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Threatened Ecological Communities      

habitat protection

Threatened Ecological Communities

HSI's Strategy for Habitat Protection

In Australia, a total of 367 fauna (including 92 mammal, 107 bird and 45 fish species) and 1,295 flora species are listed as either Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable under Australia' s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999  (EPBC Act).  Humane Society International believes that one of the most effective ways of preventing these species joining the ranks of those 104 listed under the same legislation as Extinct is to protect the habitats and ecological communities with which the species are associated.  Many of these ecological communities are under severe threat from such processes as land clearing, grazing by livestock and feral animals, weed invasion, salinity, and changes in water and fire regimes, and HSI is working hard to protect them through our Threatened Ecological Communities nomination program.

HSI nominates ecological communities under threat for listing under both the Commonwealth EPBC Act and New South WalesThreatened Species Conservation Act, 1995 (TSC Act), as these are currently the most effective forms of legislation for dealing with these communities, with clear guidelines, workable processes and enforceable protection.  The Federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities manages the annual call for public nominations in which ecological communities under threat are able to be considered for protection as ' Matters of National Environmental Significance'  (MNES) under the EPBC Act.  Such listings lead to extra protection for the many threatened species that use the ecological communities as habitat, as well as providing new protection to declining species that are not yet listed as threatened but are under pressure.  In addition, the protection of Threatened Ecological Communities allows for the vital ecosystem services to be preserved to the benefit of all land users, such as carbon capture and storage or the reduction or control of dry land salinity and erosion.

Threatened Ecological Communities are known to be complex to describe and differentiate, but they are a very efficient and effective tool for whole-of-system or landscape-scale protection of biodiversity, particularly in providing wildlife habitat (including unique habitats, critical refuges and corridors).  Threatened Ecological Communities are often on land or water that is under represented in conservation tenure, but giving them legislative protection can also complement and provide wildlife connectivity with natural systems protected through other conservation measures such as the National Reserve System.  Although open to all members of the public, nominations are required to be scientifically rigorous and significant research must be undertaken for nominations to be prioritised for assessment by both the national and NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee, and to ultimately translate to effective protection vehicles for biodiversity.

The ultimate outcome of listing a Threatened Ecological Community as a MNES under the EPBC Act is a positive effect for the conservation and recovery of the plants, animals and other organisms that make up the community.  These listings aim for national recognition and protection of Threatened Ecological Communities which in turn allows other management actions and decisions to be made to arrest or minimise decline in native plants, animals and ecosystems.

Following a listing, the government is required to consider developing a recovery plan and to guard against detrimental impact to the newly listed ecological community. Any activity that may significantly impact on any listed ecological community under the EPBC Act, such as clearing vegetation or a nearby development, must first be assessed by the Federal Minister for the Environment.  It is required for governments, in cooperation with private landholders, to develop protective management regimes in the area a Threatened Ecological Community is present.  In other instances, Threatened Ecological Communities may eventually be protected under National Park status if the area is particularly biodiverse.

HSI has made a number of very important nominations over the years which have been critical in building the national list of Threatened Ecological Communities and hence achieving significant conservation outcomes.  We are responsible for nominating 20 of the 61 Threatened Ecological Communities currently listed under the EPBC Act, amounting to approximately 2 million hectares.  Furthermore, approximately 98% of communities listed as Endangered under the Act are as a result of HSI nominations.

When we first launched our ' ˜Million Acres' campaign in 1998, our aim was to secure the protection of at least that amount of habitat through Threatened Ecological Community listings under the EPBC and TSC Acts.  We quickly passed this point and have now far exceeded the figure, and through our nomination program have secured protection for approximately 5,000,000 hectares of Australian grassland, woodland, shrubland, alpine and coastal habitat.  Many more communities nominated by HSI await adjudication under both the Commonwealth and State laws.

EXAMPLES OF instances where hsi nominated threatened ecological communities have been protected by legislation

Wind farm relocation

In early 2009 the NSW Government approved the development of a 596 turbine wind farm at Silverton, in the direct vicinity of an ecological community nominated for legislative protection under the TSC Act by HSI in 2008.The community, Porcupine Grass ' “ Red Mallee ' “ Gum Coolabah hummock grassland / low sparse woodland on metamorphic ranges on the Barrier Range in the Broken Hill Complex Bioregion, has a naturally restricted distribution, extending over a mere 250 hectares.Existing on such a small geographical area, the community is particularly susceptible to development, utility construction and other long term threats.

HSI was therefore pleased that despite there being no decision as yet on the nomination, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, and the proponent of the wind farm, Silverton Wind Farm Developments Pty Ltd, acknowledged the importance of the ecological community during the environmental impact assessment stage of the proposal. Accordingly, the proponent altered the proposal during the design stage and incorporated a range of controls into the project design.

