During this reporting period, the ACT Government prepared, or were involved in preparing, a number of key documents relevant to the management of ecosystems in the ACT. They included the ACT Vertebrate Pest Management Strategy 2002, the Bushfire Fuel Management Plan 2002, A Planning Framework for Natural Ecosystems of the ACT and NSW Southern Tablelands, the draft ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy and the draft ACT Natural Resource Management Plan. These and many other documents prepared prior to the reporting period articulate management intentions and actions, and priorities for resourcing and implementation.
Direct measurement of the effectiveness of management plans, strategies and other documents is extremely difficult. However processes and instruments are in place to facilitate their implementation and to achieve the desired natural resource management outcomes. Existing plans provided fundamental guidance for urgent and necessary management actions after the January 2003 bushfires.
Progresss was made on improving the integrated catchment management approach to the Territory’s ecosystems. It included the development of targets related to salinity, soil health, water quality and flow, biodiversity and community building as part of the draft ACT Natural Resource Management Plan, and the completion of two new sub-catchment plans.
Government and community members were actively involved in conservation planning and management during the reporting period. Government employed 80 people in natural resource management. At least 12 coordinators worked with community groups. A survey in 2002 showed that members of community groups contributed approximately 1000 hours a month to conservation management in the ACT.
Mechanisms are in place for regular review of many conservation management plans and strategies, and in some instances involved expert advisory bodies to help ensure actions remain targeted and appropriate. The ACT Government participates in a range of national, regional and Territory monitoring and information management programs. Data from some of these programs may be useful for future state of the environment reports to assess the effectiveness of on-ground management.
What the results tell us about the ACT
Management plans, agreements and covenants
During this reporting period, the ACT Government released documents including the ACT Vertebrate Pest Management Strategy (ACT Government 2002) and the 2002–2004 ACT Bushfire Fuel Management Plan (Environment ACT 2002). It also released the draft ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Environment ACT 2003) for comment.
The document A Planning Framework for Natural Ecosystems of the ACT and NSW Southern Tablelands was published in 2002 (Fallding 2002). The framework provides principles for planning, development and conservation intended to help ensure a balance between biodiversity conservation and urban development, which is a critical issue in the region. It was prepared by Environment ACT, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Planning NSW and the Housing Industry Association (ACT) in cooperation with all local governments in the region.
In accordance with the above planning framework, Environment ACT and Planning and Land Management (now the ACT Planning and Land Authority) have been undertaking studies in several areas of the ACT with the intention of identifying key biodiversity assets that require protection. In due course, variations to The Territory Plan will be prepared for them.
The framework will also inform the proposed review of the Nature Conservation Strategy and the concurrent development of additional biodiversity targets for incorporation into the draft ACT Natural Resource Management Plan (ACT Natural Resource Management Board 2003).
The process of developing and signing Land Management Agreements for 99-year rural leases in the ACT continued during the reporting period. Agreements for all long term leases are expected to be in place by 2006.
Effectiveness of management plans
A list of management plans relevant to the ACT developed prior to the current reporting period can be found in the ACT 2000 State of the Environment Report. Direct measurement of the effectiveness of these plans is extremely difficult. However processes and instruments are in place to facilitate their implementation and to achieve the desired natural resource management outcomes.
The ACT Parks and Conservation Service noted the successful use of the Vertebrate Pest Strategy in dealing with feral animals in parks in this reporting period. The Service also noted that after the January 2003 bushfires, existing management plans provided fundamental guidance for the urgent and necessary post-fire response to immediate issues.
Some parts of the Service are now embarking on forward planning (for example in Namadgi and Tidbinbilla) where the fires will have a significant influence on future management policy. The Shaping Our Territory report will also be a significant driver for future management and land use after its release.
Implementation plans and reviews
Management plans and other documents provide a strong guide on management intentions and priorities on both reserved land and rural leases.
In particular, the requirement that an annual implementation plan (including actions from action plans and pest plant and animal programs) is produced for each management plan, and the review of these implementation plans by external bodies such as the ACT Natural Resource Management Advisory Committee provides some surety that the activities are directed at mitigating adverse ecological impacts. Examples of documents for which implementation plans are prepared and reviewed are:
- The ACT Weeds Strategy 1995 together with its annual implementation plans provides a coordinated approach to weed management across rural leases and government-managed land. The implementation plans include a review of the effectiveness of previous management actions and make recommendations for the following year. The review includes consultation with both community and ACT Government representatives.
- Annual implementation plans are developed for the Nature Conservation Strategy.
