Our nature laws are being overhauled. Here are 7 things we must fix



A koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed log pile near Kin Kin in Queensland. Federal environment laws have failed to prevent widespread land clearing across Australia.
WWF Australia

Jan McDonald, University of Tasmania

Environment Minister Sussan Ley yesterday announced a ten-yearly review of Australia’s national environmental laws. It could not come at a more critical time, as the environment struggles under unprecedented development pressures, climate change impacts and a crippling drought.

The laws, formally known as the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, have been in place for 20 years.




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Announcing the review, Ley said it would “tackle green tape” and reduce delays in project approvals. She said the laws must remain “fit for purpose” as our environment changes.

Serious declines in most biodiversity indicators strongly suggest the laws are not fit for purpose. Some 7.7 million hectares of endangered species habitat has been destroyed since the Act was established and the lists of threatened and endangered species continue to grow.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley pats a koala during a National Threatened Species Day event at Parliament House in Canberra in September 2019.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The review should ensure Australia’s environmental law achieves what it was designed to do – protect our precious natural places.

The list below reflects the EPBC Act priorities of 70 environmental lawyers and practitioners who were polled by the National Environmental Law Association. Collectively, they have more than 500 years experience of the Act’s operation.

1. Independent decisions with clear criteria

Under the laws, proponents of activities likely to have big impacts on so-called “matters of national environmental significance” must get federal approval. The minister or a representative makes this decision and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, grants approval.

This approval power should be vested in an independent body to take the politics out of decisions. Criteria for deciding on approvals should be clearer, including thresholds for when applications must be refused on environmental grounds.

2. Take stock of cumulative impacts

A search of the EPBC Act will not find any reference to cumulative impacts, or the need to consider whether approval of one proposal is likely to lead to a raft of new projects being proposed. There is little scope to consider cumulative impacts that might happen in future — only when a new proposal constitutes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Act must do better at considering both how proposed activities and future plans will interact, and the background processes of environmental change and decline.

Suburban sprawl north of Brisbane. Environment law experts say the EPBC Act does not take account of cumulative impacts of developments.
Dave Hunt/AAP

3. Provide funds for proper enforcement

Improving the content of the Act is one thing, but monitoring, compliance and enforcement are critical. There is little point imposing tough conditions if no one is there to ensure they are met. This demands an ongoing sustainable funding base that is not dependent on political budget priorities.

4. Better data and transparency

Access to information about environmental decisions is essential for good governance. Not all documents and decisions are publicly available. It is very difficult to track down detailed aspects of approval conditions – for example, the detail of the groundwater management and monitoring plan for the Adani coal mine. This is especially important when the department’s capacity to oversee compliance is so constrained.




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The Act should consider the need for public registers of all documents and data collected as part of decision-making and monitoring processes, including decisions, approvals, conditions, offset locations, compliance reports and monitoring data.

5. Expand scope of national environmental impact assessment

Commonwealth involvement in environmental approvals is limited to specific “matters of national environmental significance”. Land clearing and climate change are not included in the list of such matters, and are usually considered under state laws.

This means activities that may damage native vegetation or lead to rising emissions are only scrutinised under federal law if they might affect other things, such as threatened species or world heritage places.




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Also, the Act only seeks to protect water resources when the proposed project is a large coal mine or coal seam gas venture. New triggers are needed to require federal assessment and approval for all activities that might significantly affect water, native vegetation and climate change.

Rare black cockatoos in Victoria. The number of threatened species has grown while the EBPC Act has been operating.
THREATENED SPECIES RECOVERY HUB

6. Deal with land clearing

Habitat loss is recognised as the primary driver of species decline in Australia. Rates of land clearing have increased dramatically in recent years, despite the operation of the Act.

Stronger protections are needed. These must prevent further clearing of vegetation types that are not adequately conserved in Australia’s system of protected natural areas. In cases where a proponent plans to offset damage caused by their project by restoring land elsewhere, construction should be delayed until work has begun on the restoration project and conservation benefits are occurring.

7. Make strategic assessments truly strategic

Conservation planning and environmental assessment are complex. Major new initiatives can involve interacting influences and trade-offs. The Act’s so-called “strategic assessment” process to some extent accounts for this — for example it might consider development plans across a region, rather than project-by-project.

