offshore islands of less than 1 000 square kilometres (100 000 hectares)’ was listed as a key threatening process in 2005–06.

The black rat, the brown rat and the Pacific rat are introduced exotic species that inhabit many of Australia’s offshore islands. The black rat is the most widespread of the three exotic rat species and all are recognised predators of Australian native wildlife. Populations of these three rat species have been recorded on at least 95 Australian offshore islands of less than 1 000 square kilometres.

The presence of exotic rats on small offshore islands can have a greater impact than on mainland Australia, due to the unique biodiversity and vulnerability of these island ecosystems.

Exotic rats are opportunistic feeders; their diet at any one time generally reflects the availability of food in their environment. They eat both plant and animal matter all year round and are able to use a diverse range of food sources and to colonise different environments. They prey primarily on birds, small mammals, tortoises, lizards, large insects, land molluscs and plant seeds and seedlings. In addition to their impact as predators, exotic rats may also exert an influence as competitors for limited food sources.

With listing as a key threatening process, a threat abatement plan will be developed to coordinate current and future activities to control the impacts of exotic rats.

Changes to the Register of Critical Habitat

Under section 207A of the EPBC Act the minister may identify and list habitat critical to the survival of a listed threatened species or ecological community and record details of this identified habitat in a Register of Critical Habitat.

There were no additions to the register in 2005–06.

Permits for listed threatened species and ecological communities

Eleven applications were received under Part 13 of the EPBC Act to ‘move, take, kill, injure, trade or keep listed threatened species and ecological communities on or to Commonwealth land’. Examples of permits issued included permits to collect seeds from natural temperate grassland, the button wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides) and the Ginninderra peppercress (Lepidium ginninderrense) as part of a Greening Australia Seeds for Survival project; and a permit to move 25–30 rufous hare-wallabies (Largochestes hirsutus) from a captive population at Watarrka National Park, Northern Territory, to a 170 hectare feral-proof enclosure at Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park.

Migratory species

The department continued to work to meet the Australian Government’s obligations under international arrangements for migratory and marine species to which Australia is a party or a signatory. These include the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or the Bonn Convention), 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 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 EPBC Act Part 13 list of migratory species is as accurate and as comprehensive as possible.

On 8 February 2006 the Republic of Korea–Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (ROKAMBA) was agreed and a text has been initialled by both countries. Both countries are now undertaking their formal treaty making processes. The agreement is expected to be signed in 2006–07. Once signed, section 209 (3)(b) of the EPBC Act will be amended to include reference to ROKAMBA.

At the eighth conference of the parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (Kenya, November 2005), Australia and the United Kingdom successfully moved to add the highly migratory basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) to the appendices of the convention in recognition of its special conservation needs as a migratory species. As a result, the basking shark is being added to the EPBC Act’s list of migratory species.

Australia also successfully proposed the development of a global conservation instrument for migratory sharks under the Convention on Migratory Species, and the development of a regional conservation arrangement for marine turtles in the Pacific region. These initiatives are likely to be progressed in 2006–07.

Australia led development of a regional conservation arrangement for dugongs under the Convention on Migratory Species. With the Government of Thailand, Australia co-hosted a second intergovernmental meeting in May 2006 to finalise this arrangement.

Australia is a signatory to the Indian Ocean South-East Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (IOSEA) which came into effect in 2001. The memorandum of understanding puts in place a framework through which states of the region, as well as other concerned states, can work together to conserve and replenish depleted marine turtle populations for which they share responsibility.

Also in relation to migratory species, 24 fishery assessments received Part 13 accreditations under the EPBC Act. Accreditation under Part 13 ensures that individual fishers operating in accordance with the relevant fishery management plan or regime are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

Permits for migratory species

During the year three migratory species permits were issued under section 216 of the EPBC Act. Permits were issued to place satellite transmitters on up to 20 saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in Kakadu National Park to research movements; to transport crocodile eggs through Kakadu National Park; and for the Antarctic Arts Fellowship project to collect dead biological material including feathers, shells and bones from any Antarctic bird species.

Marine species
Permits for listed marine species

Seven permits were issued under section 258 of the EPBC Act. Permits were for science related activities including research on the impact of trawling on populations of sea snakes in the Queensland East Coast Trawl Fishery; killing up to 150 and keeping or moving up to 1 000 magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata) in Kakadu National Park for research into gut contents and avian influenza; attaching transmitters to Weddell seals; and collecting dead specimens and biological material from emperor and Adelie penguins.

Whales and other cetaceans

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

In relation to cetaceans, 25 fishery assessments received Part 13 accreditations under the EPBC Act. Accreditation under Part 13 ensures that individual fishers operating in accordance with the relevant fishery management plan or regime are not required to seek permits in relation to interactions with protected species.

