Submission

To: Environment and Communications Reference Committee - Parliament of Australia.

Australia's faunal extinction crisis

Made: September 2018

The Environmental Farmers Network members include commercial farmers involved in broad acre cropping, irrigation, grazing and mixed farming in Victoria and New South Wales. Their properties include habitat currently or formerly home to many species classed as endangered and critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.

Why are farmers concerned about species extinctions?
The Environmental Farmers Network accepts that:
• Agricultural enterprises bear a substantial part of the responsibility for the loss of habitat that has led to the present rate of extinctions.
• That successful action to rein in extinctions must involve agricultural lands.
• That habitat protection and management is a social benefit. It should also be an integral part of farming.
• Australian governments should facilitate the incorporation of farming land in species conservation schemes.

Comment on terms of reference
a) the ongoing decline in the population and conservation status of Australia's nearly500 threatened fauna species;
• Yes, we are in the midst of an extinction crisis.
• All evidence suggests that this will only get worse, not better.
• More should be done to mitigate this crisis.
• The Commonwealth Government is very well placed to lead this activity.
• In the recent past that leadership has been lacking.
b) the wider ecological impact of faunal extinction;
• Ecological networks, like all complex systems, behave in unpredictable ways when components are removed (become extinct). Ecological processes are critical to sustainable farming, eg pollination, water filtration, breakdown of crop residues and the recycling of nutrients. Fauna play roles in these things
c) the international and domestic obligations of the Commonwealth Government in conserving threatened fauna;
• The diverse species that inhabit the world are the common heritage of mankind. Those
occupying the Australian land mass are Australia’s responsibility
• The Commonwealth Government has a very good suite of regulatory mechanisms to mitigate species extinctions. The current problem is that they are not properly funded to be used as effectively as they could.
• Under the previous (Labor) government a program; the National Wildlife Corridors Plan was established. This plan aimed to target limited government funds to those areas most amenable to providing linkages between reserves and other refugia for native wildlife. By creating networks of reserves which are connected, wildlife have a much greater chance of surviving the various calamities which invariably occur in any single reserve.
• If the National Wildlife Corridors Plan approach was re-instated the other existing regulations and treaties could be used to much better effect than they are now.
• The Environmental Farmers Network strongly supports the reinstatement of the National Wildlife Corridors Plan.
d) the adequacy of Commonwealth environment laws, including but not limited to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, in providing sufficient protections for threatened fauna and against key threatening processes;
The Environmental Farmers Network believes that the current regulations are a solid basis for dealing with species extinctions, but would be better if:
• They are better resourced and,
• Are running alongside a reinstated National Wildlife Corridors Plan
e) the adequacy and effectiveness of protections for critical habitat for threatened fauna under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
The EPBC picks winners, or rather losers, which are meant to be targeted for special attention. This approach can sometimes be quite effective, especially when the habitat requirements for the targeted species are common to a swag of other threatened species. In these instances the targeted species is often referred to as a Flagship Species. This government has made something of an art form of selecting fewer and fewer Flagship Species which seem to have shouldered the responsibility of saving the rest.
The EPBC approach has a couple of flaws:
• It is hard to adequately cover 500+ threatened species adequately.
• Are threatened species the only ones we value? Should all conservation work be aimed at propping up those on the critical list? This would be like having a healthcare system which only funded intensive care units, while totally ignoring public health, sanitation, immunisation programs.
Once again, The Environmental Farmers Network asserts that while EPBC can be a good tool for the task of dealing with species decline, it would be much, much better if it ran together with a reinstated National Wildlife Corridors Plan. Then it could cover a much wider range of species, including those which are not on the critical list. Yes, it would be more expensive, but the return on the investment would be far better.
f) the adequacy of the management and extent of the National Reserve System, stewardship arrangements, covenants and connectivity through wildlife corridors in conserving threatened fauna;
• National Reserves for this country are pretty good and are improving.
• Stewardship arrangements: ditto
• Covenants: ditto. In fact, conservation by private individuals and NGOs is increasing. The Commonwealth Government should do more to support and encourage this sector. It provides an extremely cost-effective boost to the National Reserves system
• Corridors: this is the weak point. It is the most prominent of those gaps which needs filling. The value of reserves is significantly diminished if they are effectively islands in a sea of agriculture or forestry or suburbs. Providing links significantly boosts the resilience of the creatures within these reserves. Sooner or later every reserve will suffer some devastating event which will cause local extinctions. Wildlife need to either escape the devastation, or alternatively to re-colonise after the event. Effective corridors across landscapes are few and far between. This needs to be rectified. We have the reserves, but have not yet set up the corridors. We need to get on with it. Re-instate the National Wildlife Corridors Plan, and then implement it.
g) the use of traditional knowledge and management for threatened species recovery and other outcomes as well as opportunities to expand the use of traditional knowledge and management for conservation;
No comment.
h) the adequacy of existing funding streams for implementing threatened species recovery plans and preventing threatened fauna loss in general;
Is anyone going to say “I have more money than I need, would you like to have some back?” • However, the funding stream for this type of work has in the past decade significantly diminished. That needs to be turned around. There are some good opportunities to further support the private conservation sector, but also there are gaps which private conservationists are not good at. These should be identified and filled by the Commonwealth Government.
• Investing government money should always consider the returns on that investment, rather than the cost of the investment. The tiny amounts now invested in the environment are inadequate to generate a worthwhile return.
i) the adequacy of existing monitoring practices in relation to the threatened fauna assessment and adaptive management responses;
No comment.
j) the adequacy of existing assessment processes for identifying threatened fauna conservation status;
• Identifying threatened fauna, developing and implementing management plans involve highly contested matters of science and are often stymied by absence of data. This approach is cumbersome and often ineffective.
• Adding the National Wildlife Corridors Plan to the mix would reduce the importance (and reliance on) the EPBC’s assessment/management plan approach for every species.
k) the adequacy of existing compliance mechanisms for enforcing Commonwealth environment law;
• These too are suffering from lack of funds. Breaches of the regulations (principally EPBC) are followed up less and less often. Due to lack of resources the threshold for initiating prosecutions has increased.
• We farmers are all aware of this and most play to the umpire. Dispersed habitat is critical, absolutely critical, for the migration of wildlife between reserves and is fast being lost. Precious little is being done about it.
• To maintain and improve links across a landscape the Commonwealth Government should use both the carrot and the stick, and encourage State and local governments to do the same. There is not much carrot or stick about compliance at present.
l) any related matters.
• As climate change progresses, some agricultural lands will inevitably become unsuited to their current use. What happens then? EFN believes land managers in marginal farming and grazing areas should be paid for ecosystem services such as biodiversity enhancement, invasive species management etc in addition to current Carbon Farming Incentives.
• A strong reserves and corridors plan would supply knowledge of what works and what doesn’t not just for fauna but also in farmer/government collaborations. That knowledge is a critical part adapting to climate change for both mankind and other animals.

 

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