But strategic planning must occur for a wider range of activities that may have long-term impacts on conservation: for example, the Tasmanian government’s desire to open up the Tarkine region to further mining. The planning must also better consider spatial conflicts and account for future change.

This list is just the tip of the law reform iceberg, but addressing these priorities would be a good start. With only one environmental law expert and no environmental scientist on the newly announced panel, it remains to be seen how these priorities will be addressed, if at all.The Conversation

Jan McDonald, Professor of Environmental Law, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why a sense of kinship is key to caring about the living world



Framing nature in terms of kinship can motivate people to care about the loss of biodiversity.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Matthew Hall, Victoria University of Wellington

Leading thinkers in environmental economics and conservation are asking a pressing question. Why are we ignoring the destruction of the living world?

Recently, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a global assessment of biodiversity that set out alarming statistics: a million species at threat of extinction, 75% of terrestrial environments severely altered by human activity, and a 30% reduction in global habitat integrity.

Despite all this, practical solutions to redress an ecological crisis — land use and economic reform, action on climate change and improvements to environmental governance — are not prioritised. One key reason for this is how we frame our relationship to the living world.

Instrumental nature

An endangered baobab species in Madagascar.
Bernard Gagno/Wikimedia Commons

Our prevailing relationship with nature is instrumental – that is, we predominantly frame the living world as a set of natural resources, apart from humans, for our privileged use.

Such framing is so deeply embedded, and our material dependence on nature so total, that it can seem strange even to question the idea of nature as natural resource. In Western nations, this position has deep philosophical and religious roots.

My latest book, The Imagination of Plants, highlights the role of the creation story in Genesis and the philosophy of Aristotle in rendering plants, the living beings that make up the visible bulk of most terrestrial ecosystems, as existing for the sake of animals, and both for the sake of humans.




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Such accounts have powerfully shaped a human-centred, utility-based worldview that has silenced the needs of plants and animals. They form the philosophical basis of our claims to “own” other species.

If plants and animals exist for the sake of humans, why take action to conserve them when they’re not useful? Why care when their numbers are going down, as long as we can still get what we materially need from them?

Conservation concepts and strategies that place the living world within this frame, including ideas of natural capital, ecosystem services and the protection of the living world for our enlightened self-interest, are destined to fail because they do not address this underlying framing. Indeed, as researchers have pointed out, by not addressing such framing they perpetuate the very drivers of biodiversity loss.




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Intrinsic value

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Albrecht Dürer, 1504.
Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Environmental thinkers have warned for decades that such a view of nature is at the root of our ecological crisis. More recent research has argued against this instrumental view, criticising its value as a basis for conservation action.

Since the 1980s, discussions of the intrinsic value of nature – “valuing it for what it is, not only what it does” – have happened across a number of environmental disciplines. This led to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), founded on the cornerstone of the intrinsic value of biological diversity.

In some countries, such as New Zealand, the concept of intrinsic value appears in major pieces of resource management and conservation legislation. It has been instrumental in recent legal battles over land use.




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Recent work by environmental philosopher Michael Paul Nelson shows people acknowledge the intrinsic value of nature. He argues that the only reason we make decisions inconsistent with this value is because we don’t believe the general populace shares this belief.

But the concept of intrinsic value does not demand a move away from a dominant use-based frame. In the preamble of the CBD itself, intrinsic values sit alongside a raft of use-based values, including economic, scientific, educational, cultural and aesthetic values. The power of the use-based frame dominates the concept of intrinsic value.

A highly resolved tree of life demonstrates the kinship of all life on Earth.
Ivica Letunic/Wikimedia Commons

All our relations

There is an alternative to the dichotomy of a purely instrumental relationship and the concept of intrinsic value.

In many Indigenous cultures, such relationships are built on fundamental kinship with the living world, a kinship that actually blurs and subverts the very concepts of nature and culture.

Within these kinship relationships, the needs and capacities of living beings are acknowledged, not left in the background. This is what the late anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose called the Indigenous ethic of connection, or what is also called kincentric ecology.

Kinship offers a way of connecting to nature that acknowledges our need to use plants and animals, but constructs relationships beyond use. Where the concept of intrinsic value can be difficult to engage with, kinship relationships naturally extend to care, respect and responsibility.

