COMMENT ON THE ACT GOVERNMENT'S DRAFT ACTION PLAN FOR THE SCARLET ROBIN (PETROICA BOODANG)
Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 17 May 2016
Click on the audio symbol to hear the Scarlet Robin's call
Thank you for providing the opportunity to comment on the Draft Action Plan for the Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) as part of the community consultation process seeking feedback on the draft.
I note the distribution of P. boodang, depicted in Appendix 1, is based on volunteer observations and collated by Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG). The listing of the Scarlet Robin is a commendable example of the way government and citizen scientists can work together to achieve conservation outcomes for our valuable native species.
The success of the Plan will depend on a number of factors which I highlight as follows:
- Inclusion of adaptive management in the Action Plan
- Support for Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)
- Maintainence of cooperative arrangements with state and local governments and research institutions
- Integration of the Action Plan with other strategies and action plans
- Clarity of key objectives, actions and indicators.
1.1 Inclusion of adaptive management in the Action Plan
I am pleased to observe the ACT Government’s increasing adoption of an adaptive management approach within natural resource management planning documents. The ACT Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 and the ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27) both seek to integrate adaptive management, while acknowledging that ‘learning how to improve the use of management tools’ still poses a challenge for conservation managers . This challenge is particularly apparent for avian species like P. boodang that are not constrained to certain ecological communities, but rather occur over a wide area in the ACT .
Acknowledging the challenges posed by P. boodang for conservation managers, the Plan could be strengthened by indicating how it will integrate adaptive management practices. Noting the ACT Government’s stated aim of ‘shift[ing] away from reliance upon static planning documents towards more flexible tools designed for adaptive management and feedback into implementation cycles’, the Plan should:
- Identify where learning opportunities exist (i.e. stating hypothesis, testing of conservation ‘treatments’), and how conservation managers will capitalise on these opportunities.
- Articulate how learning outputs of an adaptive management approach will be incorporated into future iterations of the Plan, noting the requirements of the Nature Conservation Act 2014 for monitoring and review, may leave too long between revisions. Some pressures on P. boodang such as urban development may pose threats on shorter timescales, requiring a more rapid response.
Adaptive management tools
ACTmapi has been identified as a tool for adaptive management in the Nature Conservation Strategy. The Plan should seek to leverage ACTmapi’s capacity to identify the following and make use of any available data to inform management actions for P. boodang:
- Mapping of future climate impacts on habitat availability, specifically impacts on altitudinal migrants such as P. boodang.
- Identification of:
- Wildlife corridors
- Gaps in wildlife corridors that are critical to landscape connectivity
- Priority areas for restoration of habitat.
Distribution map of the Scarlet Robin based on COG data. Taken from Draft Action Plan.
1.2 Support for Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)
Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) is a citizen science community organisation comprised of members committed to the promotion, study and conservation of the ACT's bird life. As a long established organisation, COG has many volunteer members with strong backgrounds in ornithology, ecology and other scientific disciplines. This collective experience translates through to robust studies and monitoring of bird life within the ACT. The group is currently substantially relied upon by the ACT Government to deliver monitoring data that informs the Government’s conservation policies.
Grassy woodland at Mulligans Flat.The Scarlet Robin lives in dry eucalypt forests and woodlands. The understorey is usually open and grassy with a few scattered shrubs. Important parts of its habitat include abundant logs and fallen timber. The birds forage from low perches, fence-posts or on the ground, from where they pounce on small insects and other invertebrates which are taken from the ground, or off tree trunks and logs. Photo: Mark Jekabsons
The current draft action plan states under Action 3a that the ACT Government will ‘continue monitoring P.Boodang occurance at permanent forest and woodland monitoring sites including measuring relevant habitat parameters (i.e. canopy cover, shrub cover, ground cover, logs, fallen branches and litter)’ with the associated indicator 3a implying that COG is relied on as the primary source of data on this subject.
COG has noted that consistent monitoring has proven ‘difficult to coordinate and sustain’ and that data collected is ‘not generally systematic (ie surveys repeated over time at the same site)’ .There is an opportunity for the ACT Government to collaborate with COG to develop a systematic approach to data collection. This approach could emphasise increasing observation sessions in historically under-reported areas across the ACT.
COG has also acknowledged its limited capacity to expand its monitoring programs under the current resource constraints, noting that ‘the Woodland Project is probably at its maximum in terms of the locations and sites which can be coordinated and monitored four times a year by volunteers with resources available, and, therefore, adding more sites to the Woodland Project would not appear to be feasible’. The Plan should clearly articulate how the ACT Government intends to support COG, specifically where monitoring is relied upon to guide conservation efforts.
