The number of threatened and priority species has increased
Since our 2009 report, the number of threatened species has increased by 12% to 672, while the number of listed threatened ecological communities has remained stable at 66. DBCA also maintains a register of ‘priority species’ that are possibly threatened but which need more knowledge. WA is the only State to maintain such a register. At January 2017, there were 3,352 priority species, up from 2,604 in 2009. There were also 389 priority ecological communities, up from 255 in 2009. In part this increase is due to DBCA’s continuing research providing increased knowledge of the State’s biodiversity.
DBCA conservation services including those aimed at threatened species are operating with fewer resources than in 2009. Both expenditure and staffing are below 2009 levels while the conservation task has grown as more species are listed as threatened.
New legislation has been passed to better support conservation activities
In 2009, we recommended that the Department continue to press for legislative change, as it and its predecessor agencies had since 1992. The BC Act received Royal Assent on 21 September 2016 and is being proclaimed incrementally. DBCA does not expect the new related regulations to be finalised until 2018 but is implementing new provisions as they come into force.
The new Act replaces the WC Act, which did not recognise modern conservation categories, ecological communities, or critical habitat. The BC Act provides penalties of up to $500,000 for individuals and $2.5 million for corporations, compared to a maximum of $10,000 under the WC Act.
DBCA delivers broad-scale conservation activity for threatened species, ecological communities and habitats, in line with current practice and the new legislation
Current conservation and protection practice requires action at many levels. These include individual species, local ‘patches’ and broad geographic areas, or ‘landscapes’. The BC Act also gives legal standing to this range of activity. DBCA has been developing a more broad-scale approach focusing on environments while also maintaining key species level actions.
Western Shield is a long-standing broad-scale program that received a Premier’s Award in 2016, and aims to reduce the numbers of introduced predators, particularly foxes and feral cats. DBCA has also released the 2011 Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy, the 2016 Pilbara Conservation Strategy and the 2010 Biodiversity and Cultural Conservation Strategy for the Great Western Woodlands, part of the Goldfields. These involve broad biodiversity and threat management, and have led to changes in regional resourcing.
In addition, DBCA has increased its use of islands and mainland enclosures to protect key animals. It has also created flora ‘seed banks’ and established new populations in secure locations.
Most threatened species now have recovery plans or interim recovery plans, but these plans are not always resourced, so do not guarantee activity or improved outcomes
There has been an increase in the number of threatened species with recovery plans or interim recovery plans since 2009. At January 2017, 91% of critically endangered species and ecological communities and 55% of all threatened species and ecological communities had a recovery plan or interim recovery plans.
These plans have long been key to DBCA actions to help threatened species or ecological communities survive and recover. However, these plans are not always activated because funding for action does not automatically or systematically follow when they are created.
There has been little progress since 2009 in reserving land for conservation
In 2009, we recommended that the Department improve its approach to reserving land for conservation purposes. This has long been a key departmental objective to protect biodiversity and social values. While there has been some movement in the types and categories of land DBCA manages, we found minimal planning documentation around objectives, identification of reservation targets and processes or procedures.
At June 2016, DBCA managed 29 million hectares of land and water, an increase of 2 million hectares from 2007-08. DBCA can purchase available private land and is the agency that identifies land and initiates the process for reservation. However, this relies on support from other agencies and Ministers. At least 23 instances since 2012 did not receive this support and were therefore not reserved.
Nomination and listing processes have improved
Since 2009, DBCA has improved its process for listing threatened species. This new process has been largely adopted by the national working group as the preferred nomination method for all states, territories and the Commonwealth. Quicker listing reduces the risk of inaction for threatened species.
There are still gaps in the evaluation and reporting of outcomes of activity to conserve threatened species
Knowing outcomes and reporting on results is key for a large, regionally dispersed organisation like DBCA managing complex issues. In 2009, we recommended the Department develop comprehensive reporting frameworks for threatened species.
While there was some good reporting for particular programs we found no coordinated approach to evaluating outcomes, little output reporting, weaknesses in species-level reporting and minimal reporting to senior management. This decreases visibility to senior management and accountability for management of threatened species.
Seven DBCA divisions deliver 8 interrelated services through 9 geographic regions. This decentralised management structure increases the need for information. However, DBCA has vast amounts of information on threatened species held in multiple locations and in separate systems, some of which are managed locally, making it inefficient to manage. DBCA has recognised the need to improve this approach. It expects to begin implementing new systems and processes by June 2018.
Because DBCA has not documented its prioritisation process, it cannot demonstrate that it is being applied or that resources are directed to highest priorities
Our 2009 report recommended that the Department consider changing how it prioritises species for conservation to ensure existing resources are used to maximum long-term effect. While we acknowledge the difficulty of allocating priorities to elements of complex biological systems, we expected to find a management-approved structured approach to this important activity. However, this was not evident.
DBCA has several levels of administrative, conservation and organisational policies and strategies that identify key principles for regions to plan for conservation, including the need to prioritise action effectively. However, there is no clear articulation or documentation of how this prioritising should be, or is being, done.