Framing nature in terms of kinship can motivate people to care and make the loss of the living world real for people. Ever since Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, science has known of our fundamental kinship with nature. Yet we don’t frame (or live with) nature in a way that honours this.

A recent example gives me hope. At the school climate strike, a young Brazilian Indigenous woman addressed a crowd in New York, speaking in terms of kinship about the human children of a mother Earth, fighting to save their mother from destruction. Framing nature in terms of kinship noticeably energised the crowd of young people.

The challenge to reframe the living world in terms of kinship is massive. A good step would be to convene a human-nature kinship platform as a way of influencing the UN Biodiversity Conference in China next year. Another step could be to enshrine our fundamental kinship with other species in all major environmental governance frameworks, including the CBD and national environmental legislation.

Both could provide the springboard for us to undergo the hard work of talking about, and living with, other species in ways that acknowledge them as our earthly relations.The Conversation

Matthew Hall, Associate Director, Research Services, Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trophy hunting – can it really be justified by ‘conservation benefits’?



Cecil the lion, before he was a trophy.
Shutterstock/paula french

Melanie Flynn, University of Huddersfield

Killing animals for fun is an activity which divides opinion. It can also be a highly emotive issue, with high profile cases like the death of Cecil the lion sparking global media coverage and outcry. There were even calls for the American dentist who admitted killing Cecil to be charged with illegal hunting.

But despite the strong feelings it occasionally provokes, many people may be unaware just how common trophy hunting is. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reports that between 2004 and 2014, a total of 107 countries participated in the trophy hunting business. In that time, it is thought over 200,000 hunting trophies from threatened species were traded (plus a further 1.7m from non-threatened animals).

Trophy hunters themselves pay vast sums of money to do what they do (IFAW claims upwards of $US100,000 for a 21-day big game hunting trip). But reliable data on the economic benefits this brings to the countries visited remains limited and contested.

Now the UK government has announced it is considering banning the trade of hunting trophies from endangered species – making it a crime to bring them back into the country.

Advocates of trophy hunting – including major conservation organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wide Fund for Nature – argue that hunting wild animals can have major ecological benefits. Along with some governments, they claim that “well-managed” trophy hunting is an effective conservation tool, which can also help local communities.

This argument depends in part on the generation of significant income from the trophy hunters, which, it is claimed, can then be reinvested into conservation activities.

The broad idea is that a few (often endangered) animals are sacrificed for the greater good of species survival and biodiversity. Local human communities also benefit financially from protecting animal populations (rather than seeing them as a threat) and may reap the rewards of employment by hunting operations, providing lodgings or selling goods.

Indeed, research on trophy hunting does show that it can produce substantial financial benefits, is likely to be supported by local communities, and can be associated with conservation gains.

But it remains unclear in exactly what circumstances trophy hunting produces a valuable conservation benefit. We cannot assume a scheme that works in one country, targeting one species, under a specific set of circumstances, is applicable to all other species and locations.

Also, the purported benefits of trophy hunting rely on sustainable management, investment of profits, and local community involvement. But given the levels of perceived corruption and lack of effective governance in some of the countries where trophy hunting is carried out, one wonders how likely it is these conditions can be met.

And if trophy hunting is really so lucrative, there is every chance the profits will instead be used to line the pockets of rich (possibly foreign) operators and officials.

Death and suffering

This brings us to the question of ethics. Just because an intervention has the potential to produce a social benefit, does not mean the approach is ethical. And if it is not ethical, should it be considered a crime?

This is something of regular concern for social policy. If the evil that a programme introduces is greater than the evil it purports to reduce, then it is unethical to implement it.

I would argue that even if convincing evidence does exist that trophy hunting can produce conservation benefits, it is unethical to cause the death and suffering of individual animals to save a species.

In common with many green criminologists, I take a critical approach to the study of environmental and animal-related crime. This means that I am interested in behaviour that can be thought of as harmful, and may be worthy of the label “crime”, even if it has not been formally criminalised.

When considering global harms and those that impact heavily on the most powerless in society, this approach is particularly important.

Conservation is concerned with biodiversity and animal populations. Contrast this with an animal rights or species justice perspective, where instead of focusing on rights that benefit humans over all other species, the interests and intrinsic rights of individual and groups of animals are considered.

