This issue is discussed for these areas:
What does the Shire have?
Cooma-Monaro Shire has a moderately rich biodiversity—87 different vegetation types and at least 1373 plant species (native and introduced) have been mapped. Fauna species recorded in the Shire 142 bird species, 12 fish species, 58 mammal species, 42 reptile species and 14 amphibians. This reflects the habitat diversity in the Shire—from sub-alpine areas and mountains of the Great Dividing Range to the grassy plains of the Monaro. It also reflects the Shire's native vegetation cover—18% of the Shire's area is some form of conservation reserve, and 32% is bushland.
The Shire contains occurrences of five endangered ecological communities, and populations of 24 plant and 36 animal species that are vulnerable or endangered nationally or in New South Wales (NSW). An additional 10 plant species and 18 animal species listed as vulnerable or endangered are also predicted to occur in the Shire.
What has changed?
Insufficient data were available to assess many aspects of the Shire's biodiversity during the reporting period. The major data gaps relate to changes in the extent and condition of terrestrial and riparian ecosystems (including vegetation change by clearing and fire), changes in native species populations and abundance, changes in threatening processes, information on aquatic macroinvertebrates, changes in pest animal species numbers/densities and effectiveness of control measures and extent to which recovery plan actions have been carried out and their effectiveness. There is little monitoring or systematic collection of data on species, populations or communities, so data quality is generally poor.
The number of ecological communities present in the Shire that are listed as vulnerable or endangered increased during the current reporting period. One ecological community with likely occurrences in the Shire was listed as endangered and one was upgraded from endangered to critically endangered. The number of threatened plants with occurrences in the Shire decreased by two due to further refinement of existing flora data sets. The number of flora species (excluding non-natives) recorded in the Shire decreased by 137 due to further refinement of existing flora data sets.
Fauna species recorded in the Shire have increased by 26 during the current reporting period, primarily the result of different data sets, recent survey efforts and the inclusion of non native species for this reporting period. No analysis of change in status of fauna species took place during the current reporting period, however most pressures on these species are unlikely to have been reduced during the reporting period.
Although no quantitative data is available to indicate if the condition of biodiversity is deteriorating within the Shire, general trends in NSW indicate the diversity of terrestrial species remains under threat and response mechanisms to protect them have not yet reversed this trend. Even where pressures on species are reduced, due to lag effects, it may take many years for the full effects to become evident. The number of species, populations and communities listed as threatened has generally increased over time. The distribution and abundance of many species not listed as threatened continues to decline due to habitat destruction and other pressures.
For this reason, Threatened Species Conservation (TSC) Act 1995 listings do not give a complete picture of the broader decline occurring across the region as habitats shrink and become fragmented, reducing ecological ranges and genetic diversity. Another problem may be the considerable timelag involved in the process of identifying a species of concern, nominating it for listing and obtaining the data to finally determine its status. The true level of decline is unknown as the number of species is much greater than the state of knowledge about them (Possingham et al. 2002). The vast majority of species that make up our biodiversity, such as invertebrates, have not been described, with their ecological functions known only in general terms and their conservation status not known at all in most cases. This lack of knowledge of the full potential of impacts may itself contribute to biodiversity loss.
Habitat removal, disturbance and fragmentation, through vegetation clearing and/or modification, are thought to have continued as major threats to native species and ecosystems in the Council area. Population increases and the resulting demand for urban development within the Shire during the reporting period placed pressure on native species and communities, particularly in lowland areas. Disturbances such as development, fires and drought led to further degradation or loss of ecological communities. Invasive plants and animals continued to exert further pressure on ecological communities and species. communities within the Council area during the reporting period. Pest plant distribution and abundance
Wildfire placed pressure on native species and continued to be influenced by the extended drought conditions, with some species increasing and other decreasing.
Insufficient information was available during the current reporting period to accurately assess the variety of programs and projects to enhance and protect biodiversity by Council, individuals and community groups.
The 'pressure points'
The 'pressure points' are specific processes that continue to exert detrimental effects upon species and ecological communities. If these continue unabated, they will cause these species and ecological communities to slide further towards extinction. These are the main pressures that need to be relieved in order to preserve and recover species and ecological communities through effective management strategies and actions.
- Habitat removal, disturbance and fragmentation, through vegetation clearing and/or modification, were considered major threats to native species and ecosystems in the Council area.
- Drought conditions that were prevalent during much of the reporting period would have affected many native species and ecosystems in the Shire, although quantitative data were not available to determine the extent of impact.
- About 10,767 hectares of land were affected by control burns in the period 2004–08. Four separate wildfires occurred within the Shire, however no information is available on areas burnt by these wildfires. No information is available on the number of vegetation communities, including those known to be fire sensitive, affected by fire, or the extent of impact on these communities.
- Seven pest animal species and 15 pest plant (weed) species were of high concern within the Council area during the reporting period. Increases in distribution and abundance of certain species of weeds further compounded the impacts of drought. These invasive species represent one of the most serious threats to biodiversity in the Shire.
- There is already evidence of climate change impacts on biodiversity, including effects on species physiology, distribution and the timing of life-cycle events. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate other threatening processes. It may enable invasive species to expand into new areas, create more frequent forest fires and cause declining water quality. The combined effects of other pressures reduce the options for native species to adapt to climate change.
Protecting and enhancing biodiversity
Biodiversity describes the variety of animals and micro-organisms, their genes and the ecosystems of which they are a part. The natural environment maintains many essential functions that form the foundation of a healthy and sustainable environment. These are often called 'ecosystem services' and include air and water purification, waste detoxification and decomposition, crop and natural vegetation pollination, dispersal of seeds and nutrients and regulation of climate. Biodiversity is vital in supporting human life on Earth.
