Queensland’s Bramble Cay melomys, which became extinct in 2016.
Photograph: Ian Bell, Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
Exclusive: Conservation staff say 955 species face extinction across the state
Lisa Cox Mon 10 Sep 2018 20.46 EDT
The entire state of Queensland has no overarching conservation strategy to save its native species, according to a leaked internal review that criticises a lack of funding, planning and management of threatened wildlife.
The damning report obtained by Guardian Australia is an evaluation by staff in the conservation and sustainability services division of the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, the lead agency responsible for protecting native wildlife in the state.
It highlights alarm that the state does not have a comprehensive policy to guide threatened species work and that practices known to significantly improve the survival of species, such as protecting critical habitat, have been neglected, despite Queensland having twice as many plants and animals as any other state or territory.
“There is currently no overarching strategy to prioritise, guide and/or coordinate the management and conservation of threatened species in Queensland,” the review states.
It says that 955 species are threatened with extinction in Queensland, the second-highest number of listings in the country, and that 25% of at-risk birds, 15% of at-risk mammals, 23% of at-risk fish, and 50% of at-risk frogs have all or some of their habitat in the state.
“Queensland’s rich biodiversity is nationally and globally significant, yet faces major challenges such as an extraordinary rate of decline and, in extreme cases, risk of extinction,” the review says.
The report also finds:
- There is a lack of coordination between departments, state and federal governments on threatened species activities
- There has been no critical habitat declared in Queensland
- Policies are missing in key areas of species protection, including stopping species from reaching threatened status, prioritisation of threatened species, investment in endangered wildlife, and recovery planning and implementation
- Of the 955 threatened species listed under Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act, only 55 have recovery plans – most of them are done federally under the EPBC Act. All but 12 of these – about 1% – are out of date
- Recovery plan implementation isn’t resourced by the department, relies on support from the community, and is not evaluated unless by external scientists or recovery teams
- There is inadequate financing and staffing for threatened species work
- Measures to track progress in recovering endangered plants and animals are not in place for most species
- There is no evidence-based framework in Queensland to prioritise species for conservation
The review was prepared ahead of a Queensland Audit Office audit of conservation work by government departments and says it was intended “as the first phase in developing a threatened species strategy for Queensland”.
It also comes as a national Senate inquiry into Australia’s rate of fauna extinctions is about to get under way.
“This project is set against a background of increasing scrutiny of the plight of threatened species, in Australia and globally, highlighted by overarching concerns about Australia’s exceptionally high extinction rate including recent vertebrate extinctions, such as Queensland’s Bramble Cay melomys,” the review states.
Andrew Picone, nature campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), said the internal review showed “successive Queensland governments have abandoned our threatened species”.
“Queenslanders are rightly proud of our beautiful environment and want the creatures that enrich their state to thrive,” he said.
“While the review is welcome, we need more transparency and accountability from the Queensland government before another species become extinct.”
Picone said the review represented an opportunity for “meaningful reforms” to protect threatened species and critical habitats.
He said it also reinforced the need for national leadership but the federal government had “abandoned the playing field through deep budget cuts, poor policy and a general lack of interest.”
“We need stronger national environment laws to protect threatened species, especially if we are to meet our international obligations for preventing extinctions,” he said.
A response was sought from the Queensland environment minister, Leeanne Enoch, but her office refused to comment.
A spokeswoman for the environment department said the government would not be responding directly to the internal review.
“The report in question, which was not finalised, was prepared for internal use only in advance of the Queensland Audit Office’s report,” she said. “The government will consider the recommendations of the Queensland Audit Office’s report once it is finalised.
“A significant achievement of this government is the reinstatement of vegetation management laws to increase protection of high-value regrowth and remnant vegetation, and boost protection of near threatened wildlife species.”