From this viewpoint, trophy hunting undoubtedly causes harm. It brings pain, fear, suffering and death. Add to this the grief, mourning and fracturing of familial or social groups that is experienced by animals such as elephants, whales, primates and giraffes. In light of these harms, trophy hunting is surely worthy of the label “crime”.

Allowing trophy hunting also perpetuates the notion that animals are lesser than humans. It turns wildlife into a commodity, rather than living, feeling, autonomous beings – beings that I have argued should be viewed as victims of crime.

Anthropocentric views also facilitate and normalise the exploitation, death and mistreatment of animals. The harmful effects can be seen in intensive farming, marine parks and “canned hunting”, where (usually lions) are bred in captivity (and sometimes drugged) as part of trophy hunting operations. Where money can be made from animals, exploitation, and wildlife crime, seem likely to follow.

Instead, local communities must be involved in decisions about conservation and land management, but not at the expense of endangered species, or of individual animals hunted for sport. Alternative conservation approaches like photo tourism, and schemes to reduce human-animal conflict must be embraced.

Getting a good shot.
Shutterstock/Villiers Steyn

Banning trophy hunting would provide a much needed incentive to develop creative conservation approaches to wildlife protection and human-animal co-existence. And there is still substantial conservation income to be earned without resorting to trophy hunting.

So governments around the world should introduce bans on trophy imports – alongside providing support for alternative, ethical developments that benefit both wild animals and local communities. Anything less is complicit support of a crime against some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife.The Conversation

Melanie Flynn, Senior lecturer in Criminology, University of Huddersfield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here’s how your holiday photos could help save endangered species



Zephyr_p/Shutterstock

Kasim Rafiq, Liverpool John Moores University

Animal populations have declined on average by 60% since 1970, and it’s predicted that around a million species are at risk of extinction. As more of the Earth’s biodiversity disappears and the human population grows, protected landscapes that are set aside to conserve biodiversity are increasingly important. Sadly, many are underfunded – some of Africa’s most treasured wildlife reserves operate in funding deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars.

In unfenced wilderness, scientists rarely have an inventory on the exact numbers of species in an area at a particular time. Instead they make inferences using one of many different survey approaches, including camera traps, track surveys, and drones. These methods can estimate how much and what kind of wildlife is present, but often require large amounts of effort, time and money.

Camera traps are placed in remote locations and activated by movement. They can collect vast quantities of data by taking photographs and videos of passing animals. But this can cost tens of thousands of dollars to run and once in the wild, cameras are at the mercy of curious wildlife.

Track surveys rely on specialist trackers, who aren’t always available and drones, while promising, have restricted access to many tourism areas in Africa. All of this makes wildlife monitoring difficult to carry out and repeat over large areas. Without knowing what’s out there, making conservation decisions based on evidence becomes almost impossible.

Citizen science on Safari

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world – 42m people visited sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 alone. Many come for the unique wildlife and unknowingly collect valuable conservation data with their phones and cameras. Photographs on social media are already being used to help track the illegal wildlife trade and how often areas of wilderness are visited by tourists.

Despite this, tourists and their guides are still an overlooked source of information. Could your holidays snaps help monitor endangered wildlife? In a recent study, we tested exactly this.

Partnering with a tour operator in Botswana, we approached all guests passing through a safari lodge over three months in the Okavango Delta and asked them if they were interested in contributing their photographs to help with conservation. We provided those interested with a small GPS logger – the type commonly used for tracking pet cats – so that we could see where the images were being taken.

We then collected, processed, and passed the images through computer models to estimate the densities of five large African carnivore species – lions, spotted hyaenas, leopards, African wild dogs and cheetahs. We compared these densities to those from three of the most popular carnivore survey approaches in Africa – camera trapping, track surveys, and call-in stations, which play sounds through a loudspeaker to attract wildlife so they can be counted.

The tourist photographs provided similar estimates to the other approaches and were, in total, cheaper to collect and process. Relying on tourists to help survey wildlife saved up to US$840 per survey season. Even better, it was the only method to detect cheetahs in the area – though so few were sighted that their total density couldn’t be confirmed.

Thousands of wildlife photographs are taken every day, and the study showed that we can use statistical models to cut through the noise and get valuable data for conservation. Still, relying on researchers to visit tourist groups and coordinate their photograph collection would be difficult to replicate across many areas. Luckily, that’s where wildlife tour operators could come in.

