commonwealth listing & listing in other states & territories
The author’s experience is with kangaroos in NSW. Given extension of processes and prevailing human attitudes to other regions across Australia (other States and territories), it seems reasonable to assume that kangaroos are in widespread (national) decline. The author does not have time to prepare nominations to list the large macropods as threatened under the EPBCA 1999 or in other states or territories (a proper job and preparing this nomination has already been extremely time-consuming). However it is the author’s view that the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee and other states and territories should consider listing on the basis of this nomination.
Indeed the Commonwealth, in rejecting the nomination to list the Tasmanian Forester (Macropus giganteus tasmaniensis) as a threatened species in 2007, provide all the grounds necessary to list the large macropods as threatened Australia-wide.
Criteria for listing species includes:
Criterion 1. The species is the focus of a specific conservation program
This is not the case for any of the species subject to this nomination, in fact the opposite.
No state apart from Tasmania has a management plan managing anything other than shooting of animals. Even DECC’s NSW DRAFT Kangaroo Management Plan was renamed the Commercial Harvest Kangaroo Management Plan in its FINAL form in 2007. This “Management Plan” is failing to provide sustainable outcomes in any event – indeed the “harvest” is considered by the author to be a critical contributor to the decline of kangaroos in NSW, and nationally.
In addition there is no mechanism in place in any of the States to provide for management of other threats to kangaroos identified in this nomination (licensed and illegal “culling” and shooting, impacts of habitat loss and habitat degradation, impacts of roads and fences, disease etc).
The ACT’s Parks & Conservation Service approach until at least 1997 was more appropriate (Living with Eastern Grey Kangaroos). The author has not checked the ACT literature to determine how they have been performing in recent years. The NT prepared an assessment of the conservation and management of the Euro and Red Kangaroo in 2008 – they described densities as too low to support harvesting, with densities between <0.1 – 5 Euros / km², and Red Kangaroo densities being “low” (1-5 / km²) to “very low” (0.1-1 / km²).
Criterion 2.The cessation of the conservation program would on the balance of probabilities result in the species becoming vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered within a period of 5 years.
There is no “conservation program”, so this criterion is moot. Given the harvest and culling programs, and ongoing impacts of illegal hunting, roads and fences (all unmanaged), and given DEWHA’s own figures, which are trending downward at an alarming rate, if processes, including active plans of management, which presently operate against them continue (harvesting, habitat loss, other culling and illegal shooting, roads, fences, enclosure etc), they are vulnerable to extinction, and will become conservation dependent.
Eligibility for Listing Nationally
Criterion 1.Decline in numbers.
According to DEWHA’s own figures between 2001 and 2008 kangaroo numbers within harvest areas fell from 57,430,026 to 25,896,505. Assuming these figures are correct (and the State’s figures are very questionable, given factors discussed above in the body of this nomination) – this represents a population reduction of 55% in only 7 years, even as kangaroos from new harvest regions were being added to the NSW state total.
This nomination concludes that declines in kangaroo numbers in NSW since settlement is likely to have been to less than 10% of pre-settlement numbers. Habitat has been modified (lost) for some species by as much as 95%, in some sections of their range.
Western Grey Kangaroos are unprotected through 93% of their range in NSW, and numbers in NSW are estimated to be as low as 2% of their former (pre-European) numbers. Similar magnitudes of lost and degraded habitat, and harvesting and “damage mitigation” culling all occur throughout the range of the species; roads and fences are everywhere.
Unlike what was achieved through the 1980s with the Forester in Tasmania, where protection halted and then reversed their decline, the large macropods in NSW are in decline throughout their range, and processes contributing to their decline are promoted.
Criterion 2. Geographic distribution
Kangaroos in western NSW have been shown to occur at “quasi-extinct” densities (according to Hacker et al 2004) across 93% of the region; these areas are almost completely devoid of kangaroos (pers obs). Kangaroos remain protected in less than 10% of the continental land mass, while cities, towns and agriculture continue to consume land. Kangaroo populations which occur today tend to be isolated within disjunct reserves, or in areas of fragmented remnant vegetation.
Criterion 3. Population size and decline in numbers or distribution
Licensed and illegal killing, roads, fences, development – all the factors threatening kangaroos operate in the absence of a management plan for kangaroos in NSW. Bathurst Regional Council can initiate a cull targeting does in the absence of a kangaroo management plan on the recommendation and counts of the shooter, and the word and advice (shoot the does) of a NPWS Ranger with no qualifications or experience in wildlife management (other than many years “experience” providing licences to shoot animals).
Criterion 4. Population size
This Criterion requires populations to be as low or lower than 10 000 individuals.
For species which may have occurred in hundreds of millions across Australia prior to European (agricultural) development, allowing them to drop to 10 000 individuals before they could become eligible for listing, renders this criteria reckless and inadequate.
Criterion 5. Probability of extinction in the wild
This Criterion requires (in order to make the subject eligible for listing) that there is at least a 10% probability of extinction in the next 100 years.
