State law faulted on saving native species

07 Apr, 2009 08:30 AM

A DAMNING report by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office on the state’s main law to protect threatened species has found it “no longer provides an effective framework” for the conservation and protection of native flora and fauna.

The findings vindicate environment groups, which have argued for nearly 20 years that the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act has failed.

The law aims to protect endangered plants and animals with action plans for their management and fines for their removal or destruction.

But the report found: “The powers in the act have not been used as intended, and parts of the act are out-of-date.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sustainability and Environment, which administers the act, said there were two fines imposed in 2008. The offences related to the taking of protected flora.

Riddells Creek Landcare member Russell Best said the act had many weak points, including failing to automatically protect rediscovered plants that had been considered extinct.

“A geranium called ‘species 1′ was listed as extinct in about 1904 but was rediscovered in Riddells Creek a few years ago. But it’s not covered until it’s formally listed, which takes a while.”

Since the act was passed in 1988, 653 of more than 800 nominated plant and animal species, ecological communities and processes have been listed – about 37 listings a year – and many are also listed under Commonwealth legislation, which offers tougher protection.

Many species in Melbourne’s west are listed because of cats and foxes and because much of their grasslands habitat has been lost to development. These species include the eastern barred bandicoot, striped legless lizard, grasslands earless dragon, growling grass frog, Australian grayling, golden sun moth. Plants include the small scurf-pea, matted flax-lily, Sunshine diuris orchid and clover glycine.

To enforce the act, the Department of Sustainability and Environment received $4.9million in the 2008-09 state budget and $2.4million from the Federal Government. Staff working on the task were raised from six in 2004 to 12.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings commended the Auditor-General’s Office for its “frank and helpful appraisal”. “The [department] is reviewing the FFG Act and will soon provide advice on options for improvement.

“The findings are both a pat on the back and a reminder that we must continue working to protect Victoria’s unique plants and animals.”

He has asked the department’s secretary to report back in 12 months.

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Article by Jane Canaway

British-born, schooled in Holland and Wales, I worked my journalism cadetship in the Home Counties, escaped to London, then spent a couple of years travelling before settling in Melbourne, where I have written and edited for a range of publications, including Pacific Magazines [Your Garden, Home Beautiful, New Idea] and Fairfax Community Newspapers. Now a mother of two wonderful teenagers, I write about gardening, sustainability and people, when I can drag myself away from the vegie patch and my saxophone.
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