Tour operators could help collect tourist images to share with researchers. If the efforts of tourists were paired with AI that could process millions of images quickly, conservationists could have a simple and low-cost method for monitoring wildlife.

Tourist photographs are best suited for monitoring large species that live in areas often visited by tourists – species that tend to have high economic and ecological value. While this method perhaps isn’t as well suited to smaller species, it can still indirectly support their conservation by helping protect the landscapes they live in.

The line between true wilderness and landscapes modified by humans is becoming increasingly blurred, and more people are visiting wildlife in their natural habitats. This isn’t always a good thing, but maybe conservationists can use these travels to their advantage and help conserve some of the most iconic species on our planet.The Conversation

Kasim Rafiq, Postdoctoral Researcher in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Liverpool John Moores University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Dog owners could take the lead on dingo conservation with a ‘Fido fund’



Dingo puppers. A small levy on dog costs could help create more ethical management of dingoes.
Shutterstock

Neil R Jordan, UNSW and Rob Appleby, Griffith University

Humans and dogs go way back. From wolf totems to the big bad wolf of fact and fairy tale, through sheepdogs, lap dogs, and labradoodles, our relationships with these animals are complex, emotionally charged and sometimes contradictory.

The split between humanity’s lavishing of affection on domestic dogs and our contrasting animosity towards their wild relatives is well-documented. But what of domestic dogs and dingoes?

Our research, published today, found similarly contrasting relationships in Australia, where the dingo, Australia’s native dog, is frequently killed for management. We suggest that an inexpensive “dingo conservation levy” on domestic dog costs could fund more ethical management of dingoes. In this way our affection for domestic dogs could be harnessed to improve conservation outcomes for their wild relatives.

Dingoes have an ecotourism appeal in places like K’gari (Fraser Island)
Shutterstock

Canine economics

Australians collectively spend over A$10 billion each year on their domestic dogs – housing, feeding, and sometimes even giving them the status of honorary family members. Meanwhile, government and landowners jointly spend at least A$30 million on large-scale exclusion fencing and lethal control of dingoes.

Industry funded research suggests that dingoes killing livestock, especially sheep, and efforts to control dingoes, cost at least A$145 million annually. What’s more, such losses also come with psychological stress, which you can’t always put a price on.

Other research suggests dingoes, as top predators, provide considerable economic benefits. For example, dingoes prey upon kangaroos and other herbivores that may compete with livestock for food and water. In fact, some estimates suggest dingoes improve gross margins by $0.83 per hectare in this context.

They also help biodiversity by suppressing feral cats and foxes, and dingoes have considerable ecotourism appeal in locations like K’gari (Fraser Island) and Kakadu National Park.

Managing dingoes

Australia’s current approach to dingo management highlights the paradox of an animal viewed both as a valuable native predator that should be conserved, and as a pest to be destroyed. And this makes it a nightmare to manage.

The dingo fence stretches for thousands of kilometres in the Australian outback to try to keep dingoes away from sheep and livestock.
Shutterstock

Current dingo management relies heavily on exclusion fencing and lethal control, and around 200kg of 1080 powder (poison) is administered to baits and peppered across the continent annually.

Countless bullets are also fired, and traps set, as the lion’s share of management budgets is allocated to business as usual. To break this deadly cycle, there is a clear need to provide farmers and governments with good evidence that different approaches could work. This can only be done through substantial parallel investment in robust, independent experimental tests of alternative approaches.

Despite broad support in society for non-lethal management, accessing sufficient funds to support such a transition remains challenging.

A modest dingo conservation levy could fund this. With a levy on the A$10 billion domestic dog industry, we could harness humanity’s affinity for domestic dogs to improve conservation and welfare outcomes for their wild counterparts.

It wouldn’t need to be prohibitively expensive either.

A levy on the sale of pet dogs, dog food, or both, of only about 0.3% of the amount that pet owners spend on this annually – or A$7.36 per dog – would generate A$30 million each year.

That is similar to the lowest estimates of current national spending on dingo control, which means we would potentially see the current spending doubled.

Why should dog owners pick up the tab?