This nomination concludes that there is likely to have been a 90% reduction in numbers on the mainland since Australia’s settlement. Across large sections of the species’ range, it is not uncommon for 80-90% of vegetation to have been cleared –kangaroos remain in these areas in densities as low as 1-2% (or less) of that occurring in pre-European times.
Even if there is only a 50/50 chance that numbers have declined to the degree concluded in this nomination (this nomination either presents a reasoned and reasonable argument, or it does not), there is certainly more than a 10% chance that the remaining 10% of the large macropod populations will not make it through the next 100 years. Particularly when there is now a projection there will be 35M humans in Australia by 2050 (nearly a doubling in the next 40 years). If another doubling happens in the next 50 years, the “100 years” time frame of this Criterion will see kangaroos competing for space in Australia with 70M people.
Management of Natural Conservation Assets in Australia
Can anyone imagine what Australia will be like in 100 years? Can anyone imagine our cities and towns doubling in population within 40 years? Can anyone imagine the impacts on the environment with development which will accompany this growth, and the draining of resources, given that up to 90% of the natural environment has been destroyed already in some regions, and the remaining areas are ravaged by a host of key threatening processes?
Management of the nation’s natural conservation assets – its native plants and animals – will need to take a very precautionary approach, with early intervention and long term objectives (100 years should be a minimum). Leaving listing of species as threatened until the last minute, leaving management of kangaroos until the last minute – as Bathurst Regional Council have done, as the NSW OEH are doing, as conservation programs generally are doing – is not an option.
Will kangaroos persist in pockets? Will we be able to help them do this? Or will they continue to decline and disappear, in the face of ongoing human encroachment? Does the Commonwealth allow the States and Territories to continue to manage the nation’s natural assets, one at a time and in their own (sometimes negligent) way, or is a long-term national conservation strategy needed?
Darwin Was Right About One Thing
Charles Darwin, against a world of opposing opinion, got it right on evolution with his theory of natural selection.
By all accounts Darwin was an astute observer, and an incisive thinker. We should take warning from his 1839 diary, where he notes the rapid decline that had taken place in the numbers of emus and kangaroos around the settlements (Sydney to Bathurst), and the destructive role that the English greyhound was playing on species ill equipped to deal with it. He concludes:
It may be long before these animals [the kangaroo and the emu] are altogether exterminated, but their doom is fixed.
Unlike his theory of natural selection, the author hopes Darwin got this one wrong.
Nomination to list the Emu as VULNERABLE in NSW
Described as ”plentiful” in 1904, and “frequently met with” in 1926, the Tasmanian subspecies of the Emu is now extinct.
Given that there are no longer any Emus at Emu Plains (do any free-living populations persist in the Sydney basin?), or the Macquarie Plains (Bathurst region), it seems likely that this species has undergone a similar decline to that being observed with the large macropods. The east coast population of the Emu in NSW is listed as an endangered population under the TSCA 1995; the author would put it that the same processes which have contributed to the decline and listing of the Emu on the coast (the North Coast section of the east coast population seems to be declining towards extinction according to McGriggor 2011), are operating across the State (and Nationally).
While the NPWS records for NSW post-1980 show a wide distribution, if you shrink the dots down to the size of an emu on the Wildlife Atlas map, it is likely that Emus now occur, as do the large macropods, in isolated / fragmented populations, in remnants surrounded by agriculture.
Processes such as roads and fences take their toll, the occasional farmer shoots them (pers obs Pooncarrie region - Emus damage fences, apparently); they are expunged to a distance of 250km or thereabouts from the Sydney region, and from proximity to other major population centres. Foxes and pigs take eggs and young (the Mount Panorama Emus hatched young every year, however no chicks ever made it to adulthood). A cautious manager would acknowledge that there are clear risks for this species, and pre-emptively engage in active management, with the primary objective being conservation.
To this end, and taking Darwin’s comment above as a cautionary note, the author urges the Scientific Committee to consider listing the Emu as VULNERABLE in NSW, as an early warning to managers of our native wildlife, that large species, and populations which formerly occurred across vast expanses of our nation, cannot be “managed” simply by neglect.
Given our record of extinction in Australia, leaving the listing of this species on threatened species schedules until the last minute would be nothing short of reckless and negligent.
The Northern Territory is well ahead of NSW in this regard, with no macropod “harvesting”, (there are not enough to support an industry according to the NT government) and the Emu having been listed as VULNERABLE, with declines being reported of up to 80%. It was proposed that their conservation status in the NT be down-graded to “near threatened” in 2010, however this was rejected. The NT government described the listing as “taking a precautionary approach” – this is to be commended.
Recovery Potential: Unlike the large macropods, an Emu can raise 15 young per annum under good conditions, and with the removal of predation. This is why we have Emu farms – a high reproduction rate is something that humans and agriculture have frequently identified and taken advantage of. It seems likely that the recovery potential for Emus would be improved on this account, if the processes contributing to their decline in the wild can be identified (these factors will include, but will not be limited to: roads, fences, habitat loss, egg and juvenile predation by foxes and pigs, and shooting), and arrested.