Advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) on Amendments to the List of Ecological Communities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)
Narrow-leaf Ironbark-White Cypress Pine open grassy forest/arboreal fauna community
2. National Context
The ecological community occurs throughout the eastern plains of northern NSW and southern and central QLD - closely following the Brigalow Belt South Bioregion (BBSB). The TSSC note that only the conservation status of the ecological community within the Pilliga region of NSW is considered in the nomination.
The proposed name of this ecological community is Narrow-leaf Ironbark-White Cypress Pine open grassy forest/arboreal fauna community.
The nomination proposes that Eucalyptus crebra Narrow-leafed Ironbark, Allocasuarina leuhamnnii Bulloak and Eragrostris brownii (grass species) are the key diagnostic species of the ecological community. Callitris glaucophylla White Cypress Pine is not identified as a key species - as the proposed name of the ecological community would suggest. However, a very similar community that is dominated by Callitris glaucophylla White Cypress Pine is noted. Thus, it is unclear whether the name of the ecological community is correct.
It is unclear when the arboreal fauna are taken into consideration as a key diagnostic feature of the ecological community. The arboreal fauna components are generally not integrated into the vegetation components. When the fauna is addressed, the nomination refers to a suite of terrestrial and arboreal mammals, as well as a number of bird, amphibian and reptile species.
The definition of the ecological community is unclear and referral to it throughout the nomination is inconsistent. As a result, it is often unclear when the proposed ecological community is being referred to, or when justification is provided regarding its eligibility for listing under the EPBC Act. For example, throughout the nomination a number of plant associations/ecological communities are referred to. These include:
- Narrow-leafed Ironbark/White Cypress Pine;
- Narrow-leafed Ironbark/White Cypress Pine/Bulloak;
- Narrow-leafed Ironbark; and
- 'ironbark communities'.
Without a clear definition of the ecological community the Threatened Species Scientific Committee is of the view that it cannot be assessed against the criteria for listing ecological communities under the EPBC Act.
4. How judged by TSSC in relation to the EPBC Act criteria.
The TSSC judges that the ecological community is not adequately defined with regard to the species composition and its geographical extent. Consequently, its conservation status could not be assessed against the criteria.
Confusion arises due to inconsistent referral to the ecological community - when it is defined and when its eligibility for listing under the EPBC Act is being justified. For example, the nomination states that there is 190 000ha of Narrow-leafed Ironbark in the Pilliga and 600 000ha of ironbark in the Brigalow Belt South Bioregion. It is unclear whether the ecological community is being referred to in these instances or specifically the occurrence of Narrow-leafed Ironbark and all ironbark communities, respectively. The nomination also states that there is 160 000ha of the Narrow-leafed Ironbark/White Cypress Pine/Bulloak 'association'. Again, it is not clear from the description of the ecological community that the proposed ecological community is being referred to.
The TSSC conclude that the ecological community 'Narrow-leaf Ironbark-White Cypress Pine open grassy forest/arboreal fauna community' is not accurately defined, both with regard to the species composition and geographic extent. As a consequence it is not possible to assess the extent to which the ecological community meets the criteria for listing ecological communities under the EPBC Act.
The TSSC recommends that the ecological community 'Narrow-leaf Ironbark-White Cypress Pine open grassy forest/arboreal fauna community' is not eligible for inclusion in the Endangered category of the list referred to in section 181 of the EPBC Act.