Local Councils are in a prime position to take a leading role in maintaining these vital ecosystem services. A range of activities in the Shire during the reporting period were aimed at improving the condition of native ecosystems and the habitat of native species and reducing the pressures on them. The main responses to biodiversity loss on a state level are amendments to the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, introduction of the Priorities Action Statement, increasing the number of reserves in the protected area system, and natural resource management reforms.
A new management plan for one conservation reserve within the Shire was developed, while Yanununbeyan SCA, Yaouk NR, Tallaganda NP and Mount Dowling NR all had a Fire Management Plan adopted during the current reporting period.
Of the 63 threatened species known to occur in Cooma-Monaro Shire, only eight had formal recovery plans in place. A total of 17 threatened animal species were covered by three National Action Plans, at least two of which were completed prior to the previous reporting period.
No information was available on plans, strategies or projects which Council may have developed to enhance biodiversity within the Shire or on ecological restoration projects involving Council and community groups.
Significant progress was made towards controlling Chilean Needle Grass (Nassells trichotoma), Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis), Nodding Thistle (Carduus nutans) and Scotch/English Broom (Cytisus scoparius). No data was available to assess change in the distribution or population densities of pest animal species.
The future—what does this mean for Council?
Continuing impacts from industry sectors such as agriculture and forestry are likely to exert ongoing pressures upon biodiversity in the Shire. The continuing problems of lack of data to allow a full assessment of the Shire's biodiversity status carries with it the risk that approved development proposals will have adverse impacts. Lack of monitoring of native species, populations and communities within the Shire may also hamper conservation efforts, as impacts from urban and rural development, industry, forestry practices and other pressures (e.g. fire, drought) cannot be determined and remediation measures cannot be planned. Monitoring is also essential to determine whether environmental plans and strategies and on-ground management projects are achieving the desired biodiversity outcomes.
Cooma-Monaro Council needs to maintain appropriate effort and resources in the following areas of its environmental management.
- Improve our knowledge of the region’s biodiversity through linking databases and information relating to biodiversity across government agencies. This, and close liaison with these agencies to encourage programs of data collection will aid conservation planners, land managers and members of the public to gain a clearer and more up-to-date picture of biodiversity within the region and associated management issues relevant to it. The greatest information need (and the one that will be most important in the longer term) is the development of agreed methodologies for assessing vegetation condition that will facilitate its monitoring and reporting.
- Utilise a range of existing government agency programs (as outlined in the NSW Biodiversity Strategy) which protect native species and ecosystems across NSW. This includes initiatives such as adopting regional strategies (eg. pest management strategies) and management plans conducted with other agencies, local government, landowners and the community.
- Implement the NSW Threatened Species Assessment Guidelines (DECC 2007) to assist the community, developers and Council assessment staff to ensure the legislative requirements are readily understood. Utilise regional-scale Biodiversity Survey and Assessment Guidelines (DCE 2004) that provide information about how to approach survey and assessment of biodiversity to inform regional planning.
- Continue to ensure biodiversity impacts are adequately considered in planning for and implementing landuse zoning, assessment of development applications, road management and construction activities, stormwater management, hazard control burning and weed control activities. The regulation of these activities needs to be in accordance with legislative requirements and also include, as a minimum, consideration of terrestrial and aquatic native species and ecosystems generally, in addition to specific consideration of endangered ecological communities and vulnerable or endangered plant and animal species known or predicted to occur in the Shire.
- Incorporate best practice for biodiversity planning as outlined in the Biodiversity Planning Guidelines for Local Government (Commonwealth of Australia, 2006). This Guide aims to assist Councils to carry out biodiversity conservation as part of their day-to-day functions, especially those relating to planning and development. The Guide highlights the importance of planning for biodiversity conservation and the need to integrate regulatory and other approaches to achieve improvement. It shows how Councils can conserve biodiversity through their existing regulatory and operational functions. The Guide does not create new planning processes, but presents a package of strategies and tools that can be applied within existing frameworks.
- Educate staff and the wider community on biodiversity. There is generally poor understanding of the importance of biodiversity in maintaining life support systems for human and environmental health. A broader understanding and appreciation of the values of biodiversity and will assist in underpinning future success in conserving biodiversity and critical ecological services.
- Help ensure appropriate (relevant and achievable) monitoring programs are in place to measure the effectiveness of Council's environmental policies, strategies, management activities and on-ground restoration projects in achieving desired biodiversity outcomes.
- Continue to support and encourage community involvement in biodiversity conservation and monitoring.
- Maintain collaborative arrangements with other land management agencies within the Region to ensure ongoing effectiveness with pest animal and plant control; fire management; and to develop awareness of new land management principles, innovations or approaches.
- Work closely with the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Catchment Management Authorities to help ensure consistency in approach to biodiversity conservation and complementary actions to achieve this.
Commonwealth of Australia. 2006. Biodiversity for local government. Available online. http://www.nrm.gov.au/publications/factsheets/pubs/bio-local-govt.pdf. accessed 18/11/08
DCE (Department of Conservation and Environment), NSW. 2004. Threatened Biodiversity Survey and Assessment: Guidelines for Developments and Activities. Working Draft. Sydney.Available online. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/nature/TBSAGuidelinesDraft.pdf. accessed 18/11/08
DECC (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change).2007. NSW Threatened Species Assessment Guidelines. Sydney. Available online. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/threatenedspecies/tsaguide07393.pdf, accessed 18/11/08