Biodiversity publications archive

National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4427 8

3 - Managing threatening processes

In addition to actions necessary to conserve biological diversity directly, there is a need for a range of supporting measures that can minimise the impact of various external factors on biological diversity. Among these factors is an array of threatening processes or events such as the effects of alien species, pollutants and altered fire regimes and the longer term changes to climate that may result from various atmospheric emissions. Effective repair and rehabilitation of degraded areas will also provide valuable support for biological diversity conservation. Such activities and the control of threatening processes or events need to be undertaken in the context of a well-developed system of bioregional planning.

3.1 Threatening processes and activities

Objective 3.1

Monitor, regulate and minimise processes and categories of activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation of biological diversity and be able to respond appropriately to emergency situations.


3.1.1 Monitor and manage processes

Through sampling and other techniques, monitor processes and categories of activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation of biological diversity. Where a significant adverse effect on biological diversity is determined, regulate or manage the relevant processes and categories of activities.

3.1.2 Emergency responses

Through cooperation between Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments, establish arrangements for appropriate emergency responses to activities or events, whether caused naturally or otherwise, that present a grave and imminent danger to biological diversity. Australia should seek the cooperation of neighbouring countries in the development of regional arrangements such as joint contingency plans.

3.2 Clearing of native vegetation

Objective 3.2

Ensure effective measures are in place to retain and manage native vegetation, including controls on clearing.


3.2.1 Monitor clearing

Assess and monitor the current rate and distribution of native vegetation clearing on a national basis, including developing national inventories of native vegetation.

3.2.2 Government initiatives

Ensure that policies and controls are developed and implemented by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments for the management and conservation of native vegetation on private and public lands, in consultation with landholders and community groups, and for controlling broad-scale clearance.

In accordance with the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment, review legislation relating to clearing and ensure that criteria for assessing land clearance applications take account of biological diversity conservation, land protection, water management, and landscape values.

3.2.3 Incentives and rebates

Undertake cooperative development of a range of measures at all levels of government, including financial incentives, cost reimbursements and rate rebates, to encourage land managers to improve conservation of native vegetation.

3.2.4 Information program

Work through appropriate agencies to develop a native vegetation conservation information program that is targeted at land managers and focuses on the value of retaining native vegetation in-situ while integrating this retention with major land uses.

3.2.5 Voluntary protection

Encourage voluntary management of native vegetation remnants and review the effectiveness of all mechanisms for the long-term voluntary protection of native vegetation and wildlife.

3.2.6 Expansion of Landcare

The Commonwealth Government will consider expansion of activities under the National Landcare Program to increase technical advice and the preparation and implementation of bioregional vegetation plans, involving local land managers where possible.

3.3 Alien species and genetically modified organisms

Objective 3.3

Control the introduction and spread of alien species and genetically modified organisms and manage the deliberate spread of native species outside their historically natural range.

The need for control of alien species and genetically modified organisms

Much of Australia's primary production depends on long-established domesticated and cultivated species that originated in other countries; further introductions seem probable in order to sustain and enhance productivity.

A large number of other species of plants, animals and microorganisms that have been introduced into Australia over the years have caused significant damage to Australia's biological diversity (including species extinctions). Examples are the European rabbit, which has caused enormous damage to the southern half of Australia, the weed Mimosa pigra, which is spreading rapidly on floodplains in northern Australia, and the fungus Phytophthora, which has had a devastating effect on the species-rich shrublands in the south of Western Australia.

Some exotic grazing species pose a continuing threat to rangelands biological diversity. Pastoral activities, particularly the increase in watering points, and pastoral modification have increased the suitability of pastoral lands for some pests (feral goats, rabbits and horses) as well as increased the populations of some kangaroo and wallaby species. The uncontrolled increase in the number of grazing animals will have significant impacts on present and future biological diversity.

There are many other species that, if carelessly introduced to Australia despite our strong quarantine laws, could cause further serious damage; their continued exclusion from this country is of paramount importance, both to industries based on biological resources and to biological diversity conservation. The strongest possible controls are required to prevent further unwanted introductions, and comprehensive control plans that take biological diversity conservation into account are necessary to deal with pest species already established. A national strategy for the control of weeds and guidelines for the control of vertebrate pests are being developed and should be implemented as a matter of priority.

