Australia taking six years to list threatened habitats under environment laws | Environment
Australia is taking at least six years to list habitats as threatened under national environment laws, an inquiry examining the country’s extinction crisis has heard.
The Humane Society International (HSI) also said that potential major threats to Australia’s wildlife are going unexamined because “we’re not even spending the meagre funds required” to look into them.
A Senate committee has been examining Australia’s high rate of fauna extinction, which scientists have labelled a “national disgrace”.
An interim report tabled before the election recommended an overhaul of the country’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and an independent national environmental authority.
Evan Quartermain, the HSI’s Australian head of programs, told a hearing in Sydney on Tuesday that cuts to the environment department’s budget had caused the timeframe for listing ecological communities as threatened under the act to blow out and fewer assessments were occurring.
Ecological communities are groups of plants, animals, and other organisms that are protected as a single habitat.
HSI has been behind the nomination of 33 of the communities that are currently listed under federal law, as well as 73 individual threatened species.
“But over the last decades of our involvement we’ve unfortunately seen that there’s much to be desired in the process of getting them listed and then how they’re treated after that,” Quartermain told the hearing.
“From the point where we nominate an ecological community, for example, we’re expecting best case scenario that it’s going to take six or seven years before that’s actually on the list and receiving any protection.”
The most recent ecological communities listed as threatened under the act were two woodlands, one in Tasmania and the other in NSW and Queensland, that had been eligible for either a critically endangered or endangered status for years.
But a decision on those listings was delayed by environment minister Sussan Ley’s predecessors Josh Frydenberg and Melissa Price after lobbying from industry groups and MPs.
Quartermain said there was a “considerable risk” to habitats already under stress when such time lags were allowed “with no scientific justification”.
The committee also heard from Tim Stephens, a professor of law at Sydney university, that Australia was failing to recognise key threatening processes, which are driving declines in endangered wildlife.
A key threatening process is anything that threatens the survival of native species and it can be formally designated under the EPBC Act.
Feral cats, introduced grasses, and incidental bycatch of birds or marine life are examples of threatening processes listed under the act.
But Stephens told the committee that there had been “inadequacies” in the recognition of threatening processes under the act in recent years, and that some serious threats – such as ocean acidification – had not been given this formal designation.
He said governments were also failing to match the listing of some threatening processes “with a threat abatement plan”.
Quartermain told senators that it had been almost a decade since a threatening process had been prioritised for assessment.
“We know of at least one example of when the threatened species scientific committee has recommended a key threatening process be assessed but that was rebuffed by the department who said it would be too expensive,” he said.