Applying a levy to all dog owners may seem unfair, and perhaps it is. But as Australia’s “dingo problem” is, arguably, at least in part caused by domestic dogs gone feral, such a levy would seem no more unfair on conscientious dog owners than third-party insurance is on careful drivers.

Given that pet owners tend to view wild animals more positively and show more concern for their welfare, such a levy might actually be well received by dog-owners anyway.

An alternative approach might be to seek the voluntary involvement of pet-food manufacturers in such a scheme, giving consumers choice over whether to support it.

Dog-lovers generally also love wild animals, and may be happy to pick up the costs for ethical dingo conservation.
Shutterstock

A dingo conservation levy – perhaps supplemented by a voluntary fund for donors without dogs – might also be more acceptable and attractive if it were clear the funds would be specifically channelled towards research and uptake of non-lethal tools.

Generally, we are broadly in favour of any techniques designed to reduce the animosity towards dingoes, reduce the costs and negative impacts of living alongside them, and boost the positive effects dingoes have on ecosystems.

As some have already argued, they are all dogs at the end of the day. Perhaps then it is time that we treated them as such.


We would like to gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Mike Letnic, Henry Brink, Brad Purcell and Hugh Webster to this article.The Conversation

Neil R Jordan, Lecturer, UNSW and Rob Appleby, PhD student at the Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Death by 775 cuts: how conservation law is failing the black-throated finch


April Reside, The University of Queensland and James Watson, The University of Queensland

Nearly 20 years ago, Australia adopted national environmental legislation that was celebrated widely as a balanced response to Australia’s threatened species crisis. In the same year, Queensland introduced its Vegetation Management Act. Together, these laws were meant to help prevent further extinctions.

But have they worked?

A famous finch

We investigated whether these laws had successfully protected the habitat of the endangered southern black-throated finch.

Our study found that, despite being nominally protected under federal environmental law, habitat for the species has continued to be cleared. Just three out of 775 development applications that potentially impacted the endangered southern black-throated finch were knocked back, according to our new research.




Read more:
Queensland coal mines will push threatened finch closer to extinction


Defining exactly what is habitat for the black-throated finch is tricky – we don’t have oodles of data on their habitat use over time, and the extent of their sightings has declined substantially. But Queensland has excellent vegetation mapping, and we recorded all of the vegetation types in which the southern black-throated finch has been seen.

We then mapped the extent of this habitat in three different time periods: historically; at the advent of the environmental laws (2000); and current day.

Clear danger

We found that most of the black-throated finch’s habitat had been cleared before 2000, mainly for agriculture before the mid-1970s. The black-throated finch hasn’t been reliably seen in New South Wales since 1994 and is listed there as “presumed extinct”.

We looked at all the development proposals since 2000 that were referred to the federal government due to their potential impact on threatened species. 775 of these development proposals overlapped areas of potential habitat for the black-throated finch.

Only one of these projects – a housing development near Townsville – was refused approval because it was deemed to have a “clearly unacceptable” impact to the black-throated finch.

In addition to these projects, over half a million hectares of the cleared habitat were not even assessed under federal environmental laws.

We estimate that the species remains in just 12% of its original range. Yet despite this, our study shows that the habitat clearing is still being approved within the little that is left.

So in theory, Australia’s and Queensland’s laws protect endangered species habitat. But in practice, a lot has been lost.

Critical habitat

The highest-profile development proposal to impinge on black-throated finch habitat loss is Adani’s Carmichael coalmine and rail project. Adani has been given approval to clear or otherwise impact more than 16,000 hectares of black-throated finch habitat, a third of which Adani deemed “critical habitat” But there are four other mines in the Galilee Basin that have approved the clearing of more than 29,000 ha in total of black-throated finch habitat.

But it’s not just the mines. In 2018 the federal government approved clearing of black-throated finch habitat for a housing estate and a sugar cane farm, both near Townsville. Several solar farms have also been proposed that would clear black-throated finch habitat around Townsville.

To further complicate matters, the black-throated finch’s habitat is also threatened with degradation by cattle grazing. The finch needs year-round access to certain grass seeds, so where grazing has removed the seeding part of the grasses, made the ground too hard, or caused the proliferation of introduced grasses such as buffel, the habitat suitability can decrease until it is no longer able to support black-throated finches.

