It’s a long road to recovery for many threatened species

roadPhoto courtesy of Google images

There are no substitutes for the benefits humans derive from biodiversity.  Biodiversity, such as flora and fauna species are essential for human existence and provide ecosystem services in “regulation of the atmosphere, maintenance of soil fertility, food production, regulation of water flows, filtration of water, pest control and waste disposal  (SEWPaC 2011).

Over 1700 threatened species are listed under the Australian Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act 1999).   At the time of listing a decision is made to have a Recovery Plan.  Recovery Plans are the subject of much debate as to whether they are effective.

There is one other aspect to the listing of a threatened species that appears absent in the prevailing Recovery Planning and prioritisation literature (Carwardine[1] et al, 2012, Joseph[2] et al, 2009).  Once a species is listed under the EPBC Act 1999 it then becomes a Matter of National Environmental Significance (MNES). Any action that is likely to have an impact on a MNES has to be referred to the Commonwealth Government of Australia for assessment and approval.  With the stroke of a pen, protection can be afforded to a number of MNES through this mechanism in addition to implementation of recovery actions in Recovery Plans.

The challenge remains, however, to implement recovery actions in Recovery Plans, in light of resourcing constraints, whether these are a result of less dollars, lack of human resources or stakeholder engagement. For example, the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage’s (OEH) (or as it was known in 2006, the Department of Environment and Conservation [DEC]) Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) (Figure 1) approved Recovery Plan (DEC Recovery Plan) states:

“While support for the implementation of the actions in the Recovery Plan resides with the DEC, other organisations have been suggested which may also provide support for implementation of recovery actions. It is noted that these organisations have not agreed to be responsible for the implementation of these actions.”

birdFigure 1: Photo Bush Stone Curlew in the wild courtesy of Ace Hardy via Kowree Farm Tree Landcare Group at Edenhope. Listed as endangered under the  Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995

However, the Recovery Plan for the Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) (Figure 2) does make explicit a number of stakeholders involved in its recovery and is an exemplar of stakeholder engagement.  This blog is not intended to say that Recovery Planning doesn’t work or that stakeholders are not involved in recovery of the Bush Stone-curlew —it is designed to draw attention to the inability to implement numerous recovery actions in Recovery Plans for threatened species in the absence of resources.   In prioritising biodiversity conservation funding, governments could investigate how to strategically implement priority recovery actions from Recovery Plans to ensure the long road to recovery for threatened species is secure for the future.

mountain pygmy possumFigure 2: Photo Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) listed as endangered under the EPBC Act 1999

 Shaneen Coulson – student Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


[1] Carwardine J., T. O’Connor, S. Legge, B. Mackey, H. P. Possingham, and T. G. Martin (2012). Prioritizing threat management for biodiversity conservation, Conservation Letters 5:196–204.

[2] Joseph, L., R.F. Maloney and H. P. Possingham (2009). Optimal Allocation of Resources among Threatened Species: a Project   Prioritisation Protocol, Conservation Biology 23:328-338.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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