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Crisis Facing Threatened Species and Ecosystem Decline in Victoria

Two important reports on Victorian threatened species and ecosystem health were made public in late 2021:

1. Victorian Auditor General Office (VAG) – Protecting Victoria’s biodiversity - October 2021

2. Parliament of Victoria, Inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria - December 2021

The Auditor General wanted to know how effectively DELWP was halting the decline of threatened species in Victoria, while Parliament inquired into ecosystem decline.

The key findings of the VAG report included: DELWP cannot demonstrate if, or how well, it is halting further decline in Victoria's threatened species populations; they have no transparent, risk-based process to prioritise the management of endangered threatened species at extreme risk of extinction; and funding available to DELWP to protect species falls significantly short of what it predicts is needed. It also lacks performance indicators and reporting to demonstrate the impact of its management interventions on halting the decline of threatened species. VAGO made nine recommendations which DELWP has accepted.

The parliamentary inquiry into ecosystem decline made fifty-five findings and seventy-seven recommendations covering; the role of traditional owners; invasive species; climate change; habitat loss and fragmentation; threatened species; land management; governance and implementation; compliance and enforcement; monitoring and data.

 

Joint Statement from Peak Environment Bodies

Several peak bodies (Victorian National Parks Association; Environment Victoria; Environmental Justice Australia; Friends of the Earth; Bird Life Australia; Wilderness Society) gave their verdict on these findings in a joint statement (3 December 2021). Selections from the joint statement follow.

The findings of the Inquiry make it abundantly clear – we need to act urgently to halt the decline or possible extinction of 400 animals, plants and communities listed as critically endangered, and almost 2000 animals, plants and communities listed as threatened, under state law.

Within just a few generations, once-common animals and plants are slowly disappearing, confined to smaller and smaller pockets of intact habitat. Ecosystems, the fabric of life, are in the process of collapse before our eyes”.

There is a choice: stand by and watch the continued decline of our native wildlife and their habitats or hear these alarm bells and take action that makes a long-term positive difference.

Victoria must act or face the possible extinction of 400 critically endangered animals, plants and ecological communities listed as endangered and almost 2000 listed as threatened.

Victoria has a diverse and distinctive natural environment, but we also have the highest number of threatened species by subregion and we are the most cleared state in Australia. The challenge is significant and decisive action by the Andrews Government is needed.

The dozens of findings and recommendations of the Ecosystem Decline Inquiry are a good starting point, but we now need the government to step up, invest and take urgent action to halt species and ecosystem decline before it’s too late.

The Ecosystem Decline Inquiry comes on the back of numerous reports over the last decade, and a blistering report from the Victorian Auditor-General in October 2021 that laid bare the failings of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), the state’s main government environment agency.

Victoria severely lacks the funding to adequately protect species and isn’t taking full advantage of existing laws to prevent a worsening crisis. This report makes it very clear that our state is not taking enough action to curb decline in Victorian ecosystems.

The Victorian Government must prioritise investment and make better use of powerful legal tools to stop the biodiversity emergency. Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer Dr Bruce Lindsay said it was deeply concerning that DELWP could not show it was doing anything substantial to halt or reverse Victoria’s biodiversity decline.

“It might not look like it, but we actually already have powerful legal tools with real potential to protect habitat. They are never used. The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act contains many tools designed to protect threatened species including recovery plans and critical habitat protections,” said Dr Bruce Lindsay, Senior Lawyer, Environmental Justice Australia.

Groups are calling for a package of funding for Victoria, of at least $500 million, which will deliver firm commitments in four key areas:

  • A dedicated long term threatened species program
  • Dramatic increase in public funding for land and sea conservation & threatened species laws & programs
  • New $30-$50 million for a Land Conservation Revolving fund run by Trust for Nature
  • Strengthen the Wildlife Act to properly protect all native species

 

Notable recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry: i.e. opportunities for community volunteering?

RECOMMENDATION 5: That the Victorian Government consider supporting regional, cross-tenure coordination of pest animal and noxious weed management which includes Traditional Owners, local government authorities, catchment management authorities, private landowners, environmental groups and the broader community.

RECOMMENDATION 33: That the Victorian Government review and incorporate, if and where appropriate, features of New South Wales’ Saving our Species program into community engagement and communications strategies for threatened species activities under Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037.

RECOMMENDATION 58: That the Victorian Government work with local government authorities to improve financial and other supports available for councils to specifically undertake localised biodiversity initiatives, including in relation to activities contributing to the targets identified in Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037.

FINDING 54: Citizen science projects, which are designed by professional scientists and involve volunteers, can engage the community in environmental issues and collect data vital to the management of Victoria’s unique biodiversity values. Citizen science projects can complement professional scientific research projects.

RECOMMENDATION 73: That the Victorian Government refine the operation of the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and the VBA Go mobile application to make these more user-friendly to upload environmental data. Refinement of the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas should be accompanied by an awareness campaign to encourage the Victorian community to contribute to the Atlas and expand data collection across the State.

Greg Johnson, President

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