‘Quick fix’: Tassie devil among species no longer subject to recovery plans

Tasmanian devils, whale sharks and threatened forests in NSW and Victoria are among almost 200 species and ecosystems that will no longer require recovery plans but merely conservation advice, according to changes proposed by the federal environment department.

The proposal to ditch the need for recovery plans for the 185 at-risk species and ecological communities is just the first tranche, with more to follow, the department said.

The Tasmanian devil is among almost 200 plant and animal species or endangered ecological communities that will no longer have recovery plans but only conservation advices to support their survival. Credit:Healesville Sanctuary

Ecosystems in the first batch include Sydney’s Cumberland Plain shale woodlands and blue gum high forest, and the grassy eucalypt woodland on Victoria’s volcanic plain. The giant borrowing frog, Abbott’s booby and the dwarf mountain pine are among the species listed for advice.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the proposed changes were recommended by the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee and are available for public consultation until November 2.

The committee’s chair, Helene Marsh, said the shift to relying on advice rather than developing specific plans was driven in part by the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires. Recovery plans can take two to five years to develop.

“It’s a sign we have to be much more nimble and responsive in this era of climate change,” Professor Marsh said, adding the committee was open to recommending to Minister Ley to add recovery plans if the public made convincing cases about particular species.

“This is a quick fix … The minister is under pressure because she is legally obligated to review the plans every 10 years.”

The move, though, drew criticism, including from the University of Queensland’s Professor of Conservation Science James Watson, who took part in a review of the federal threatened species policies a decade ago.

The environmental advice doesn’t have the same “legislative teeth” as recovery plans that typically also require habitat protections, Professor Watson said. They may be done by desktop analysis rather than more careful study.

“This is a quick fix,” he said. “The minister is under pressure because she is legally obligated to review the plans every 10 years.”

Professor Marsh said her committee “had a huge amount of work to do”, and that the legal power attached to conservation advice would be strengthened if the government adopted the recommendations put forward by Graeme Samuel in his review of the environment protection laws.

A Whale shark filter feeding off Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. The fish also no longer needs a recovery plan, the environment department says.Credit:Via David Whitley / How Good is Australia

Brendan Sydes, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Biodiversity Policy Adviser, said more than 1900 threatened species and ecological communities were listed under the national environment laws and recovery plans were legally required for 914 of them.

“We understand the proposed changes would see only 238 – just 12 per cent – of Australia’s 1900 threatened species and ecological communities continue to be supported by a recovery plan,” Mr Sydes said.

“At a time when more and more species are coming under threat from climate change, we should be investing more money in recovery planning, not giving up on it.”

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