11 Local governments and regional bodies
Species recovery occurs not only on individual properties or on small groups of adjoining ones, but across whole landscapes. In many cases coordinating efforts on a larger scale is the key to successful species recovery and can contribute greatly to successful community engagement.
11.1 A more integrated recovery methodology
The methodology for threatened species recovery in NSW and across Australia is changing. Addressing the problems of the high numbers of threatened species currently listed cannot be done through single-species recovery efforts alone, nor is this always most effective or efficient. There is an increasing move to focus species recovery at a multi-species or landscape level, or to address threat abatement rather than species recovery per se.
In addition, a holistic approach to natural resource management (NRM) is now practised, of which biodiversity and threatened species management is just a part. This approach recognises the links between human and natural systems, and is based on broader ecosystem management. There is increasing recognition that species recovery actions can and should be better integrated with other key priorities such as vegetation management, salinity and water quality.
This approach has led to an increased integration of threatened species management with catchment and local government management, planning and implementation. DEC has developed the priorities action statement (PAS) to guide threatened species actions and opportunities in NSW. The PAS:
- identifies important management actions for each threatened species, and the priority of each action
- provides key locations for some threatened species
- communicates actions and locations to land managers such as local councils and catchment management authorities (CMAs).
While recovery and threat abatement plans will continue to be employed to recover species, their use will be targeted to species and key threatening processes that require considerable planning and stakeholder liaison.
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11.2 Catchment management
The regional planning process is based on integrated NRM and presents an excellent opportunity to plan actions that provide multiple outcomes for resource management and threatened species.
Without the support of regional communities and authorities, the future ability of threatened species recovery teams to influence threatening processes, obtain appropriate funding and achieve significant outcomes will be limited.
Under federal bilateral agreements, CMAs are required to include threatened species recovery implementation in their regional plans, and to demonstrate a commitment to threatened species conservation. In NSW, the PAS will assist CMAs in identifying actions for implementation, and will incorporate actions identified in recovery and threat abatement plans.
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11.3 Local scale management
Local government agencies are critical players in threatened species conservation and can be very effective when species conservation is a priority. Not only is a local council the closest level of administration to the community and therefore able to adapt higher level government policies to on-ground actions, it also manages land use planning and is responsible for regulating numerous activities in its local government area. It manages its own properties and regulates the management of others.
Local governments have legal responsibilities to manage threatened species and their habitats, and threatened species recovery plans set out actions which can be taken at the local level to aid in species conservation. For some councils in NSW, the opportunity will exist to develop local environmental plans for biodiversity certification which consider threatened species conservation at the strategic planning level, therefore streamlining later development and land management processes.
In the 2000 National Local Government Biodiversity Survey, councils were asked to identify which areas of biodiversity conservation they would allocate additional resources to, if available. In NSW, 81 councils (out of 131) identified on-ground action to restore or protect biodiversity as their first priority. This was followed by building up a biodiversity information base (72 councils) and awareness, education and training (60 councils). Each of these activities depends on or can be strongly supported by the effective involvement of the local community.
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11.4 Benefits of threatened species conservation to federal and state governments, regional bodies and local government
Regional bodies and local government can achieve a range of benefits by conserving threatened species and their habitats as well as addressing broader biodiversity needs. These benefits may be direct or indirect, economic or social, and include:
- increased local productivity through improved environmental health in the local government area (ie, soils, water, air)
- maintenance of healthy ecosystems
- avoidance of costly environmental problems such as salinity or water pollution
- ecotourism and improved recreation areas
- improved environmental and resulting community health
- conservation of heritage values, including Aboriginal heritage values
- an enhanced sense of community and an increase in resident concern for and connection to their surroundings
- satisfaction of legal responsibilities under state and federal legislation.
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11.5 Functions and opportunities
Each local government and regional body is responsible for core activities into which threatened species management should be incorporated. There are also opportunities for councils to progress conservation objectives through other mechanisms, and both councils and regional bodies can develop partnerships with other groups or agencies to help achieve outcomes of mutual interest.
How each council or regional body prioritises or utilises these various opportunities will depend on their resources and capacity, location and constituency. Often implementation of threatened species protection mechanisms may be limited by constraints such as education and awareness of staff or community leaders and members, funding, access to data or expertise and excessive workloads.
Below are some core functions of local government and regional bodies into which threatened species conservation may be incorporated:
- Strategic land use planning and development approvals Threatened species and biodiversity conservation strategies can be included in the underlying council or regional management plan, corporate vision, targeted by-laws and dedicated conservation zones. These strategies can also integrate conservation data and planning with other strategic land use planning processes. The approval process can assess individual development applications and property vegetation plans for species conservation as well as ensuring that planning controls and development decisions reflect the regional biodiversity context of the area and maintain the integrity of habitat linkages.
- Managing publicly owned land, including council land, for conservation and developing a regional conservation program with other public landowners.
- Managing environmental risks by considering conservation values and integrating them with risk management strategies.
- State of the Environment monitoring and reporting.
Further discretionary functions include:
- facilitating community involvement by involving community groups in preparation of conservation plans and strategies; giving community facilitators and environmental officers access to local and regional decision-making processes; providing continuity in community-based programs; and providing continuity in staff involved in their delivery, including incorporating them into the council or regional bodies' core structure and providing adequate training
- financial incentives and market mechanisms, including implementing financial incentives and market-based policy instruments to conserve threatened species and their habitats; promoting and using incentive-based instruments to complement other conservation initiatives within local government or catchments; and promoting and demonstrating environmentally, ecologically and socially responsible behaviour
- providing financial and administrative support to community and catchment groups to carry out key activities in conservation or recovery plans.
