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Conservation Matters

Contact Call | Volume 10 Number 2 | September 2021

One of the big issues of the moment is the proposed amendments of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Independent Review of the EPBC Act led by Professor Graeme Samuel concluded that the current environmental trajectory is unsustainable and the EPBC Act requires fundamental reform. Professor Samuel provided a reform pathway of 38 recommendations centred around new legally binding, outcomes-focussed National Environmental Standards to protect “Matters of National Environmental Significance” (which includes threatened species) overseen by an Environment Assurance Commissioner and regulated by a new independent Office of Compliance and Enforcement.

The Federal Government’s proposed amendments ignore the stronger recommendations from the Independent Review and instead seek to devolve these significant environmental matters to the states and implement weak and unenforceable standards. This looks very much like business as usual and wastes a critical opportunity to better protect our wildlife.

BirdLife Australia has played a leading role in drawing attention to the needed reform, and is now encouraging the Government to adopt the full measure of reforms proposed by the Independent Review.

Our Branch has supported this process by writing about these concerns to three independent Senators who have agreed to vote against the Government’s proposals and to ensure that the strong recommendations of the Independent Review are adopted. It is perhaps disappointing that the Government that established the review is now failing to properly implement the proposals, but this situation does reveal the value of independent members of Parliament. It is hoped that these actions help create an effective Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act that might provide better outcomes for our threatened birds. We have also written to the Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, asking for his support in getting a much better outcome. His reputation in supporting conservation, and his great interest in birds, gives us some hope that he can work within the Government processes to achieve a better legislative outcome.

Current threatened bird species in our region

BirdLife Northern Queensland does cover a very large part of north-eastern Queensland, and we have a substantial list of threatened bird species that occur in our region. There are 27 species listed by Queensland in the threatened categories (Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable) with 22 of these listed nationally (EPBC Act), not always in the same category. Most of these species have no Recovery Plan in place and those that do (only six species) lack adequate budget support.

Waders and International Migratory Species (9)

The most threatened bird group are the waders, with eight species. Of these, six are international migratory species. Many of the waders can be readily seen along the shores of northern Queensland including Curlew Sandpipers, Great Knots and Eastern Curlews, all critically endangered. Additional threatened migratory waders are the Red Knot, the Greater Sand Plover and the Lesser Sand Plover. Resident threatened waders are the Australian Painted Snipe and the Beach Stone-curlew.

One other international migrant is also threatened, the White-throated Needletail.

The major threats to all these species is habitat loss in either their migration pathways or in their breeding grounds, but for the waders, human disturbance is a threat within Australia also (by people and dogs at bird feeding or roost sites for example).

Parrots (5)

The Golden-shouldered Parrot is listed as Endangered but seems to be approaching the critically endangered category. It is confined to a small area of Cape York Peninsula.

The Night Parrot is listed as Endangered but a lot more work is needed to fully appreciate its distribution and ongoing threats.

The Palm Cockatoo is another species on Cape York Peninsula listed as Vulnerable but with many threats, particularly habitat loss, fire mismanagement and nest hollow destruction.

Two other parrots are also listed, the Eclectus Parrot (another Cape York Peninsula species) and the Wet Tropics subspecies of the fig-parrot, the Macleay’s Fig-parrot.

Birds of Prey (3)

The Red Goshawk is a species of significant concern and Cape York Peninsula is seen as its stronghold in recent decades. It does have a recovery plan but action is recent and it remains unclear how effective this will be.

Grey Falcon is seen as Vulnerable as is the northern Masked Owl subspecies.

Finches and Quail (5)

Four finch species are listed with three identified as particular subspecies. The Gouldian Finch is endangered and does have a National Recovery Plan. Crimson Finch, Star Finch and Black-throated Finch each have a subspecies identified as threatened in our region.

The Buff-breasted Button-quail is something of a mystery and although listed as Endangered, it is probably the least well known (no photograph of a living bird exists).

Cassowary (1)

The Southern Cassowary is a keystone species with substantial loss of its original habitat. There are ongoing threats (including dogs and road kills). A National Recovery Plan is in place.

Honeyeaters and other small birds (4)

The Carpentarian Grasswren is a high profile Endangered species with lots of current monitoring. BirdLife Northern Queensland has a long-running project on this species and that seems to give some ground for hope.

Two Gulf of Carpentaria species listed as Vulnerable by Queensland are the Yellow Chat and the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren.

The Painted Honeyeater is also listed as Vulnerable and mostly occurs on the edge of our region.

For most of our threatened species it is clear that limited National or State investment occurs to either prevent their loss or improve their situation. Even the relevant government websites are clunky and poorly populated with any real information making it quite difficult to find out what is actually happening to our many threatened species.

The best source of comprehensive and reliable information is the periodic publication of the Action Plan for Australian Birds, the most recent of which is 2010. A new action plan is due soon (2020 edition) and will provide excellent information on the conservation status of Australian bird species, including identification of threats and necessary actions.

An effective response to this will require much greater investment from Government, hence the significance of the current EPBC reform, including removal of Ministerial discretion to do nothing.


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