- The Integrated Catchment Management Framework for the ACT (2000) articulates the principles, processes, and commitments that guide natural resource related activities by the Territory community and government. The Framework is reviewed every two years with implementation plans covering that period. Since the implementation plan was developed in 2001, the Framework is due to be reviewed in 2003 by the ACT Natural Resource Management Advisory Committee.
- Action plans are in place for all species and ecological communities declared threatened under The Nature Conservation Act 1980. Implementation of the action plans is monitored by an expert fauna and flora committee under a rolling review program. This process seeks to ensure that the conservation requirements of threatened species and ecological communities are identified and provided.
Land management agreements
Land Management Agreements are an effective means of securing off-reserve conservation; this is facilitated by the fact that land tenure in the ACT is exclusively leasehold. The Government, through its Rural Policy, provides a range of incentives to promote sustainable farming practices and the conservation of significant biodiversity assets. Prior to the issue of a new rural lease, the Government will secure the integrity of any features and areas having special conservation value, primarily through a land management agreement. A 15% deduction from scheduled land values can be allowed for the protection of factors unique to the ACT.
The agreements facilitate collaboration between the Territory Government and landholders to achieve production, conservation and protection goals in an integrated and ecologically sustainable way.
The agreements recognise a duty of environmental care by natural resource managers and users and apply to:
- all natural resources, including land, surface and ground water, flora and fauna
- biological diversity and ecological integrity
- The growing experience with land management agreements and the increase in number of new 99-year leases has strengthened the will of rural lessees to give environmental management high priority.
The agreements are subject to formal review every five years, and where particular problems such as weed control are identified, an annual review is conducted. Whilst this process may not measure the effectiveness of land management agreements it does promote a continuous cycle of monitoring and improvement in accordance with Environmental Management Systems principles.
Integrated catchment management
Draft ACT Natural Resource Management Plan
The ACT Natural Resource Management Plan is an important step forward in catchment management in the ACT and lays a sound foundation for both community and Government planning. It builds on the ACT Integrated Catchment Management Framework 2000 and provides a strategic approach for addressing major natural resource management challenges in the ACT.
The Plan addresses the requirements for accreditation under the Bilateral Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Territory for the delivery of the Natural Heritage Trust in the ACT. It is also envisaged as meeting similar requirements in relation to the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality should a Bilateral Agreement relating to this Program be resolved with the Commonwealth.
The Plan outlines measurable and time bound targets, and actions, for addressing natural resource management issues. The specific target areas covered in the Plan are salinity, soil health, water quality and flow, biodiversity and community building. The Plan recognises the need for natural resource management at a regional catchment level.
As a result, the higher order targets are set at the Murrumbidgee Catchment level. The lower order targets focus on ACT issues within this broader context. Previous ACT State of the Environment reports as well as extensive community consultation enabled areas of concern to be identified.
The Plan prioritises actions taking into account the potential to deliver long term sustainable management of the cause, not just the symptom, the level of support for the action within community, and the cost effectiveness of the action. A complementary Investment Strategy reflecting these targets and priorities has been developed. Whilst the Investment Strategy will directly facilitate the implementation of the Plan, community empowerment to participate in natural resource management is vital. A Capacity Building Strategy and Communications Strategy will also be developed to facilitate and support community involvement.
The development and implementation of sub-catchment management plans is an essential tool for the coordination and efficiency of natural resource management in the ACT. Based on the success of the two sub-catchment plans previously developed (Ginninderra and Sullivans Creek sub-catchments) a Catchment Planner, jointly funded by the National Heritage Trust and the ACT Government, was engaged in 2000 to assist in the development of further plans. The opportunity to participate in the process was warmly received by the community. Plans have been completed for the Weston/Woden and the Tuggeranong/Tharwa sub-catchments and a draft prepared for Paddy’s River.
Sub-catchment planning gives greater credibility to community based activities and also provides a basis for coordinating community and government activities. Although the community owns the plans, they are developed in close association with government.
Significant gains for the environment have already been obtained through this collaborative arrangement as government resources and community effort have been combined on projects such as catchment-wide willow removal in the Ginninderra catchment. Similarly, the Sullivans Creek Catchment Plan has provided the basis for collaboration between the community, industry and government to establish an urban wetland.
Where management plans are developed by the community there may be public funding available for on-ground projects that are linked to, or dependent upon, an accredited management plan being in place. This is one of the ways in which management plans are effective in facilitating the achievement of the desired conservation outcomes. Program design, monitoring and reporting on implementation progress is a common condition for funding. There can be a direct link to an initial management plan as the vehicle for progress in the community activity that is publicly funded.