Local government can promote a regional strategy to conserve a threatened species or ecological community, enabling its protection over a large region. It can also use local planning processes to help control threats on a smaller scale and direct habitat maintenance and management. However it is managed, biodiversity conservation should be integrated with all administrative and decision making processes in a council management plan.
Note: Much of the above information on local government was adapted from a series of reports developed by Bining and Young in 1999 (see Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb)).
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11.6 Data and planning
Council and regional staff need to be adequately trained to understand biodiversity conservation, and provided with sufficient information on the biology and behaviour of threatened species, potential habitat, local records and possible impacts.
Expert knowledge must be sought when developing plans and setting priorities for threatened species and biodiversity conservation. Councils and regional bodies must assess threatening processes, set local priorities and consider their actions within the context of broader regional and state plans and priorities. Certainly, much of this information must come from experts and government agencies. However, this does not prevent local governments from addressing some of these needs themselves.
Below are some examples of how regional bodies and local government can help themselves.
Community data collection Many regional or council areas have developed community survey and monitoring programs to gather information on the current state of their area and changes over time. This data can then be combined with reports from ecological consultants and other available datasets.
Surveys of this nature can allow for more detailed datasets than would otherwise be available. Without this input, it is likely that only existing species records and vegetation mapping would form the basis of conservation plans.
However, when assessing potential species habitat and species presence, known vegetation community and habitat condition is not always an appropriate measure. Even single trees can be important for species such as the swift parrot, and reptile and plant threatened species are often found in poor-quality remnants. Community surveys allow for the incorporation of records that might otherwise be missed using only existing data and models.
Resources are needed to establish and support a program of this nature, and the program must be designed so the data collected is simple enough for a volunteer program but also useful for meaningful analysis. Even the effort and process of establishing such a program can lead to a considerable cost-effective increase in knowledge and understanding of the local area.
By pooling the data with that of neighbouring councils or catchment bodies and state agencies, greater efficiencies can be achieved on many levels of species management. Improved data sets can assist in faster and more effective development and assessment of conservation plans, as well as improved land management and decision making.
These are also excellent methods for interesting local communities in their own surroundings and raising awareness of biodiversity, threatened species and threats. This is the first step towards improved sustainable living and community support of conservation programs.
Shared regional ecologists For many councils, particularly in rural areas, funds are not available to support the full-time employment of ecological staff. By combining resources with neighbouring councils or regional bodies and employing shared ecologists and other environmental staff, councils can obtain ecological input at a reduced cost (compared to the employment of a consultant) and better integrate conservation considerations into a wider range of council activities and planning.
Similarly, developing a network of environmental management extension officers can support conservation activities and complement existing community support officers in other organisations or agencies.
Regional biodiversity plans Where councils may be unable to shoulder the cost of developing a local biodiversity plan, the development of regional plans with a number of local council areas or a regional body can provide financial benefits and lead to improved management of threatened species and their habitats.
Even if a council intends to develop a local biodiversity plan for its council or shire area alone, it can be a great advantage to involve regional bodies in the plan development. This allows councils to develop regional partnerships, take advantage of regional programs and opportunities and integrate their work with regional level priorities and planning mechanisms.
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11.7 Threatened species management at a landscape scale
Regional and local plans should include actions to manage threats and prevent the decline in threatened species and ecological communities. Management bodies should be set up so these and other actions can be effectively carried out.
Appropriate activities could include:
- maintaining and rehabilitating threatened species habitats
- protecting and restoring endangered ecological communities
- providing services for landholders to identify species on their property
- providing land managers with information on best practice management for threatened species
- developing and supporting programs for landholders to protect and manage threatened species
- providing training and financial and administrative support to community groups working to address threatened species decline
- supporting research to aid in species protection and recovery
- developing regional threat abatement programs for key threats to species and biodiversity
- implementing actions from recovery or threat abatement plans
- recording and monitoring species populations and habitat
- communicating with neighbouring regional bodies to develop cross-border projects and to share experiences and information.
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11.8 Landscape and multi-species plans
Local councils can either consider threatened species conservation as part of local government or catchment action plans, or they can develop specific threatened species or biodiversity management plans.
As landscape-scale species recovery and multi species plans are still a relatively new concept in Australia, there is to date no ideal model for these plans.
The few such plans that have been developed and implemented in Australia and abroad, with both successes and failures, provide a number of lessons. These plans tend to either consider broader ecosystem or habitat management for biodiversity, a suite of similar species found in a region, or threat abatement rather than specific species management.
Not all species are ideally suited to recovery using these broader regional methods. There will still be the need for single species plans and projects across the country. In fact, at times these targeted single species approaches can have significant benefits for broader biodiversity conservation over more ill defined landscape projects.
One landscape recovery planning approach trialled and supported in Victoria is regional biodiversity action planning. See case study 9 for an example of on-ground community involvement in this project.
Note that in order to assess recovery and plan success and allow for adaptive management, landscape plans must be carefully developed to ensure that measurable outcomes for threatened species can be obtained. See 'Monitoring and evaluation' for more information on this topic.
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Page last updated: 28 February 2011