State law faulted on saving native species

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But the report found: “The powers in the act have not been used as intended, and parts of the act are out-of-date.”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

Gong with a pink slip

Landcarers left to sink or swim
BY JANE CANAWAY
16 Sep, 2009 04:00 AM

Land carer: After years of kicking environmental goals, John Robinson has been made redundant.

AS a show of defiance, the timing was impeccable; the day after John Robinson’s last day as the region’s Landcare co-ordinator – his position made redundant by cuts to government funding – he was declared the state winner of this year’s People’s Choice Landcare award.
“It was pretty ironic,” he said.

“Environment Minister Gavin Jennings told me he’d had a few people confront him about it at the awards, even though it wasn’t due to State Government cuts.”

Since 2003, Mr Robinson has been the main point of contact for about 24 Landcare and 100 ‘friends of’ groups across 10 municipalities, supporting volunteers in their efforts to improve the landscape of the Upper Maribyrnong and Werribee River catchments.

Many groups voiced their concern when the Federal Government introduced a new funding model in 2008, and their fears were realised in August when the money dried up for the region’s CatchmentCare program – and with it the wages of 80-90 co-ordinators across Victoria, including four employed by the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority. Along with Mr Robinson, Sunbury-based Sam Bayley also lost his job, while two colleagues elsewhere were given different duties.

Mr Bayley, who had been with the CMA for about two years, told the Werribee Banner he had “a few irons in the fire”, but Mr Robinson, 55, was not hopeful about finding a new job quickly.

Local groups were equally concerned about their future.

“Maribyrnong could not be without his services,” John Upsher of the Friends of Maribyrnong Valley said.

Wyndham Vale-based facilitator of the Western Melbourne Catchment Network Colleen Miller is one of the people who will try to fill the gap left by the co-ordinators but said she would feel their loss.

“Sam Bayley and I worked together really closely, combining our knowledge of local groups and available grants, but before that [Sam being hired] John was our main source of information,” she said.

“As well as linking groups together, showing groups what others were doing to inspire them, they also organised access to places you wouldn’t normally see outside of an organised tour, helped with grant applications and provided resources in terms of maps and information papers.