Permits for whales and other cetaceans

In 2005–06 the department received seven applications and issued five permits which involved the import of whale products of significant indigenous value, undertaking scientific research, and approaching cetaceans for documentary filming. Conditions were varied on two cetacean permits issued in previous years. No permits were suspended or cancelled.

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 840 nationally threatened species and ecological communities now have recovery plans in place or in preparation; 92 per cent of critically endangered species and 60 per cent of endangered species currently have plans in place or in preparation.

The EPBC Act has now been in operation for more than five years, and in accordance with the Act’s requirements there are an increasing number of recovery plans due for review. Reviews for 20 plans are currently under way.

During 2005–06, 31 recovery plans covering 31 terrestrial threatened species and one ecological community were made or adopted under the EPBC Act. Species and communities covered include the Gilbert’s potoroo in Western Australia, northern hairy-nosed wombat in Queensland, Slater’s skink in the Northern Territory and the natural temperate grassland endangered ecological community of the southern tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Recovery plans for 22 Western Australian flora species were also adopted.

More strategic and integrated approaches to threatened species recovery and threat abatement continued to be explored in 2005–06. The department is currently trialling four regional pilots to demonstrate a landscape approach to developing and implementing recovery plans. The pilots are running in the south coast of Western Australia, Norfolk Island, the Border Ranges region in New South Wales and Queensland, and Mount Lofty in South Australia. A regional pilot for the northern rivers region of New South Wales is being developed. A regional recovery plan for Christmas Island is under way.

Implementation of recovery plans for many priority species continued, including the Julia Creek dunnart, Coxen’s fig parrot, golden sun-moth, spot tailed quoll and the repatriation of the Tammar wallaby from New Zealand. 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.

Recovery plans in force for marine species include plans for the grey nurse shark, great white shark, whale shark, southern elephant seal and subantarctic fur seal, four handfish species, marine turtles, and 10 seabird species. All these plans were made within statutory timeframes. A recovery plan for the Australian sea lion is nearing finalisation.

Threat abatement planning

New threat abatement plans were made to abate the impacts of pigs, beak and feather disease, amphibian chytrid disease and tramp ants. In accordance with the EPBC Act requirement for five-yearly review of threat abatement plans, the feral goat, rabbit, cat, fox, Phytophthora and long-line fishing plans have been reviewed. Revised threat abatement plans for these threatening processes are expected to be published in 2006–07.

A threat abatement plan for ‘predation by exotic rats on Australian offshore islands of less than 1 000 square kilometres (100 000 hectares)’ is being developed. The development of a threat abatement plan for ‘injury and fatality to vertebrate marine life caused by ingestion of, or entanglement in, harmful marine debris’ continued during 2005–06.

Outcomes of projects this year that addressed strategies in threat abatement plans included progress in developing direct control measures for particular invasive species (such as a poisoned bait for feral cats) or for groups of invasive species (such as trial fencing designs for excluding invasive vertebrates from areas of value, including conservation areas). Over $380 000 from the Natural Heritage Trust was provided to Tasmania for the Fox-free Tasmania programme.

Wildlife conservation plans for migratory species (section 298 report)

On 2 February 2006 the Minister for the Environment and Heritage made the first wildlife conservation plan under the EPBC Act. The plan sets out the research and management actions necessary to support the survival of 36 species of migratory shorebirds.

The department contributed $75 000 towards developing a conservation instrument for migratory sharks under the Convention on Migratory Species. Australia is a range state for all three migratory sharks listed on the convention (whale shark, great white shark, and basking shark) and the development of an instrument could assist in protecting these species when outside Australia’s waters.

The department contributed $35 000 to assist in developing a conservation arrangement for marine turtles in the Pacific region under the Convention on Migratory Species. Australia shares marine turtle stocks with Pacific countries, and a conservation arrangement could help protect marine turtles when outside Australia’s waters.

In March 2006 the minister announced the Australian Government has contributed $55 000 to the 2006 Year of the Sea Turtle campaign launched by the secretariat of the Indian Ocean South-East Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding (IOSEA).

The department contributed $60 000 towards the development of a partnership for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and the sustainable use of their habitats in the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. Australia is a range state for 36 species of migratory shorebirds listed under the Convention on Migratory Species or Australia’s migratory birds agreements with Japan (JAMBA) or China (CAMBA).

Exemptions under section 303A

Two applications were received for exemptions under section 303A from requiring a permit under Part 13 of the Act which deals with the protection of species and communities in Commonwealth areas. One exemption was approved for the import of products containing parts of cetaceans for display at the National Museum of Australia.