A problem that is often overlooked is the adverse effects that can arise when native species are deliberately spread beyond their historically natural range. Although the use of non-local native species may be preferable to the use of non-indigenous species in plantation forestry and in some revegetation activities, there remains a risk that the genetic diversity of related local species will be adversely affected. Nevertheless, in some situations non-local species can be the best option for rehabilitation, especially if the areas concerned have had their original status significantly altered. In these cases vegetation that can provide a habitat for some native species may be preferable to no vegetation at all or to the use of a totally alien species.

Although it can confer significant benefits, the development of genetically modified organisms also brings with it potential risks, particularly the displacement or genetic modification of unmodified species. Procedures have been formulated covering the development and the release of these organisms. These procedures should be agreed and implemented by governments.


3.3.1 Research

For the next seven years, fund a comprehensive cooperative research program into the biology and ecology of alien species that threaten biological diversity. Emphasis should be given to:

  1. assessing the types and levels of impacts and the likely extent of harm to native biological diversity;
  2. increasing risk assessment studies of potential impacts on biological diversity of species introduced for commercial, scientific and other purposes;
  3. understanding the population dynamics of pest species;
  4. developing biological and other control methods for pest species that threaten biological diversity;
  5. monitoring the effects of pest control programs and modifying those that have adverse side effects for biological diversity.
3.3.2 Coordinated programs

Develop and implement well-resourced programs for the control or eradication of those alien species identified as a threat to biological diversity. Such programs should:

  1. be coordinated between Commonwealth, State and Territory and local government agencies;
  2. involve the development of species-specific national or bioregional control plans;
  3. be integrated with catchment management, landcare programs, and whole farm or property planning and management;
  4. ensure effectiveness and consistency of regulations governing the control of alien species, including their deliberate or unintended release or spread;
  5. develop contingency plans and have the capacity to ensure rapid eradication of any newly established and unwanted alien species or populations;
  6. provide incentives to landowners;
  7. include public education campaigns.

Governments should move rapidly to finalise and implement the national weeds strategy and national vertebrate pests management guidelines.

3.3.3 Import control

Review, and if necessary strengthen, quarantine laws and other regulations, penalties, enforcement and public education arrangements relating to the control of the import of species into Australia. Particular attention should be paid to:

  1. strengthened risk assessment procedures for identification of potentially harmful species, their entry, establishment and control;
  2. reducing unintentional introductions such as microorganisms or marine organisms in ballast water;
  3. ensuring the provision of adequate resources to implement quarantine controls, including coastal surveillance;
  4. establishing a public education program on the risks posed to biological diversity by the illegal import of species.
3.3.4 Translocated species

Promote the use of local indigenous species in rehabilitation; discourage the use of non-local native species in revegetation schemes, large-scale landscaping schemes and rehabilitation programs.

Exercise caution in the commercial use of any new non-local native species. Develop procedures to ensure that their establishment and propagation will not threaten the integrity of existing ecological systems.

3.3.5 Genetically modified organisms

Support the development of legislation and arrangements for regulating the import, development, use and release of genetically modified organisms through the work of the Commonwealth-State Consultative Group on Genetic Manipulation.

3.4 Pollution control

Objective 3.4

Minimise and control the impacts of pollution on biological diversity.

The pollution problem

Pollution continues to be an increasing problem for the conservation of biological diversity in Australia. River systems and near-shore environments are at particular risk. Localised impacts have occurred and their frequency is increasing. A number of river systems suffer from increasing salinity, silt loads, nutrient levels, and heavy metal and chemical pollution. Pollution of groundwater has adverse effects on ecosystems in both urban and rural environments. The Environment Protection Agency is developing a National Pollutant Inventory and recommendations for standards and, once reflected in State and Territory control measures, this should help to minimise the impacts of pollution. The use of some agricultural, industrial and urban chemicals continues to cause problems for wildlife, including cumulative effects. Sewage discharge into the sea has a localised impact on biological diversity.

Under Schedule 4 of the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment, Commonwealth, State and Territory governments have agreed to establish the National Environment Protection Council, and legislation has been drafted for this purpose. Through the Council, the governments will develop measures for ambient air quality and ambient marine, estuarine and freshwater quality.

