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Threatened Species Scientific Committee Annual Report 2003-2004

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee was established under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Committee has continued to advise the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage on the amendment and updating of the national lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and key threatening processes, together with the making or adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans.

Membership

The membership of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee in 2003-2004 was as follows: A/Prof Robert (Bob) Beeton (Chair); Dr Susan Briggs; Prof Gordon Grigg; Dr Libby Mattiske; Dr Pamela Parker; Mr Guy Fitzhardinge; Dr Graham Harris; Prof Bob Kearney; Dr Rosemary Purdie; and Dr John Woinarski.

Meetings

The Committee held four meetings in 2003-2004. Three meetings were held in Canberra, on 29-30 September 2003, 11-12 December 2003 and 5-6 April 2004. The fourth meeting was held in Perth on 24-25 June 2004.

Highlights of the meetings included:

In addition to the meetings, the Committee held an ecological communities workshop on 7-8 June 2004 in Orange, New South Wales. A report on the ecological communities workshop is expected to be completed in 2004-2005.

Advice on the amendment and updating of the lists of threatened species, threatened ecological communities, and key threatening processes (Table 1)

In 2003-2004, there were 21 nominations for threatened species, 5 nominations for threatened ecological communities and 2 nominations for key threatening processes received under the EPBC Act. The number of public nominations received increased by 22% from 2002-2003 to 2003-2004.

The Committee considered preliminary advices for 14 species, 5 ecological communities and 2 key threatening processes nominations. With the exception of 2 preliminary advices, these advices were for nominations received in 2003-2004. The Committee finalised its advice on 20 species nominations, 2 ecological community nominations and 2 key threatening process nominations.

A number of nominations currently being considered by the Committee, in particular the marine species and ecological communities nominations, are scientifically complex. To enable adequate consideration of these nominations, the Committee has considered the relevant scientific issues over several meetings.

The Committee's advice on 56 species nominations was provided to the Minister in 2003-2004. There were 54 amendments to the list of threatened species and 1 amendment to the list of key threatening processes. Amendments to the list of threatened species comprised 53 new listings and 1 transfer to a higher category of threat (from Vulnerable to Endangered).

Advice on the making and adoption of recovery plans and threat abatement plans

Recovery Plans

In 2003-2004, the Committee gave preliminary consideration to 10 draft recovery plans, covering 13 species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act.

The Committee finalised its recommendations on 50 recovery plans, covering a total of 64 listed threatened species. Of the 50 recovery plans, 43 were State recovery plans that the Committee recommended for adoption under the EPBC Act. These included recovery plans from Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory.

Critical Habitat

In 2003-2004, the Committee finalised its advice on Critical Habitat for two threatened species. On advice from the Committee, the Minister added Critical Habitat for the Black-eared Miner (Manorina melanotis) (South Australia) to the Register of Critical Habitat.

Threat Abatement Plans

The Minister decided to list 'Injury and fatality caused by the ingestion and entanglement of wildlife in marine debris' as a key threatening process and agreed with the Committee's recommendation that a Threat Abatement Plan (TAP) should be developed. The TAP is currently in preparation.

Three Threat Abatement Plans were being drafted during 2003-2004, which are likely to be considered by the Committee in 2004-2005:

Strategic Issues

During 2003-2004, the Committee considered Departmental papers on a range of issues. These included papers on critical habitat, defining and assessing threatened ecological communities, new approaches to recovery planning, alignment of Australian Government and State/Territory lists of threatened species, extra-limital populations, and progress reports on biodiversity hotspots and pilot regional recovery planning.

Defining and Assessing the Conservation Status of Threatened Ecological Communities

At the meeting in December 2003, the Threatened Species Scientific Committee agreed to hold a technical workshop to explore mechanisms to further enhance the process for defining and assessing the conservation status of ecological communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The workshop was convened in Orange on 7 and 8 June 2004. A range of experts from universities, CSIRO, State government departments, the farming community and the conservation movement participated at the workshop.

The workshop addressed some of the key issues affecting the listing of threatened ecological communities. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee is currently considering the outcomes of the Orange workshop and intends to provide the Minister with a paper in early 2004-2005 on future options for ecological community listings.

Productivity Commission Inquiry

In 2003-2004, the Committee engaged in the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the Impacts of Native Vegetation and Biodiversity Regulations. The Draft Report stated that there is potential for duplication or inconsistency between Australian, State and Territory Government legislation with respect to the listing of threatened entities, and that there was scope for improving the coordination of listings. The Chair, on behalf of the Committee, made a written submission to the Productivity Commission outlining the Committee's work to improve the consistency between Australian Government and State/Territory lists of threatened species.