1.3 Maintenance of cooperative arrangements with state and local governments and research institutions
Cooperative arrangements with relevant government and non-government organisations have demonstrable value in regards to conservation activities and should be maintained. For instance, the ACT Government jointly funded a PhD scholarship with the Australian National University which led to a study of woodland birds in the ACT. This study was provided to the ACT Flora and Fauna Committee in 2013 as a key piece of supporting evidence in the nomination of Scarlet Robin as a vulnerable species.
The positive role of citizen science in conservation efforts should also be acknowledged more thoroughly in the Plan. The community observations recorded by COG provided the evidentiary basis for the listing of P. boodang as a vulnerable species, and the ACT Governments consequent conservation management activities.
As noted by the United Nations Environment Programme, in addition to valuable scientific data, citizen science also provides a number of co-benefits including raised awareness of environmental issues, enhanced environmental stewardship, increased engagement and participation within local communities and improved education outcomes. The ACT Government should aim to realise these co-benefits where possible as part of its conservation planning and management for P. boodang and other listed species.
1.4. Integration of the Action Plan with other strategies and action plans
The ACT 2015 State of the Environment report recommends (Recommendation 3) that ‘the ACT Government [should] consider integrated monitoring, reporting and evaluation of all the key strategies to guide achievement of improved sustainability outcomes for the ACT...’. Consideration should be given to how the reporting and evaluation elements of this recommendation could be implemented for the Action Plan.
Our report also recommends ‘that the ACT Government ensures that the new Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is best practice, cross-sectoral and integrated into other key strategies, with effective monitoring, reporting and evaluation.’ Noting the inclusion of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Australian Birds, the Action Plan should outline how climate change impacts will be monitored and accounted for.
To further ensure the success of the Action Plan the ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27) should be updated to:
- Reflect the vulnerable species status of the Scarlet Robin
- Integrate conservation actions from the Action Plan into the Woodland Strategy, where they are not already included.
1.5 Clarity of key objectives, actions and indicators
The Nature Conservation Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2018 indicates that ‘implementation of actions will be dependent upon the availability of funding’. The Action Plan could be improved by identifying which actions will be prioritised where funding is constrained.
I note the current Actions and Indicators provided under Table 1: Key objectives, actions and indicators, and wish to provide the following comments:
- Action 2b – Encourage landowners to fence areas of known forest or woodland habitat suitable for P. Boodang to facilitate shrub and tree regeneration.
- I acknowledge that the ACT Government favors a supportive approach in preference to regulatory measures for ensuring suitable habitat is protected and maintained. This includes supporting rural leasees to achieve conservation outcomes through land management programs such as those aimed at erosion control, drought preparedness and biosecurity. This approach could be better articulated in the Action Plan.
- Indicator 2d – Existing predator proof fencing and cat containment zones and monitoring continues for known or potential P. Boodang.
- As noted in the 2015 ACT State of the Environment report, current pest monitoring ‘focuses on abundance and extent rather than the effects pests are having on biodiversity outcomes’ and ‘there are few reliable, quantitative measurements for the environmental damage inflicted by pests [with ]most information on damage [being either] qualitative or anecdotal.’ An examination of the threat posed to P. boodang by predators could inform conservation managers of where the best Value-For-Money could be achieved regarding predator controls.
- I also note the work of the Threatened Species Commissioner, particularly the Threatened Species Strategy 2020 which identifies ‘tackling feral cats as [the] top priority for action’.
Feral cat with parrot. Photo: Wikipedia.
- Indicator 3d – Findings are incorporated into management actions when new research becomes available.
- The Plan should specify how new data will be evaluated and subsequently incorporated into management actions.
- Indicator 4a - The number of research projects the ACT is involved in that take account of threatened species in open forest and woodland (e.g. P. boodang).
- This indicator should be revised, as ‘number of research projects’ does not provide any indication of important factors such as the aim of the research, academic rigor, the geographical extent of research area, or study duration.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the draft Action Plan.
 ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan No. 27), 2004.
 Canberra Ornithologists Group, Canberra Bird Notes 2015, Volume 40, Number 2
 ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, ACT Nature Conservation Strategy, 2013.
 Canberra Ornithologists Group, A Statistical Analysis of Trends in Occupancy Rates of Woodland Birds in the ACT 1998- 2008 The Ten-Year Data Analysis April 2010, 2010
 Canberra Ornithologists Group, Canberra Bird Notes 2015, Volume 40, Number 2
 United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP Year Book 2014: Emerging Issues in our Global Environment, 2014.
 ACT Government, Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, ACT 2015 State of the Environment Report, 2016.
 ACT Government, Environment and Planning Directorate, Nature Conservation Strategy Implementation Plan 2013-2018, 2013.
 Australian Government, Department of the Environment, Threatened Species Strategy, 2015.