ACT lowland native grasslands investigation:
Addendum report to the Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (BNTS) report

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Formal citation:
Dr. Maxine Cooper 2008, Addendum Report to the Report on Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (BTNS) Site as part of the Investigations into ACT Lowlands Grasslands, Commissioner for Sustainabilty and the Environment, Canberra.


 

Addendum report to the report on Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (BNTS) site as part of the investigation into ACT Lowland Native Grasslands

Introduction

On 17 March 2008 the Office of the Chief Minister, Minister for the Environment, Water and Climate Change requested further advice following the submission of my report on the Belconnen Naval Transmission Station (BNTS) site as part of the investigation into ACT Lowland Native Grasslands. The Office of the Chief Minister requested that further advice be provided with respect to firstly, the findings by Defence’s expert panel and secondly, a possible scientific trial of translocation involving kangaroos from BNTS. This document provides this additional information and is an addendum to my earlier report.

Background

In order to address the above request, on 20 March 2008, I and Major General Liz Cosson, Department of Defence, co-chaired a meeting of the experts engaged by my Office, namely Dr Andrew Braid (CSIRO Veterinarian), Associate Professor David Morgan (Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne), Mr Michael Linke (CEO, ACT RSPCA); and the experts engaged by the Department of Defence, namely Dr Hal Cogger (John Evans Memorial Fellow, Australian Museum), Dr Graeme Coulson (Senior Lecturer in Zoology, University of Melbourne) and Dr George Wilson (Consultant and Director, Australian Wildlife Services). Dr Sue McIntyre (CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist) is a member of both panels and was present. Also present were Mr Nick Warner, Secretary of Defence; Mr Hamish McNulty, Conservator of Flora and Fauna (Department of Territory and Municipal Services, ACT Government); Dr David Robertson, Defence contractor for the BNTS work and ecologist, Cumberland Ecology; and Defence staff and a staff member from the Commissioner's Office. The matters agreed to by the experts are at Attachment A. In addition to this meeting, a meeting was held with Dr Lyn Hinds, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO on 18 March 2008. Dr Hinds is an eminent marsupial research scientist. Wildcare members, on 19 March 2008, also met with me and discussed their translocation proposal that was based on material submitted to Defence in June 2007. A copy of this document was provided to me on 19 March 2008 and Wildcare granted permission for it to be distributed. On 28 March 2008, Wildcare advised that it was not to be made public.

Wildcare's proposal was given to my expert panel before the meeting on 20 March 2008 and Defence made copies available at the meeting of the experts. NSW, Parks and Wildlife Group, Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) were contacted to verify aspects of the Wildcare proposal and that Department's response is at Attachment B.

Consideration of relevant matters

At the meeting with Dr Hinds, current research was discussed, as was research for future projects, including translocation. Dr Hinds is of the view that overall the most productive approach would be to focus on fertility control research.

On 26 March 2008, DECC clarified some issues in respect of the Wildcare proposal (see Attachment B). DECC stated, among other things, that:
  • The Department has not offered to be part of a relocation team. The Department had offered to provide assistance of a technical and advisory nature should a translocation go ahead but has specifically stated that we are not able to second staff to such a subject.
  • The Department's position is that we are prepared to consider a proposal, however we would normally only consider translocation where it was essential for the survival of a species, which doesn't appear to be the case in this situation. We have previously provided the Commissioner advice (Attachment C) about the information requirements necessary for us to consider such a proposal. The Department has not received any proposal for translocation of these kangaroos and so we cannot say whether or not we would support a specific proposal.

The experts have summarized the matters on which they agree based on the joint meeting on 20 March 2008 and in the context of their earlier reports (Attachment A). Their summary is presented on pages 4 to 5 of this document. Importantly there is unanimous agreement that euthanasia should be pursued over translocation. From the meeting on 20 March 2008 it is understood that this has always been the preferred position of all experts (refer to point 6 of the combined experts summary at Attachment A and on pages 4 and 5 of this document). The Defence Panel did recommend euthanasia and translocation to reduce the population of kangaroos at BNTS, as mentioned in point 6, however, this was done to acknowledge that the Department of Defence may have overriding reasons for translocation to be their preferred option. The Defence Panel put stringent conditions, on translocation and expected that all of their recommendations would have been implemented by December 2007. The conditions relating to translocation have not been met and the Defence Expert Panel members believe that now only euthanasia should be perused.

On 26 March 2008, the Department of Defence, advised that … based on its panel of independent expert advice in August 2007, Defence continues to pursue an opportunity to translocate as many kangaroos as possible from BNTS, including undertaking a translocation research project.

