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Saturday, 02 October 2021 04:22

Further changes to threatened species management under the EPBC Act

The Morrison government has proposed scrapping recovery plans for almost 200 endangered species and habitats. Recovery plans are documents that set out actions needed to stop the extinction of threatened species. Ministers are legally bound not to make decisions that are inconsistent with them. However there is a huge backlog in the finalisation of recovery plans.

In 2020 the Environment Department revealed to a Senate estimates hearing that not one recovery plan had been finalised for 18 months and more than 170 were overdue, e.g. the Blue Gum High Forest recovery plan that has not been completed over the 14 years since it was declared critically endangered.

Instead of a recovery plan a ‘conservation advice’ is written that does not have the same legal force under national law. This has been possible under changes made to the EPBC Act in 2007.

The species and ecological communities to be given priority for a recovery plan are those that are most frequently affected by development and have often been referred for assessment by the minister as to whether the development should not proceed or conditions should be imposed. A prime example is the Cumberland Plain Woodland because of all the development in western Sydney but it is on the list of ecological communities to be downgraded to a conservation advice.

Another example is Blue Gum High Forest. The data provided only covers sites of BGHF on public land. It is important that the conservation advice also applies to private land such as the Mirvac site that includes about 3 ha outside the demolition area. If the conservation advice does not have the same legal status as recovery plans then we are left with council management policies to ensure that endangered species and ecological communities are protected.

The government is asking for feedback on proposed decisions to abandon recovery plans for 185 species and ecological communities. Consultation closes on 2 November 2021.