The draft National Water Quality Management Strategy, which is currently being developed, will contribute to the effort to deal with some of the problems of pollution control.


3.4.1 Assessing impacts

Assess the cumulative impact of the total pollutant load on biological diversity.

Promote the development and use of bio-indicators and other indicators of pollution.

Review and increase the levels of environmental monitoring of currently used pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

3.4.2 Control

Encourage Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments to review, and if necessary strengthen or develop, new pollution prevention and control measures, including market measures and national standards to minimise the impacts of pollution on biological diversity. This will require:

  1. reviewing legislation and guidelines to ensure that criteria for minimising significant adverse impacts on the conservation of biological diversity are included as part of the basis for pollution prevention and control measures. Particular attention should be paid to non-point-source pollution, industrial pollution, control of the discharge of sewage, waste minimisation and accident prevention, and the need for a catchment or bioregional approach in implementation;
  2. strengthening measures to deal with activities or processes that result in detrimental changes to the physical environment of organisms, such as the potentially damaging discharge of dam water;
  3. strengthening the systems of control for the manufacture, importation and use of chemicals where scientific evidence shows that these chemicals adversely affect biological diversity, with a view to minimising their impacts.
3.4.3 Alternatives

Encourage research into, and the development and application of, alternatives to processes and activities that are known to have adverse effects on biological diversity.

3.4.4 Cleaning up

Investigate and expand the role of innovative biologically sound technologies in pollution management and give priority to the use of such methods in cleaning up pollution in areas of high biological diversity significance.

3.5 Fire

Objective 3.5

Reduce the adverse impacts of altered fire regimes on biological diversity.

Fire and biological diversity

Much of our native flora and fauna has evolved with fire and relies upon particular fire regimes for continued survival. With settlement, however, the timing, frequency and intensity of these fires has changed.

Although fire is a necessary part of many ecosystems, it can also be damaging. Inappropriate fire regimes – for example, fires of high or low intensity that are either too frequent or insufficiently frequent – can lead to loss of native species, communities and ecosystems. Burning can promote invasion of native vegetation by weeds, sometimes leading to increased fire hazard within a short time, and prescribed fires can escape to become wildfires.

Gaps in scientific knowledge make it difficult to balance the benefits and costs of the use of fire. At this stage, a cautious approach involving variable regimes should be adopted in the use of prescribed fire, until its impacts and its role in vegetation management are better understood.


3.5.1 Research

Support and coordinate further research into the role of fire in Australian ecosystems.

3.5.2 Fire management

Develop and coordinate management policies that seek to minimise the adverse impact of fire on biological diversity. This will include:

  1. development of prescribed burning practices that take account of the fire responses of different ecosystems, natural patterns of succession, and the role of fire in the maintenance of biological diversity;
  2. promoting awareness on the part of property managers of the impact of fire on biological diversity on lands under their control, including providing extension services to advise on the timing and pattern of fire use to reduce fuel and promote pasture growth on rangelands.

3.6 Impacts of climate change on biological diversity

Objective 3.6

Plan to minimise the potential impacts of human-induced climate change on biological diversity.

Likely impacts of climate change

There is a growing body of evidence showing that increases in atmospheric concentrations of 'greenhouse' gases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average in additional warming of the earth's surface. This is likely to lead to climatic changes, including increased temperatures, sea level rises and altered rainfall regimes. The extent, pattern and timing of such changes remains uncertain.

Australia's biological diversity will be affected by any climate change. For example, sea level rises would have a direct effect on coastal and estuarine ecosystems and freshwater lagoons near the coast, many of which are important breeding grounds for birds. In alpine ecosystems relatively small temperature changes may result in extensive loss of habitat and consequently extinction of some alpine species.

The ability of species and ecosystems to adapt to climate changes is affected by the rate of change and possible increases in the frequency of extreme climatic events. Pollution and the fragmentation of many natural habitats place further stresses on biological diversity and ecosystem function.

Integrated conservation and sympathetic management of large areas of the environment, within a bioregional context, have the greatest potential to mitigate the possible effects of climate change on biological diversity.

