Hundreds of endangered species recovery plans will reach their expiry date in the next six months as the government mulls over how to reform Australia’s flawed environmental protection system.
Documents given to Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws detail how a lack of resources, disagreements with state governments and the growing list of endangered species have limited the ability of the federal ministry of information. environment to bring a backlog of conservation work under control.
Environmental groups said the material showed a ‘tangled mess of inaction’ over the past decade and the failure of previous governments to update recovery plans every five years, as required by national laws .
The Department of the Environment has confirmed that 372 recovery plans covering 575 species and ecosystems will end by the end of 2023, including 355 by the end of April.
They include plans for substantiated northern and southern frogs and critically endangered birds such as the King Island Scrubtit.
The 372 plans represent about 89% of all active recovery plans, which are legal documents that guide the management of threatened species and ministers must not make decisions inconsistent with them.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has the power to extend the expiry date of the legal instruments that give effect to the plans and, after a request from Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek, did so for 15 that were due to expire in October.
Plibersek will soon deliver its response to the 2020 review of national environmental laws by former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel.
Changes to endangered species recovery management should be a key part of this, with Plibersek saying past approaches were “not fit for the times”.
Samantha Vine, head of conservation and science at BirdLife Australia, said the documents shared with Guardian Australia “reveal a systemic failure over many years to review and revise recovery plans every five years as required. the law”.
“The result is that hundreds of stimulus packages will reach their legislative expiry date within the next 12 months,” she said.
“These documents show that Australia’s extinction crisis has unfortunately been accompanied by a crisis in how the government has implemented its legal obligation to act once an endangered species is listed.”
When the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act came into force in 2000, all listed species and habitats had to be subject to a recovery plan.
Since 2006, whether or not a recovery plan is necessary is a decision left to the Minister of the Environment.
Many plants and animals now have another legal document, known as a conservation council, to guide their management.
A preservation notice was considered a weaker document because it imposes fewer legal obligations on the government. However, it is faster to update than a recovery plan.
For years the Department of the Environment has struggled to deal with a backlog of overdue stimulus packages, and in recent years climate-related disasters have added to that workload by pushing more plants and trees. animals on the endangered species list.
Memoirs he prepared after Plibersek took over the portfolio in June say he had to contend with a ‘heavy conservation planning workload’ and ‘significant legacy issues’, some of which predated the entry into force of the EPBC law.
The department “has been working to resolve this legacy issue ever since,” a brief states, and “there is no point in plans sitting on a shelf gathering dust.”
Nearly 200 plans were overdue before an assessment last year determined that hundreds of species previously identified as needing plans no longer needed them and a conservation advisory would be sufficient.
Shortly before the May election, former environment minister Sussan Ley scrapped recovery plan requirements for 176 species and habitats.
This law considerably reduced the number of overdue plans, which now stands at 28.
Sixteen of the 28 were “on hold,” with most being delayed due to “resource constraints,” according to department documents. In the case of a long-awaited stimulus package for the leadbeater opossum, it had been delayed by ongoing talks with the Victorian government.
“Documents reveal that resource constraints drive so many decisions,” said Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International.
She said, however, that the government chose to reform conservation planning, this must include “a massive injection of funds to do the job of reversing Australia’s extinction crisis” and it was “little about time the Treasury understands this fact”.
Tim Beshara of the Wilderness Society said lack of resources “combined with state obstructionism has systematically stalled conservation planning and action”.
“It is absolutely essential that this be corrected and obviously this will require leadership and funding,” he said.
Plibersek said the system designed 20 years ago was not suited to deal with the multitude of threats to Australian wildlife, particularly climate change.
‘As part of the government’s response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s review of the law, I will examine how regulatory documents for our endangered wildlife and places can be better targeted to conservation and recovery needs’ , she said.
Earlier this year, the ministry established a working group to consider improvements to conservation planning.
A department spokesperson said reform was needed and the government is “seriously considering how conservation planning can respond more effectively to new and changing pressures on wildlife and landscapes, and halt the decline in biodiversity. “.
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