A CO-ORDINATED approach involving all levels of government is needed to ensure native Tasmanian species do not face the imminent risk of extinction, a Senate inquiry has heard this week.
Conservationists, researchers and community groups expressed their concern at a lack of a funding and long-term support for endangered species in Tasmania.
Repeated failures to act on recovery plans was a common issue, along with researchers being forced to compete with each other for funding to help protect threatened species.
The inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis sat in Hobart for two days this week, where conservationists were given the opportunity to highlight problems both in Tasmania and nationwide.
Birds of King Island applied for funding in 2017 for more work protecting the brown thornbill, green rosella and scrubtit – three of Australia’s most endangered birds – but was unsuccessful.
Group facilitator Kate Ravich said the process favoured species that have already been researched, over those that remain relatively unknown. It means the birds could already be extinct.
Threatened birds of Tasmania (Source: DPIPWE). Mobile users: double tap category to expand, and scroll down for fish and mammals:
“They might be extinct now or we might be down to one bird,” she said.
“We only saw one (brown thornbill) in 2015 and we saw one bird in 2014, but it could have been the same bird, for all we know, or there may be half a dozen there.
“You do become extremely cynical. I am burnt out. You throw up your hands in horror, but you keep struggling because you know how important it is.
“I don't know how we get that message through to government.”
Species recovery plans, but no funding
It was a similar situation faced by CSIRO researchers Nic Bax and Tim Lynch who are working to save the critically endangered red handfish off southern Tasmania.
They applied for $2 million, but received $12,500, prompting an unsuccessful fundraising effort.
Dr Lynch said support needed to be ongoing to ensure the future of these species.
“The CSIRO and the University of Tasmania started working on them back in the midto early-1990s, and they were becoming extinct,” he said.
“There has been work on and off through the intervening period to try to get them to recover. It takes a long time.
“That is not just for handfish but also for things like shy albatross, Tasmanian devils or orange-bellied parrots.
“All of these things have this generational process, so you need to think about succession planning, mentoring and documentation for the next round of people who will need to work on these particular animals.”
Like other species, a recovery plan exists for the red handfish, but a lack of funding means it has not been put into action.
Professor Bax said it made it difficult to make progress.
“A lot of work goes into those recovery plans but… there is not always a process then to implement those recovery plans,” he said.
“I think that is a major failing of how we are dealing with threatened species at the moment.”
Strategies developed, then left to gather dust
The Tasmanian Conservation Trust highlighted a number of recent strategies that provided guidance in protecting endangered species, but were never acted upon.
The Natural Heritage Strategy was finalised in 2013, but was never implemented. A review planned for last year never happened.
The Tasmanian Threatened Species Strategy was completed in 2000 but was also never implemented.
Tasmanian Conservation Trust director Peter McGlone said these reports were often placed in the too-hard basket by governments.
“Tasmania has no recognised, effective strategy for biodiversity or threatened species that you can see being implemented or in any way being used to guide government, industry or community action,” he said.
“The state government submission to your committee I find extraordinary for the fact that it doesn't mention its threatened species strategy or natural heritage strategy at all, which is indicative of its lack of strategic thinking.”
Others found legislation to be ineffective.
Tasmanian Land Conservancy head of science Sally Bryant said the Threatened Species Protection Act allowed for the clearing of habitat for the endangered forty-spotted pardalote.
“As long as you are not endangering the bird itself you can quite easily clear the habitat of that species,” she said.
“In our submission we made the point that in Tasmania no critical habitat to our knowledge has been declared.
“It's a very long and tedious process. It involves surveying and putting on title and registering critical habitat. I don't think anyone has gone down that track.”
EPBC Act faces renewed criticism
Australia’s central piece of environmental legislation – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – faced further criticism during the inquiry for its failure to ensure the holistic protection of endangered animals.
Many believed all levels of government and departments needed to work together to guarantee no further extinctions.
Jess Feelhely, of the Law Council of Australia, said exemptions for various industries under the EPBC Act made it difficult to take a holistic approach to conservation.
“Any forestry activity undertaken under a Regional Forest Agreement—which in Tasmania is all forestry activity—is exempt from the operation of the EPBC Act,” she said.
“Looking at those cumulative impacts, the issues around carve-outs of particular industries has meant that there is some undermining of broader environmental protections.
“Our concern, from a legislative point of view, was that an entire industry and one which is, for most species, one of the biggest threats to habitat was excluded from what was otherwise a national system for biodiversity management.”
The inquiry’s report is expected in May.
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