Conserving Country: Reflections on the SCB-Oceania Conference

by Nancy Auerbach

Tal Polak and I (Nancy Auerbach) recently represented the Environmental Decisions Group (EDG) and the Wilson lab at the recent Society for Conservation Biology’s Oceania section regional conference, held in Darwin, NT between Friday 21 and Sunday 23 September 2012.  The conference theme was on ‘People and Conservation in Land and Sea Country,’ and communications on Indigenous conservation management were encouraged.  Some of the indigenous philosophy underlying land and sea country management that includes the tradition of passing along knowledge is widely shared by conservation biologists across the globe, and several of us from the EDG shared our current research in presentations at the conference.

My contribution was in speaking on ‘The state of threatened species prioritisation in Australia’ in a symposium organized by Judit Szabo (formerly EDG, now Charles Darwin University) on ‘Socio-economic aspects of threatened species conservation in Oceania.’   The summary of my presentation is that the states and territories of Australia currently have heterogeneous plans for managing threatened species, and species would be better served by a national plan that includes management collaboration amongst states.  Many species’ needs are being ignored, and some sub-species have gone extinct with little notice.  We recommend that an over-arching, functional, and strategic national plan is urgently needed.  A national plan would ideally prioritise projects comprised of actions that would benefit threatened species, and should account for feasibility of project success as well as the cost of actions to achieve an overall defined species conservation objective.  The governments of New Zealand and the state of New South Wales are currently implementing such a strategy, modelled after the Joseph et al. (2009) Project Prioritization Protocol.

This Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) migrates interstate between Tasmania and Queensland. While the Silvereye is classified by the IUCN as ‘least concern,’ other threatened birds receive inadequate protection from legislation. For example, the Mt Lofty Ranges subspecies of the Spotted Quail-thrush (Cinclosoma punctatum anachoreta) was last sited in 1981 and is presumed extinct. Photo: ©Dirk Hovorka

Tal Polak (PhD candidate, Wilson lab) presented results from her first PhD project on ‘Optimal planning for mitigating the impacts of roads on wildlife.’  Tal modelled the costs and benefits of alleviating road threats to koalas, by using fences and passages along and across roads.  She mathematically described what society would need to be willing to pay to protect species that are vulnerable to automobiles, if it is to make a difference to those species.

Other presentations from EDG scientists included Tim Holmes (PhD candidate, EDG) presenting his research on ‘A review of the institutional framework across the management of Australia’s threatened birds’; Azusa Makino (Phd candidate, EDG) speaking about her research on ‘Incorporating ecosystem connectivity between the land and sea to protect coral reefs’; Anna Renwick (Post-doctoral Research Fellow, EDG) discussing her research on ‘Biodiversity co-benefits from carbon projects on Indigenous land: A national assessment’; and Josie Cawardine  (Post-doctoral Research Fellow, EDG and CSIRO) talking about her research on ‘Assessing spatial priorities for carbon forestry and biodiversity conservation.’

Stephen Garnett (chair) and the organizing committee prepared an informative and fun conference.  Plenary addresses ranged from discussions on historical aboriginal fire practices (Bill Gammage, ANU) to aboriginal spiritual healing (Bilawara Lee, Flinders University), and from the mismeasure of conservation (Bob Pressey, JCU), to wicked problems in Oceania (Padma Lal, IUCN).  Social events included a tongue-in-cheek debate on ‘Conservation does not need more research’ and music and dinners outside that allowed for much socialising in the pleasant Darwin evenings.  With concurrent sessions, it was difficult to choose which sessions to attend—there were many good talks from beginning to end.  The symposium on ‘Stopping the next wave of extinction…addressing mammal decline in northern Australia’ was well attended and thought-provoking, even though it was held during the last time slot in the conference schedule on Sunday afternoon.  I think all would agree, it was time well spent in attending, sharing research outcomes, and meeting those scientists whose names are on all the papers we read!

The next ICCB meeting will be held in Baltimore, Maryland, USA between 21 and 25 July, 2013.  Start thinking now about what research you want to present at the meeting, the announcement for abstracts is due to come out this month (November).

Joseph, L. N., R. F. Maloney, and H. P. Possingham. 2009. Optimal allocation of resources among threatened species: a project prioritization protocol. Conservation Biology 23:328-338.

Just how much, and what type of fire was used by traditional owners? The use and mis-use of fire as a management tool continues to be an interesting debate, with implications for biodiversity, weed management, and carbon dynamics of savanna landscapes such as this Spinifex woodland. Photo: Liz Law