In the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, governments have emphasised the need to adopt land uses and management measures designed to conserve carbon sinks and increase the amount of vegetation in forests and elsewhere. They have also stated in the Strategy that they will seek to provide corridor systems that link reserves and refuges with a relatively large range of altitudinal and other geographical variation, to take into account possible impacts of climate change.


3.6.1 Research

Support research into the potential impacts of climate change on biological diversity. This will include:

  1. investigation into the range and physiological tolerances of species and populations;
  2. predicting the responses of ecosystems and species to climate change;
  3. modelling the effects of climate change to predict future conservation management requirements;
  4. research into the secondary effects of climate change such as altered fire proneness, climatically driven land use changes, and conditions that would favour the spread of pathogens or introduced species.
3.6.2 Contingency arrangements

Investigate the capacity of protected areas to sustain their biological diversity in the event of climate change and where appropriate ensure that altitudinal and latitudinal buffer zones or corridors exist to allow for the movement of organisms in the event of shifts in climatic zones.

3.7 Rehabilitation

Objective 3.7

Repair and rehabilitate areas to restore their biological diversity.

Rehabilitation responses

The best way to conserve biological diversity is to ensure that development activities are planned so as to minimise any impacts on it. Many past development activities have led to the degradation of land and water resources. This can lead to loss of biological diversity and loss of the opportunity to benefit from its future use. An example is the loss of an aquatic amenity and other uses through eutrophication. Effective planning and rehabilitation can allow resource development to occur in many areas without long-term adverse impacts on biological diversity. Governments, as well as industry, should provide a lead in restoration practices since they have responsibility for much of Australia's land and all marine areas. Direct beneficiaries of the use of land and water resources have a responsibility to maintain or restore the biological diversity functions of those resources. Degraded areas should be rehabilitated according to the principles and objectives of ecologically sustainable development.


3.7.1 Research

Develop techniques to restore biological diversity in degraded systems and to assess the success of the rehabilitation. This will require increased research into the collection and propagation of native species for use in land reclamation and rehabilitation programs.

3.7.2 Cooperative programs

Initiate a cooperative program between the Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments in consultation with industry and community groups to rehabilitate degraded systems of national concern. The program should cover:

  1. the development of improved procedures and standards for rehabilitation activities;
  2. investigation and trial of new mechanisms for increasing the role of the private sector in using rehabilitation to protect biological diversity (for example, in the establishment of native vegetation corridors);
  3. increased funding for necessary restoration programs;
  4. assistance to private landholders in the form of technical support and the provision of appropriate seed stocks;
  5. development of a monitoring and reporting program to determine the effectiveness of rehabilitation.

3.8 Environmental assessment

Objective 3.8

Ensure that the potential impacts of any projects, programs and policies on biological diversity are assessed and reflected in planning processes, with a view to minimising or avoiding such impacts.

Assessment procedures

Biological diversity conservation can often be affected by planning and development decisions and actions. These effects sometimes occur as a result of inadequate information or a lack of sensitive application of policies on the part of the public and private sectors. Although environmental impact assessment procedures have been developed in the Commonwealth and States and Territories, the application and scope of these procedures vary considerably between jurisdictions. To redress this problem, the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council has overseen the development of common principles for environmental impact assessment in Australia and is currently developing guidelines and criteria for determining the need for and level of such assessment. The InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment provides a mechanism for the Commonwealth and States and Territories to accredit their respective assessment processes and emphasises the need to avoid duplication.

Assessment of individual projects cannot always anticipate cumulative environmental impacts. Assessment of broader policies and programs that are likely to significantly affect biological diversity, together with bioregional environmental planning with appropriate development controls, can help overcome this problem.


3.8.1 Strengthen assessment

Ensure that all governments make environmental, including biological diversity, impact assessment procedures an integral part of policy formulation, planning and development activities. Such procedures should take account of significant adverse impacts on biological diversity, especially when assessing the likely impact of proposals in areas considered important for biological diversity. Where undertaken, the environmental impact assessment should, if appropriate, provide for continuing monitoring and the adoption of mitigating measures.

Ensure that environmental impact assessment procedures allow for informed and comprehensive public participation.

3.8.2 Cumulative impacts

Integrate into regional planning processes and environmental impact assessment procedures consideration of the cumulative impacts on biological diversity of development proposals.

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