So while they are losing their high-quality habitat to development, a lot of their habitat is being degraded elsewhere.

Heavy cattle grazing degrades habitat for the southern black-throated finch by removing edible grass seeds.
April Reside

The federal government has placed conditions on approved clearing of black-throated finch habitat, often including “offsetting” of any habitat loss. But securing one part of the black-throated finch’s habitat in exchange for losing another still means there is less habitat. This is particularly problematic when the lost habitat is of very high quality, as is the case for Adani’s Carmichael coalmine lease.

Little by little

Our research suggests there is a real danger of the black-throated finch suffering extinction by a thousand cuts – or perhaps 775 cuts, in this case. Each new development approval may have a relatively modest impact in isolation, but the cumulative effect can be devastating. This may explain why a stronger environmental response has not occurred so far.




Read more:
Does ‘offsetting’ work to make up for habitat lost to mining?


So how can we prevent the black-throated finch from going extinct? The finch is endangered because its habitat continues to be lost. So its recovery relies upon halting the ongoing loss of habitat – and ultimately, increasing it. Achieving this would require a political willingness to prioritise endangered species protection.

Australia has already lost hundreds of its unique plants and animals forever. In just the last few years, we have seen more mammals and reptiles disappear to extinction. If we continue on our current path, the southern black-throated finch could be among the next to go.The Conversation

April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland and James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ten feelgood environment stories you may have missed in 2018



File 20181220 45403 1ny05j4.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Epic Duck Challenge: one of 2018’s happier environment stories.
Jarrod Hodgson, Author provided

Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

Let’s be honest – environment news isn’t always the jolliest, and 2018 was no exception. From climate change, to recycling, to energy policy, at times it has felt like we’ve been lurching from one crisis to the next.

So here are ten upbeat environmental stories from this year that prove it’s not all doom and gloom.


Cane toads cracked

In September, scientists announced they have decoded the cane toad genome, potentially paving the way for new weapons to repel the slimy invaders.

The successful effort potentially makes it easier to identify viruses that can be used to attack the toxic toads.

Cracking the cane toad genome.

Bears on the mend

The treatment of bears imprisoned in Asian bile farms is heartbreaking. But the good news is they can recover from their ordeal if given the right care during rehabilitation, going on to lead relatively stress-free lives even after years of torture.


Tasty trick

Blockchain isn’t just for bitcoin and other clever stuff best left to the financial experts. It can also help tackle illegal tuna fishing, helping to ensure the fish on your dish is more sustainable and bringing much-needed transparency to an important global industry.


Why did the fish cross the road?

Crossing roads is hard enough if you have legs. You might think it’s impossible for fish, and technically you’d be right. But Queensland researchers have invented a device that lets fish do the next best thing: swim upstream through culverts beneath the road, even if they’re facing a raging torrent in the opposite direction.

A breakthrough for fish.

Epic feat

The excitingly named “epic duck challenge” proved that drones can do an even better job of surveying wildlife than human scientists. This development should help this under-resourced area of research finally take flight (sorry).


Hey, good lookin’

And before we leave the animal stories, there’s just time to take you back inside the world of million-dollar beauty pageants… for camels. We guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Ready to wow the judges.
Mahmood Al amri and Jaime Gongora, Author provided

Feeling the energy

Yes, it was a spirit-sapping year for energy policy, with one round of bickering after another. But throughout the year, South Australia’s big battery has been quietly kicking goals.

It celebrated its birthday in late November, and although questions remain over what will happen when its battery packs need replacing, it made A$13 million during the first half of 2018, and has generally been a roaring success considering that it owes its existence to some billionaires’ banter on Twitter.


Grounds for optimism

Your coffee habit could do more than give you a pick-me-up. Used coffee grounds can boost the health of your garden too, as long as you compost them first.


Contain your excitement

And if you’re more of a cola drinker, take heart in the fact that container deposit schemes really do help reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans, by as much as 40% off the US and Australian coasts. We’ll drink to that.


And… breathe

The holiday season is traditionally a time to draw breath and recoup for the new year. So you might like to meditate on the fact that our breath (and other animals’ too) literally helps trees to grow.

And if you like thinking about trees, why not sign up to our Beating Around the Bush series, with plenty more uplifting musings on some of Australia’s favourite species.The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Editor: Energy + Environment, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.