Photo © Doreen Payne
On 8 March Hon Tony Burke, Commonwealth Environment Minister announced the release of a draft National Wildlife Corridors plan. The period for comments closes on 20 April 2012. The Draft Wildlife Corridors Plan comprises two parts. Part 1 could be described as a policy narrative encapsulating the vision and why a plan is required. Part 2 is the planning logic that outlines a 5 point action plan, the essential collaborative governance framework and the next steps.
Part 1 defines wildlife corridors, the objectives of the plan and guiding principles for design. It stresses the need for different solutions for different landscapes and who will be involved in building a network of wildlife corridors.
Part 2 details the 5 point action plan. It establishes a process for nominating a wildlife corridor, building on existing ones and encouraging new ones and outlining strategic investment. It acknowledges the need for environmental steward partnerships and that key stakeholders must work together. It defines the monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements.
The Plan concedes that biodiversity is facing a crisis. The National Reserve System, the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, is failing. New strategies must be explored and more has to be done!
This wildlife corridor plan is to be based on science although Wildlife Queensland acknowledges there is dispute about the value of wildlife corridors in some scientific circles. The driving principles of the plan focus on the disturbance and fragmentation of habitat that has resulted in the loss of biodiversity. What is required is to adopt a whole of landscape management approach to maintain and eventually restore biodiversity.
Broadly speaking the landscape and its ecosystems fall into one of three categories:
- Largely intact
- Peri-urban /urban
Wildlife Corridor design
In designing any wildlife corridor consideration has to be given to:
- Landscape connectivity - the physical connection between areas with vegetation cover across a landscape
- Habitat connectivity - the connection between patches of habitat suitable to any particular species
- Ecological connectivity - the ecological processes that underpin the function of landscapes, for example, the transfer of pollen or seeds and the sequestration of soil carbon
- Evolutionary connectivity - populations of species are able to interact naturally sharing genes and adapting to changing environmental conditions.
From the Australian Government's perspective this plan is conceptually underpinned by a social model linking community, economic and environmental functions. It appears that a community sector commitment is essential.
Furthermore initial investment from existing government programs, such as Biodiversity Fund and Caring for Country, will focus on existing wildlife corridor initiatives. In Queensland it was suggested that a peri-urban corridor (perhaps the Greenbank Karawatha Corridor would qualify) or Cape York would be appropriate. It is the intention to introduce new stand alone legislation. The purpose of the legislation would be to provide a mechanism for nomination, assessment, listing and the focusing of investment. The plan is one of collaboration and voluntary participation.
Photo © Doreen Payne
Wildlife Queensland's View
The draft plan is well structured and written as well as being very readable and readily understandable. There is reference to particular Australian examples that demonstrate the presence and effectiveness of large scale wildlife corridors.
The plan indicates that there is a need for a mindset change. Opportunistic place and asset type conservation activities must give way to strategic conservation planning involving ecological process in order to achieve landscape resilience against threats such as invasive plants and feral animals. The intention is to build on existing activities/projects initially but encourage new corridors in the longer term.
The plan will deliver social and economic benefits as well as environmental gains. However in some circumstances there may be direct impact on individuals that could result in economic loss. If the plan is to be a success an adaptive co-management approach needs to be adopted. This is a weakness unless a shared vision can be established among all stakeholders and a firm commitment from all participants to implement, monitor and review allocated functions.
Wildlife Queensland welcomes this initiative. It is obvious current approaches to biodiversity conservation are inadequate and it is essential to explore different approaches that complement existing strategies.
There are several concerns - some that could be readily addressed but others may present barriers to this initiative.
- New funds are not to be made available but investment will be directed from existing Government programs. Wildlife Queensland acknowledges that this initiative certainly complements those existing programs from which the funds will be redirected but in reality the funding allocated to the environment within the overall Australian government budget is minuscule.
- The plan is voluntary and Wildlife Queensland has no difficulty with that provided once a commitment is made then it is locked in. For the plan to be a success and result in a network of wildlife corridors there has to be some mechanism to ensure a key component holding of a network cannot be withdrawn. For example a private landholder may commit to the network and for many valid reasons the holding changes ownership and the new owner may wish to withdraw. Wildlife Queensland advocates that once the network is established then it is listed under the EPBC Act so that at least any attempt to withdraw could be declared a form of controlled action. Obviously significant legislative change would be required. Furthermore the original owner of the holding may have been the recipient of significant funding and such resources should not be lost.
- Stand alone legislation is not necessarily favoured by Wildlife Queensland. An amendment to the EPBC Act would be preferred.
- The emphasis on existing wildlife corridors is a concern. While Wildlife Queensland acknowledges that such a direction has merit in achieving rapid outcomes significant opportunities and higher priorities may be missed. There are considerable gaps in our knowledge of our fauna especially invertebrates in Queensland. Use of vegetation as a surrogate for biodiversity while it is the best option may be flawed. There is need for systematic surveys of our fauna including invertebrates to close those knowledge gaps. Without that base information on which to construct wildlife corridors, priority needs may be missed.
- The reliance on the adaptive co-management approach does place successful outcomes at risk. However there are a range of tools available such as collaborative focal species, scenario analysis for exploring alternatives and focusing visioning and the development of collaborative habitat investment atlas (CHIA) to facilitate a successful outcome.
What you can do
Read the Draft National Wildlife Corridors Plan and send in your comments before 20 April.
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