Matters agreed to by the experts

The matters agreed to by the experts from the two expert panels that were present at the meeting on the 20 March 2008 (Attachment A) are:

  1. The natural temperate grasslands and the threatened species within the grassland at BNTS should be preserved and urgent action needs to occur.
  2. The current condition of the grassland is poor.
  3. The main cause of the current poor condition of the grassland is heavy grazing pressure by the eastern grey kangaroos (the kangaroos). The situation is compounded by the drought.
  4. The current density of kangaroos is preventing recovery of the grassland and threatening its long term sustainability.
  5. Kangaroo numbers at BNTS (within the fenced area) should be dramatically reduced before the onset of winter 2008 in order to protect the grassland. In August 2007, the Defence panel recommended in effect the removal of all but 100 kangaroos and were under the impression that their recommendations would be implemented by December 2007. In February 2008 the Commissioner's panel recommended the removal of all kangaroos by winter 2008. The ACT Conservator of Flora and Fauna advised, in February 2008, that not all kangaroos needed to be removed if an adaptive management approach were adopted (where kangaroo density is adjusted relative to the grassland’s response to kangaroo grazing) and that an appropriate stocking rate would be one kangaroo per hectare (approximately 100 to 120 kangaroos). The Commissioner considered all this advice and in February 2008 recommended an adaptive management approach with an initial density of 1 kangaroo per hectare or less. It is noted that currently approximately 60 female kangaroos at BNTS are tagged and are being used for fertility research purposes.
  6. The most humane method of removing the kangaroos from BNTS would be through shooting. However, the Australian Federal Police will not agree to the use of firearms because of public safety concerns. In the absence of the use of firearms, the next best method for the humane removal of the kangaroos is by sedation by darting followed by euthanasia by lethal injection. All experts have consistently supported euthanasia over translocation including the members of the Defence Panel who, as reflected in their August 2007 report, also acknowledged that there might be overriding reasons for translocation to be the preferred option of the Department of Defence. In doing this the Defence Panel put stringent conditions on translocation and were of the understanding that if these could be met, they would have been implemented by December 2007. These conditions have not been met and the Defence Expert Panel members believe that now only euthanasia should be pursued.
  7. No expert requested or supported a specific research project involving the translocation of kangaroos at BNTS1, nor any allocation of funds for such a study. Such research would be expensive and an inappropriate use of research funds when there is such a need for research on a wide variety of threatened species and communities, including those at BNTS.
  8. No release sites have been nominated. The panels are not aware of suitable release sites that address animal welfare issues for translocated and resident animals nor do they believe one can be found. A permit to release into New South Wales would be likely to draw opposition from nearby land holders.
  9. All kangaroos remaining at BNTS are therefore to be part of long-term fertility control research with numbers not to exceed more than 1 per hectare subject to an adaptive management approach within the constraints on kangaroo numbers required for fertility control research. Best practice for this site in the view of expert panel members would be for it to be planned and managed as a model urban grassland ecosystem where all threatened species are protected and conserved. The long-term future of the site needs clarification, including the role of the perimeter fencing and the internal fencing.

Conclusions

As the matters agreed to by the experts reinforce the recommendations made by me on 26 February 2008, my recommendations stand. For ease of reference, a copy of my recommendations is at Attachment D. A copy of the full report is available on this website. With respect to using kangaroos from BNTS in a translocation scientific research project, as stated by the experts at point 7 of this document, such a project was not identified by them. Accordingly, it is recommended that scientific research in relation to the kangaroos at BNTS focus on fertility control. The kangaroos remaining on that site will be involved in this research. If additional funds were available for research they could be directed to enhancing the current research being undertaken so as to try and realize results more quickly and/or be invested in research on threatened grassland species.

The Canberra Region has the opportunity to use the BNTS site as a demonstration of best practice urban ecosystem management whereby the threatened grassland (of which there is less than one per cent remaining of the original grassland intact nationally) and all of its associated flora and fauna (including eastern grey kangaroos and threatened species) exist for future generations. It is very concerning that the needed action has not been taken to maintain the very important values of the BNTS grassland and the threatened species it supports so as to realize this opportunity.

 


[1] While it was agreed that translocation of kangaroos from BNTS should not be undertaken on animal welfare grounds alone, there was some discussion of other issues as well, including the shortage of suitable reception sites, the time involved in securing the necessary approvals and the uncertain fate of translocated kangaroos.

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