New Approaches to Recovery Planning

A focus for the Committee in 2003-2004 was the development of a more effective and efficient recovery planning process for threatened species and ecological communities.

A major new initiative was the introduction of Conservation Advice at the time of listing, to facilitate the conservation of newly listed species and ecological communities, pending the development and implementation of recovery plans. Conservation Advice is designed to provide guidance to regional planning bodies, community groups, land holders and any other interested stakeholders on immediate recovery and threat abatement activities that can be undertaken as soon as possible after the species or ecological community is listed. In 2003-2004, the Committee recommended Conservation Advice for 21 species and 4 ecological communities. These included several species and ecological communities that are already listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, for which recovery plans are not yet in place.

A second new initiative was the development of more targeted and streamlined recovery plans. Streamlined recovery plans are designed to focus on key threats and to identify priority actions that will make the greatest contribution to the recovery of the species. These plans are supported by background information documents, which describe the species' biology, threats and conservation status. By separating the statutory recovery plans from the background information, stakeholders can more readily identify the recovery actions in the plan, and the background information can be updated as necessary. In 2003-2004, this new approach was applied to the Sub-Antarctic and Southern Elephant Seal Recovery Plan, which was recommended for making by the Committee, and the Draft Whale Shark Recovery Plan, which was given preliminary consideration by the Committee.

The Committee is committed to continuing to improve recovery planning processes and has initiated a review of the recovery plan guidelines, which will address a range of issues including: strategies for moving towards multi-species and regional recovery plans; the role of recovery plans in regional natural resource planning and management; the incorporation of adaptive management strategies into recovery plans; and performance review of recovery plans.

Strategic relationships

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee is committed to ongoing learning and continues to take a consultative approach to its statutory roles and responsibilities and strategic interests.

The Committee continued to consult with scientific experts and interested parties, including non-government organisations, community and industry groups, on new nominations of threatened species, ecological communities and key threatening processes received under the EPBC Act.

In 2003-2004, the Committee continued to build relationships with State and Territory Government agencies and scientific committees. The joint meeting with the Western Australian scientific advisory committees and agency staff provided an opportunity to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest, including the alignment of threatened species lists, recovery planning processes, and the use of flora and fauna translocations as recovery actions.

The Committee is also committed to facilitating information exchange with non-government organisations, community groups and natural resource managers involved in threatened species protection and recovery. In June 2004, the Committee held a half-day workshop with Western Australian non-government organisation representatives, which provided an opportunity for the Committee to outline their roles and responsibilities, and the challenges associated with the assessing the conservation status of species and ecological communities. It also provided an opportunity for the non-government organisations to outline their involvement in threatened species conservation, and to discuss issues of concern.

In 2003-2004, the Committee strived to create better mechanisms for the delivery of threatened species management tools to a range of stakeholders, in particular the natural resource management regional groups. The Committee's introduction of Conservation Advice at the time of listing is designed to ensure that information on newly listed species and ecological communities is readily available and can be pro-actively incorporated into regional plans as they are developed, reviewed and updated.

Table 1: Threatened Species Scientific Committee assessment of nominations from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2004 1
Group Listed at 30/6/03 2 Nominations received Prelim. Advice Listing advice Ministerial decisions Changes to the List Listed at 30/6/04 2
Final Committee recommendations Advice to the Minister
Invertebrates 14 2 0 0 1 2 1 15
Fish 33 3 3 2 2 4 4 37
Frogs 31 2 2 0 0 0 0 31
Reptiles 50 2 1 1 1 0 0 50
Birds 124 3 3 7 0 1 1 50
Mammals 113 2 2 3 3 2 1 114
All Animals 365 14 11 13 7 9 7 372
Plants 1244 7 3 7 49 47 47 1291
Species 1609 21 14 20 56 56 54 1663
Added to list             53  
Deleted             0  
Transferred             1  
Rejected             (2)  
Ecological Communities 29 5 5 2 0 0 0 29
Added to list                
Deleted                
Transferred                
Rejected                
Key Threatening Processes 13 2 2 2 0 4 1 14
Added to list             1  
Deleted                
Transferred                
Rejected             (3)  
Total Items 1651 28 21 24 56 60 55 1706

1 Apparent anomalies between the numbers of nominations received, advices finalised by the Committee, advices provided to the Minister and amendments to the lists can be attributed to the continuing assessment and processing of nominations across financial years.
2 Covers all listed categories.