Monitoring and information management
Evidence for the effectiveness of management plans and other ‘instruments’ in providing ecological protection is broadly taken from ‘condition’ surveys, such as weed and pest animal surveys, requirements for repair work such as erosion control, and monitoring programs. Information systems that make data accessible and meaningful are an integral component of every monitoring system.
The ACT participates in national, regional and Territory monitoring and information management programs. They include the following:
- National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation: the ACT Work Plan outlines significant initiatives and established programs being undertaken in the ACT relevant to the conservation of native vegetation. The Work Plan is complemented by other natural resource management strategies such as the ACT Biodiversity Monitoring Program that meets requirements under the ACT legislative instruments of Action Plans for threatened species and ecological communities and the ACT Nature Conservation Strategy, and Management and Implementation Plans for Public Lands.
- As a partner in the National Land and Water Resources Audit Vegetation Theme, the ACT is developing (in conjunction with the Commonwealth) a Vegetation Management Information System to meet local planning needs consistent with national procedures. The major vegetation datasets have been translated and converted to a standardised digital spatial format. These datasets have been supplied to the Audit and, at a national scale, are now available through the Australian National Resources Atlas.
- Integrated Nature Conservation Plan development: the plan will help provide a clearer overall picture of management plans in the Territory and how they relate to each other, and provide the framework for management objectives, priority setting, and decision-making and budget allocation for nature conservation in the Territory. It will complement existing information systems for managing biodiversity data and assist with coordinating the different plans, strategies and roles of the park and reserve systems. It will also serve as a link for web-based access to the full range of publicly available documentation on natural resource planning and management.
- During 2004 an ACT Monitoring and Evaluation and Reporting Strategy will be developed as a companion document to the ACT Natural Resource Management Plan. The Strategy will allow the assessment of the natural systems response to the various management actions undertaken as outlined in the Plan and the contribution these actions make to the achievement of the targets. There is scope to align performance against these targets with State of the Environment Reports in areas of common concern, for example, the salinity status of the ACT.
Government and community support for conservation management
The number of people employed gives an indication of Government effort in conservation management but not the effectiveness of that effort. For example, most of Parks and Conservation operational staff—some 80 rangers and park workers—spend the majority of their time on conservation management, assuming that includes providing for the needs of visitors. Towards the end of the reporting period, two additional ranger positions were funded permanently in recognition of the addition of approximately 1000 hectares of woodlands to reserve status.
A number of coordinators are involved with conservation management with the community. During the reporting period this included full time Parkcare and Rural Landcare Coordinators, a Catchment Planner and a Waterwatch Facilitator as well as a part time Fish Action Program coordinator. In addition there were two part-time catchment coordinators and three part-time community Waterwatch coordinators. South East Greening Australia and Farm Forestry Coordinators also operated in the ACT as part of their duties in the broader region.
The ACT Landcare Survey (Environment ACT 2002b) provided some indication of community contribution to conservation management.
Examples of community contributions to conservation management include:
- the total membership of landcare groups was 2569 of which 43% are active (that is, 1100)
- 48% of respondents were members of one or more other environment or land care type groups, indicating quite a network of commitment and interests
- on average respondents had participated in landcaring for seven years
- 80% of landcarers had professional environmental backgrounds
- ranked in order as the major contributions were: Field work (59%); Office bearer activities (9%); and plant propagation (6%)
- the average contribution of respondents was nine hours each month, the median being four hours in a range of 1 to 200 hours (i.e. 1110 active members doing on average nine hours each month giving a total of approximately 1000 hours a month).
This was the first time that any attempt had been made to quantify community involvement in natural resource management in the ACT. The results suggest that community contribution is significant, participants being well informed and showing a high level of commitment. However, an event such as the fires of January 2003 makes the impacts of humans insignificant by comparison.
Data sources and references
ACT Government (2002) ACT Vertebrate Pest Management Strategy, Environment ACT, Canberra.
ACT Natural Resource Management Board (2003) ACT Natural Resource Management Plan, draft for public comment September 2003.
Environment ACT (2002a) 2002–2004 ACT Bushfire Fuel Management Plan, Environment ACT, Canberra.
Environment ACT (2002b) ACT Landcare Survey 2002, unpublished report, Environment ACT, Canberra.
Environment ACT (2003) Woodlands for Wildlife. ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy, draft for public comment, Environment ACT, Canberra.
Fallding M (2002) A Planning Framework for Natural Ecosystems of the ACT and NSW Southern Tablelands, Natural Heritage Trust, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Land & Environment Planning.