This issue is discussed for these areas:
What does the Shire have?
Only five different vegetation types have been mapped in Gundagai Shire, and approximately 196 plant species (native and introduced). Fauna species recorded in the Shire include 166 bird species, 45 mammal species, 28 reptile species, 13 fish species and 12 amphibian species. This low biodiversity reflects the level of land clearance of habitat—84% of the Shire is under agriculture with the majority of native vegetation having been removed. None of the remaining native vegetation remnants are considered to be in a fully functional ecological state. Conservation reserves comprise only 1% of the Shire and native forest under timber production about 6% of the Shire. Bushland comprises only 8% of the Shire; most of it is on private land, roadside reserves or travelling stock reserves and generally is in a degraded state.
The Shire contains occurrences of five endangered ecological communities, and populations of two plant and 23 animal species that are vulnerable or endangered nationally or in New South Wales (NSW). An additional 12 plant species and 22 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. There is little monitoring or systematic collection of data on species, populations or communities, so data quality is generally poor. 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 the distribution and population densities of pest animal species (including effectiveness of control measures).
The number of ecological communities present in the Shire that are listed as vulnerable or endangered may have increased during the current reporting period (note: threatened ecological community lists are generated based on Bioregions). Two ecological communities that may have occurrences within the Shire were listed as endangered, while one ecological community within the Shire was upgraded from endangered to critically endangered. The number of flora species (excluding non-natives) recorded in the Shire decreased by seven due to further refinement of existing flora data sets.
Fauna species recorded in the Shire increased by 57 species 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 Act 1995 (TSC Act) 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.
Disturbances such as continued land clearance, fire, drought and fragmentation of native vegetation remnants were the major contributors to further degradation or loss of ecological communities and native plant and animal species. Pest plant distribution and abundance 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 Shire 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 Shire. Common threats to roadside vegetation include road maintenance, widening and construction, weed invasion, grazing, alteration to drainage, agricultural fertilisers and firewood collection.
- 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 478 hectares of land were reported to have been subject to hazard reduction burns in 2004–08. Three separate wildlfires occurred during the current reporting period, however no information is available on areas burnt by these wildfires.
- Seven feral animals species and six pest plant (weed) species were of high concern within the Shire during the reporting period. 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 is the variety of life: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Biodiversity is vital in supporting human life on Earth. 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.
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 State responses to biodiversity loss are amendments to the TSC Act, introduction of the Priorities Action Statement, increasing reservation in the protected area system, and the natural resource management reforms.
Shire Council may have prepared plans and strategies to help enhance biodiversity within the Shire and continued its involvement in on-ground projects. Shire Council and community groups may have undertook a number of ecological restoration projects. No information was available on these projects.
Of the 25 threatened species known to occur in Gundagai Shire, only four have formal recovery plans in place. Sixteen animal species were covered by three action plans, at least two of which were completed prior to 2001.
No information was available during the current reporting period on the effectiveness of control activities for priority weeds. No data was available to assess change in the distribution or population densities of pest animal species, or the effectiveness of control activities.
The future—what does this mean for Shire Council?
Continuing impacts from industry sectors such as agriculture are likely to exert ongoing pressures upon biodiversity in the Shire. The continued 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 unanticipated 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 and other pressures (e.g. fire, drought) cannot be determined and remediation measures cannot be planned to an appropriate level. Monitoring is also essential to determine whether environmental plans and strategies and on-ground management projects are achieving the desired biodiversity outcomes.
Shire Council needs to maintain appropriate effort and resources in the following areas of its environmental management.
- Improve our knowledge of the regions biodiversity through linking databases and information relating to biodiversity to other 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 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 'Threatened Species Assessment Guideline' to assist the community, developers and Shire Council assessment staff with ensuring the legislative requirements are readily understood. Utilise Regional-scale Biodiversity Survey and Assessment Guidelines that provide information about how to approach survey and assessment of biodiversity to inform regional planning.
- Continue to ensure biodiversity impacts are adequately taken into account in for planning 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 document. 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. It provides councils with a 'good practice guide'. The Guide highlights the importance of plan making for biodiversity conservation, as well as the need to integrate both regulatory and positive approaches. It shows how councils can conserve biodiversity through their existing regulatory and operational functions. The Guide does not create new plan making processes, but presents a package of strategies and tools that can be applied within existing frameworks.
- Education of staff and the wider community on biodiversity is required. There exists a general 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 underpin 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 Shire 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 success with pest animal and plant control and fire management, and to develop awareness of new land management principles, innovations or approaches.
- Work closely with the Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority to help ensure consistency in approach to biodiversity conservation and complementary actions to achieve this.