To minimise the impacts of the development on the ecological community, the turbines were to be placed outside of the community, access tracks and cabling routes determined by a qualified ecologist and diverted around its range, and a recovery plan, goat management plan, and vegetation management plan were to be implemented.

Developer fined for clearing

HSI was pleased to see the EPBC Act enforced to protect an ecological community listed as a result of one of our earlier legislative nominations. With only 3,329 hectares remaining, the Natural Temperate Grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain was listed as Critically Endangered in May 2008. In November 2009, Bridge and Marine Australia gave an undertaking to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment to pay a fine of $30,000 for clearing 0.7 hectares of the critically endangered grassland at an industrial site in Ardeer, Melbourne in breach of the EPBC Act. The money was to be paid to the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment on top of a $170,000 fine they had already levied on the company for breaching Victorian environment laws. The money went to the conservation and recovery of the ecological community and other affected species.



Eucalyptus microcarpa by Elizabeth Donoghue (c)





In late 2006 we nominated the Inland Grey Box Woodlands to be listed as a threatened ecological community under the EPBC Act, and are delighted that after assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee the community, under the amended name of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands of South-eastern Australia, has successfully been listed as Endangered, effective since April 1, 2010.

These woodlands provide habitat for an abundance of animal species. This includes an astonishing 150 bird species, 88 of which are listed as threatened species either nationally and / or in South Australia, Victoria or New South Wales. The community is also home to a number of threatened mammals such as the black-striped wallaby, eastern long-eared bat, spotted-tailed quoll and squirrel glider. Although there are significant gaps in knowledge about the historic and current extent of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands of South-eastern Australia, conservative estimates indicate that of a likely 3,541,000 hectares present before European settlement, about 514,500 hectares remain (a decline of approximately 85.5%).

The community's profile, including a distribution map as well as listing and conservation advice, can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicshowcommunity.pl?id=86


Coolibah ' “ Black Box Woodland of the northern riverine plains in the Darling Riverine Plains and Brigalow Belt South Bioregions

Coolibah woodland by John Benson (c)




EXTENT: unconfirmed (>300,000 HECTARES)

An HSI nomination saw Coolibah ' “ Black Box Woodland in the northern riverine plains of the Darling Riverine Plains and Brigalow Belt South Bioregions protected as an Endangered Ecological Community under the NSW TSC Act in 2003. The community is threatened by land clearing and habitat fragmentation, heavy grazing, exotic weed species, and structural changes associated with ring-barking, poisoning and removal of trees.

The physical and biotic processes of Coolibah ' “ Black Box Woodland are also highly dependent on adequate flooding regimes, and the community has suffered an extensive decrease in ecological function as a result of hydrological changes to floodplains from the development of river regulation infrastructure, widespread modification of floodplains by the construction of diversion banks, channels, levees, and drains, and the upstream extraction of water.

HSI has also nominated this community for protection at the national level through the EPBC Act, with the decision due on the 30th of December 2010.

The NSW Scientific Committee' s final determination on this ecological community can be found at: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/coolibahblackboxrejectdelistfd.htm


Natural Grasslands of the Queensland Central Highlands and the northern Fitzroy Basin

Natural Grasslands of the Queensland Central Highlands by Don Butler (c)





In 2001 two HSI nominations of threatened ecological communities were merged by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and listed under the EPBC Act as Bluegrass (Dichanthium spp.) dominant grasslands of the Brigalow Belt Bioregions (North and South), covering approximately 232,260 hectares. Eight years later this Endangered Ecological Community was superseded by the Natural grasslands on basalt and fine-textured alluvial plains of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland (Critically Endangered) and Natural Grasslands of the Queensland Central Highlands and the northern Fitzroy Basin (Endangered) listings.

The Natural Grasslands of the Queensland Central Highlands and the northern Fitzroy Basin are native grasslands typically composed of perennial native grasses. They are found on fine textured soils derived from either basalt or fine-grained sedimentary rocks, on flat or gently undulating rises. The natural grasslands geographic distribution has undergone a severe decline and is currently restricted to smaller remnants that face continuing threats and because of the ecological community's severe reduction in integrity and rate of detrimental change. Grazing, cropping and pasture improvement; weeds and pest animals; mining activities; and the construction of roads and other infrastructure are the primary identified threats to this Endangered Ecological Community.

The community's profile, including a distribution map as well as listing and conservation advice, can be found at: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicshowcommunity.pl?id=99


* Median value was used when extent expressed as a range

** Extent was estimated through best information available when no comprehensive data present

*** HSI responsible for a component after TSSC decision to group


*HSI responsible for a component after TSSC decision to group


Where an approximate value is listed after ' ˜Extent unconfirmed' , the original nomination or Final Determinations from the NSW Scientific Committee was used as the best reference. * Median value was used when extent expressed as a range


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