If Australian Conservation Laws were an exam paper

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Joined: 27 Jun 2009, 20:00
Location: Midwest of West. Aust. Coast
Location: Midwest of West.Aust.Coast

The student would never graduate.
When Sean Dooley started birdwatching as a kid in the 80s the swift parrot was already rare.
"It's a beautiful bird. I remember around that time it was said that there were maybe 8,000," he says.
He says there now could be as few as 1,000 left in the wild.
It's classed as "critically endangered" — one step from extinction.
An independent review released last month found Australia's environment is getting worse under the laws designed to protect it.
Mr Dooley, from conservation group BirdLife Australia, considers the swift parrot one of the victims of the laws.
'Death by a thousand cuts'
Mr Dooley says the swift parrot is a "tricky devil to preserve".
They migrate from Tasmania to Victoria and feed on the eucalypt blossoms of blue gum trees. In drought years, when the trees don't flower, the parrots will head as far as coastal or northern New South Wales and even to Queensland.
He says that range makes them vulnerable to the flaws in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
"The way [the Act] currently works is they don't really take into consideration cumulative impacts," he .
But he says it all adds up.
"You see a bit of bush being cleared here, it doesn't meet the criteria of having a significant impact, and a housing development there, or some logging in another site, and the lights go out for that bird across the landscape," he says.
"Each incident isn't deemed serious enough, and so the swift parrot has been declining throughout the period of the EPBC Act."
Lesley Hughes, a professor of biology at Macquarie University, agrees that the Act tends to assess threats to a species in a vacuum.
"It's the classic death by a thousand cuts. You could lose the species because each of those threats have been assessed independently rather than at the same time."
Mr Dooley says the Act should also restrict logging of the swift parrot's habitat, but instead other agreements between state and federal governments can take precedence.
"As long as the states say that they are considering the impact of an endangered species like the swift parrot, then there is literally nothing that the EPBC Act can do to intervene."
Professor Hughes says one area where the laws fail is actually ensuring the work to save the species gets done.
She says when a species is listed as threatened a recovery plan is supposed to be written.
"What has happened is that we have many, many species and communities listed that don't have plans written at all."
But she says even when there is a recovery plan, there's then no obligation for it to be funded.
"The Act looks after the first part of the process, but it doesn't actually oblige the government to mandate the actions and to resource them effectively to mean that the species actually recovers," she says,
"Over the years, especially over the last decade, the amount of real dollars spent on saving threatened species in particular and environmental protection more generally has continued to decline."
Mr Dooley says there have been instances where recovery plans have saved threatened species.
He says the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo bounced back — but conservationists have had to fight for funding when the money dried up.
"We know that conservation actions work, but they have to be resourced, they have to be based on good data, based on good monitoring, and we just don't even get that for most of our threatened species," he says.
"Currently of the 71 threatened birds on the EPBC Act, only six of them have up-to-date recovery plans that are resourced."
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