How do you set priorities for threatened species conservation?

The cost of managing a threatened species for a year can range from a few thousand to hundreds of millions of dollars. By carefully setting priorities, we can maximise our impact by putting our resources where they will make the most difference.

Turquoise parrot (Neophema pulchella)

With an ever-growing list of threats, and over 900 species in need, the challenge for the Saving our Species program is to determine where to invest funds to maximise conservation outcomes and achieve 2 main objectives:

  • increase the number of threatened species that are secure in the wild in New South Wales for 100 years
  • control the key threats facing our threatened plants and animals.

Fortunately, we have an ace up our sleeves, a prioritisation framework that enables us to maximise the number of species we can secure in New South Wales. The Saving our Species prioritisation framework helps us work towards achieving these ambitious goals by guiding us to choose a set of projects that will lead to the most improvements across the state.

Taking a strategic, cost-effective approach

Saving our Species sets priorities according to 2 main principles:

  1. projects to secure our species should be cost-effective
  2. these projects should be strategic and maximise conservation benefits.

Where will our on-ground actions make the biggest difference?

Before the Saving our Species program began in 2016, decisions about which threatened species to support tended to reflect local priorities or urgent needs

By contrast, a strategic approach carefully considers what is needed for all species across the state, and how to support as many projects as possible over the longer term.

Instead of looking at a single animal or plant in isolation, Saving our Species:

  • looks at every threatened species across the state and determines what is needed for that species to be secure in the wild
  • considers this list as a whole, asking which projects are most cost-effective with the highest benefit and feasibility
  • chooses the set of projects that will lead to the highest number of species being secure across the state.

What does it mean to be cost-effective?

Figure 1 Setting cost-effective prioritiesCost-effectiveness ensures that resources are used where they'll have the greatest impact. This isn't only about a project's financial cost – it's about considering the greater trade-offs:

  • will the project benefit the threatened species?
  • how feasible is it to achieve the benefit?
  • what will the project cost?

Benefits and feasibility are considered together, so if an action has great potential benefit, how likely is it that potential benefit will be achieved? Projects with high benefit and high feasibility are considered highly cost-effective; those with low benefit are not.

Getting our projects just right

sos-figure-2-cost-effective-approachWhen considering the conservation needs of threatened species and communities, it's tempting to focus on all actions that might be beneficial. This is sometimes called a 'recovery approach', with the goal to recover the threatened species to the point where it no longer needs protection. This approach works well if only one species needs help.

With hundreds of species that need support in the state, we must consider how we can help the most species. The most effective way to approach conservation is to design as many 'just right' projects as possible. Each 'just right' project is made up of the minimum actions needed to make sure that species is secure in the wild in New South Wales. By not adding 'extra' actions we can do more projects, allowing us to secure more species across the state.

By not adding 'extra' actions, we can do more projects, allowing us to secure more species across the state.

Focusing on outcomes is another important aspect of designing efficient projects. On-ground actions that directly lead to positive outcomes for species, and communities, is the focus of Saving our Species. The most successful and effective projects focus on direct action. Acting is preferred to finding out more – and approaches prioritising action over research and monitoring are more likely to lead to recovery.

Saving 2 birds with one action

Regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia)Another way to ensure our conservation dollars stretch as far as possible is to identify actions that will benefit the greatest number of threatened species at the same time. If 2 threatened species are found in the same place, doing interventions that help both of them saves time and money.

For example, Saving our Species supports a number of threatened woodland birds. Woodlands are mainly found in the inland parts of our state, where the denser forests and rainforests of the coast thin out to a mix of trees and grasses.

More sunlight reaches the ground, which supports seed-bearing grasses. Many different types of birds love these habitats, from nectar-eaters like regent honeyeaters, to hollow-nesters such as turquoise parrots and the glossy black cockatoos. Actions like retaining dead timber – in the form of hollow-bearing snags, logs and stumps – not only benefits the many types of birds who need to nest in them, but also provides additional habitat for threatened mammals, reptiles and frogs.

Setting priorities helps us to achieve more for threatened species

Through the implementation of our prioritisation framework, Saving our Species can focus efforts on actions that are likely to have long-term, sustainable outcomes for threatened species and threatened ecological communities – giving our plants and animals the best possible chance of surviving in the wild.

We know conservation is a long-term game.Through the implementation of our prioritisation framework, Saving our Species can focus efforts on actions that are likely to have long-term, sustainable outcomes for threatened species and threatened ecological communities, giving our plants and animals the best possible chance of surviving in the wild for 100 years.

Join us in making a difference today and find out more about our world-leading conservation program and help save threatened native plants and animals in New South Wales.

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