Issue: Conserving biodiversity
What does the shire have?
Snowy River Shire has a moderately rich biodiversity—32 different vegetation types have been mapped there, and at least 1285 plant species (native and introduced), 179 bird species, 33 mammal species, 37 reptile species and 14 amphibian species have been recorded there.
Natural Temperate Grasslands, Dry Plains TSR
This reflects the habitat diversity in the shire—predominantly alpine and subalpine mountainous areas and tablelands—and the shire's high native vegetation cover. About 60% of the shire's area is some form of conservation reserve, and 4% of the shire is bushland.
The shire contains occurrences of three endangered ecological communities, and populations of 17 plant and 34 animal species that are vulnerable or endangered nationally or in New South Wales. An additional 13 plant species and 16 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 included changes in species populations and abundance, changes in aquatic macroinvertebrates, and changes in the extent and condition of terrestrial and riparian ecosystems. No information was available regarding control works undertaken by individuals (such as farmers) or community groups for any of the priority pest species.
Purple Daisy Calotis glandulosa, at Dry Plains TSR
The number of ecological communities and species present in the shire that are listed as vulnerable or endangered increased. Although this will assist council further in focusing conservation efforts in the future, it demonstrates the continued pressure the natural environment is under within the region.
Although the shire's population has continued to increase, this appears to have resulted in only a moderate demand for urban development within the shire. Disturbances such as fires, weed invasion and drought were the main factors exerting pressure on native ecosystems in the shire, leading to further degradation or loss of ecological communities or the habitat of native species. A number of weed species benefited from these disturbances by increasing their population size, and many pest animals increased their range in search of food due to prevailing drought conditions.
Council, individuals and community groups undertook a variety of programs and projects to enhance and protect biodiversity within the shire.
More threatened species and communities
During the current reporting period:
- one ecological community with occurrences in the shire was listed as endangered
- six animal species that occur in the shire were listed as endangered or vulnerable
- two animal species that occur in the shire had their status upgraded from vulnerable to endangered
- one plant species that occurs in the shire had its status downgraded from endangered to vulnerable.
The 'pressure points'
- 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 249,000 hectares of land (approximately 41% of the shire) was affected by fire (predominantly wildfire), mostly during the 2002–03 fire season. Nine fire-sensitive vegetation communities were affected. Post-fire recovery of ecosystems was expected to be suppressed by ongoing drought conditions.
- Five pest animal species and 12 pest plant (weed) species were of high concern during the reporting period. Many pest animal species increased in distribution.
- Many riparian weeds increased during the reporting period and the riparian zone is now one of the key sources of propagules for the spread of weeds such as Serrated Tussock (Nasella trichotoma) and African Lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula).
Protecting and enhancing biodiversity
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 (see The Biodiversity Toolbox for Local Government).
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 or reducing the pressures on them.
- The area of land managed specifically for conservation increased by approximately 3,300 hectares, partially due to land transferred from timber production and Crown land. Eight new conservation reserves were created.
- The Monaro Grasslands Conservation Management Network established four conservation management agreements over grazed natural grassland on private land.
- Recovery plans were completed for seven threatened species, were being prepared for another seven species and were exhibited for two other species.
- Progress was made in controlling willows (Salix spp) and blackberry (Rubus spp) in riparian areas, and it is thought that fencing of the riparian zone probably lead to improvements in water quality and reduction of bank erosion.
- Progress was made in the control of Serrated Tussock, Scotch Thistle (Onopordum acanthium) and rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) during the reporting period.
- Council and community groups undertook various on-ground ecological restoration projects to help enhance biodiversity within the shire.
The future—what does this mean for Council?
Ongoing population growth in Snowy River Shire is likely to see expansion of urban and rural residential development. This has the potential to place further pressure on terrestrial and aquatic native species and ecosystems, including endangered ecological communities and some endangered or vulnerable species. Urban expansion may also result in weed invasion into areas currently relatively weed free.
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 may result in adverse impacts on the area's native plants, animals and ecosystems. Lack of monitoring of native species, populations and communities within the shire may also hamper conservation efforts, as impacts from urban and rural development and other pressures (e.g. fire, weed invasion, 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.
Council needs to maintain appropriate effort and resources in the following areas of its environmental management.
- Continue to ensure biodiversity impacts are adequately taken into account in landuse zoning, assessment of development applications, road management and construction activities, 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.
- Develop a 'Threatened Species Assessment Guideline' to assist the community, developers and Council assessment staff with ensuring the legislative requirements are readily understood. Education of staff and the wider community of the importance of biodiversity is also required.
- 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 close liaison with NSW State Government agencies to encourage programs of data collection, especially for aquatic and riparian species and ecosystems, and to help ensure council has up-to-date knowledge about the shire's biodiversity and associated management issues relevant to it.
- 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 and Southern Rivers catchment management authorities to help ensure consistency in approach to biodiversity conservation and complementary actions to achieve this.