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

Following the successful nomination of the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) for inclusion in CITES Appendix II, the department continues to work to develop tools to identify great white shark parts and derivatives. Australia continued its leadership role as the regional representative for Oceania (incorporating CITES parties Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu) on the CITES Standing Committee. The department has ensured that the interests of the Oceania region are represented in CITES business. The fifty-third meeting of the standing committee was held in Geneva from 27 June–1 July 2006.

The next standing committee meeting is expected to be in October 2006. At that meeting working groups will report on progress towards agenda items and documents for consideration at the next conference of the parties. The department is involved in working groups on development of a new strategic plan, development of compliance guidelines, review of the scientific committee structure, operation of personal and household effects exemptions, and operation of export quotas; and has taken part in discussions on the definition of ‘introduction from the sea’, and synergy with the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The department will contribute, through regional representatives, to meetings of the animals and plants committees in Lima, Peru in July 2006.

A successful regional CITES capacity building workshop was held in Brisbane from 8–11 May 2006. All parties and several non-parties from the Oceania region, the convention secretariat and relevant intergovernmental and non-government organisations were represented. Presentations were made on administrative and scientific aspects of the work of CITES from a distinctly regional perspective. Attendees participated in a practical exercise aimed at securing funding for key capacity building projects, and attended a field trip. A strategic Oceania regional meeting (primarily for the parties) was held immediately following the workshop on 12 May 2006.

The department supported the placement of an Australian youth ambassador for development in the CITES management authority of Fiji from March 2005–
March 2006. This placement helped Fiji develop its legislation for implementation of CITES and education activities on CITES issues.

Sustainable wildlife industries

In 2005–06 the department continued to manage the Natural Heritage Trust programme Supporting Sustainable Flora Industries. Funding was provided for a consultancy to develop National Guidelines on the Sustainable Harvest of Australian Native Flora. The guidelines were considered by the National Flora Management Network at their meeting in May 2006.

Outcomes from a Grass Tree Focus Group meeting, particularly relating to improving compliance under the EPBC Act, emphasised cross-jurisdictional implications for a number of other flora species that are in trade and in high demand.

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. During the year, five wildlife trade management plans were approved for the management of crocodiles in the Northern Territory, wallabies on Flinders Island, wallabies on King Island, flora in Queensland and soft tree ferns in Tasmania. These plans have enabled the Australian Government to ensure that wildlife can be used as a natural renewable resource.

Wildlife trade permits and programmes

During 2005–06, 2 520 wildlife trade permits and 24 255 personal accompanied baggage permits were issued. Twenty-five applications were received to amend the list of specimens suitable for live import and 13 amendments to this list were registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments and tabled. Three species—milkfish (Chanos chanos), collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) and ferret (Mustela putorius)—were rejected for inclusion on the live import list.

The department assessed 462 wildlife trade permit applications for non-commercial purposes to ensure that they complied with legislative conservation and animal welfare requirements. A total of 410 of these permits were issued, mainly to zoos and scientific researchers. They included permits to import eight Asian elephants from Thailand and to export koalas to China and Tasmanian devils to Denmark. 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:

Other outcomes included:

2.4 Conservation agreements

The EPBC Act enables the environment minister to enter into conservation agreements with another party to protect and conserve biodiversity or heritage. There are currently six conservation agreements in place to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as threatened species and ecological communities, including the mountain pygmy possum, the giant barred frog and the world heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

Case study

Mount Buller conservation agreement

Conservation agreements have traditionally been used to achieve conservation goals within a land management context, but the Australian Government has recently pioneered the use of a conservation agreement as part of the compliance toolkit.

Mount Buller in Victoria is home to a small but important population of the endangered mountain pygmy possum. The pygmy possum has very specific habitat requirements and has become increasingly rare at Mount Buller in recent years. In 2003 the company operating the ski fields at Mount Buller undertook slope grooming and expansion activities without EPBC Act approval in an area of pygmy possum habitat.

The Australian Government investigated the matter and concluded that the damage to the pygmy possum habitat in the fragile alpine environment was significant and the company may have breached the EPBC Act.

As an alternative to taking legal action, the government negotiated a conservation agreement with the ski lift company to remediate the habitat damage. The conservation agreement provides a legally binding framework for a plan of action that requires the company to spend more than $350 000 on a range of projects to rehabilitate habitat, undertake research and contribute to the recovery plan for the pygmy possum. The agreement also sets out improved environmental management requirements for the company’s future operations.

While this approach will not be appropriate for all compliance matters, in certain circumstances conservation agreements can provide an innovative mechanism for resolving legislative breaches in a way that delivers tangible on-ground environmental benefits, and achieves longer-term behavioural change.

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