Management of specific pressures

Invasive species management

Effective species-led and ecosystem-based invasive species management strategies and implementation plans are key to effective biodiversity conservation (Carwardine et al. 2019) (see the Biodiversity chapter) because:

The legal imperative to manage invasive non-native species impacts in Australia and its external territories is governed by the EPBC Act (for impacts on listed species and communities) and the Biosecurity Act 2015 (for broader human, agricultural and ecosystem impacts). All states and territories have complementary biosecurity acts. The Australian Government is responsible for offshore and international border management, while the states and territories have primary responsibility for incursion and impact management within the border. The national biosecurity system is starting to stem the flow of new species arrivals, but managing the impacts of invasive non-native species is often a complex challenge; many factors need to be considered and evidence-based decisions need to be made when developing appropriate policies and solutions. The scale of the challenge reinforces the need for data sharing, system connectivity, commercialisation of new technical and digital solutions, and social licence for emerging technologies (CSIRO 2020).

In 2017, an independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning intergovernmental agreement found many areas needed strengthening (Craik et al. 2017). Since that report, the focus on environmental biosecurity has been enhanced through development of:

  • a new Environment and Invasives Committee (DAWE 2021h)
  • the Australian Government position of Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer (DAWE 2020k), supported by the draft revised National Environment and Community Biosecurity Research, Development and Extension Strategy 2021–2026 (DAWE 2021q)
  • the national exotic environmental pest and disease priority list (ABARES 2020b, ABARES 2021e).

The National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement governs the emergency response to an outbreak of environmental pests and diseases of national significance (DAWE 2019, DAWE 2020a). This agreement is supported by the emergency plant pest (PHA 2019, Maddocks Lawyers 2020) and animal disease (AHA 2019b) response agreements and plans. These responses also coordinate with Wildlife Health Australia in accordance with the national wildlife biosecurity guidelines (Wildlife Health Australia 2018, Wildlife Health Australia 2020).

New national strategies for managing weeds (IPAC 2017b) and pest animals (IPAC 2017a) have been released. These are supported by the National Wild Dog Action Plan 2020–2030 (AWI 2020), the National Feral Pig Action Plan 2021–2031 (Australian Pork 2021), the National Invasive Ant Biosecurity Plan 2018–2028 (Environment and Invasives Committee 2019) and the draft National Feral Deer Action Plan (National Feral Deer Action Plan Working Group 2021). In addition to the National Priority List of Exotic Environmental Pests, Weeds and Diseases (EEPL; ABARES 2020b) (Table 8), there is also a list of threat categories of nonindigenous vertebrates recorded in Australia (Environment and Invasives Committee 2018) (Table 13).

The revised list of threat categories of nonindigenous vertebrates includes nearly 500 feral animals, farm animals, domestic and exotic pets, and zoo animals (Environment and Invasives Committee 2018). The risk assessment is based on the danger posed by an individual animal, the likelihood of establishment and the consequences of establishment. More than half the animals listed are birds and a quarter are mammals (Table 13). Plants and animals deemed suitable for live import into Australia under certain conditions are listed under section 303EB of the EPBC Act. The most significant risk of new vertebrate pests entering Australia is from the illegal online pet trade (Stringham et al. 2021).

Table 13 Number of nonindigenous vertebrate species present in Australia by biological group and threat category

Biological group

Number of nonindigenous vertebrate species within each threat category




Extreme (P)a






3 (1)



10 (1)



16 (8)

23 (13)

207 (60)

14 (7)

263 (88)




27 (17)

99 (22)


132 (39)




4 (2)

82 (9)


93 (11)



21 (8)

57 (33)

392 (91)

24 (7)

498 (139)

  1. P = precautionary; species that have not been assessed or if there is too little information to be able to properly adopt a risk analysis.


  1. Numbers in brackets are the number of species for which there is at least one occurrence recorded (as of September 2021).
  2. Based on data aggregated by the Atlas of Living Australia from multiple sources, including Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network survey and monitoring data (EcoAssets 2021).

Source: Environment and Invasives Committee (2018)

The new Australian Weeds Strategy 2017–2027 provides a framework for addressing weed issues while maintaining the profitability and sustainability of Australia’s primary industries and reducing the impact of weeds on the environment (IPAC 2017b). It builds on lessons learned from the Weeds of National Significance initiative. A revised list of target weed species is under development through the National Established Weed Priorities (NEWP) framework (Wild Matters 2020, Wild Matters 2021). Once categorised, the NEWP framework will be considered by the Environment and Invasives Committee, which was expanded from the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee under the National Biosecurity Committee following the independent review of Australia’s biosecurity system by Craik et al. (2017). In the interim, 83 weeds have been identified as candidates for biological control, additional to the 25 species for which biological control programs already exist (Weeds Australia 2020).

Despite these advances, there remains an urgent need to complete and implement action plans for managing all national priority exotic weeds, pests and diseases, including risk mitigation measures, surveillance, diagnostics and the most appropriate management responses.

The ultimate purpose of management is to reduce the total impact of invasive non-native species in different systems compared with a no-intervention scenario. Across Victoria, advisory lists of weeds (White et al. 2018), weed spotter networks and early detection of naturalisations (Blood et al. 2019) are increasing land manager awareness of the importance of new weeds and how to report them. Other states are similarly resourcing targeted surveys (e.g. Brodie et al. 2020) as well as community spotter networks (e.g. Laidlaw et al. 2019), all of which contribute data into databases and support regular evaluation of priorities for managing impactful species. Plant pathogens such as myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii), which also pose a significant risk to industry, cannot be eradicated and are hard to contain due to their ability to spread by wind, soil and water (Inspector-General of Biosecurity 2019a). Such incursions are transitioned to management and become part of the cumulative burden on the environment (Inspector-General of Biosecurity 2019b).

According to the second national pest animals and weed management survey by Stenekes & Kancans (2021), pastoral land managers thought that the most important action to improve pest and weed management was having new or improved control methods or tools. Respondents reported the most common problem weeds to be blackberry (Rubus anglocandicans, R. fruticosus agg.), African boxthorn (Lycium ferocissimum), silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) and lantana (Lantana camara). Pastoral land managers were very interested in using new biological control tools on their property if they become available. Feral deer were the most reported introduced vertebrate species to have recently arrived on land managers’ properties, followed by feral pigs and wild dogs (Stenekes & Kancans 2021).

Weed eradication programs are underway across different regions of Australia (Weeds Australia 2020). For example, the National Tropical Weeds Eradication Program (DAWE 2021p) has for some time been targeting 5 weed species native to tropical America that have been introduced into northern Queensland and have exhibited invasive characteristics: limnocharis (Limnocharis flava), mikania vine (Mikania micrantha) and miconia (Miconia calvescens, M. racemosa, M. nervosa) (DAF 2021). New South Wales reported successful local eradication of mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) from the Kosciuszko National Park (see Case Study 2 in IPAC 2017b). A successful program of eradicating rats from Lord Howe Island has been underway for several years (Harper et al. 2020), with ongoing monitoring supporting detection and control of new incursions (LHIB 2021). Work continues on the program of eradicating new incursions of invasive ants and managing others in accordance with the national biosecurity plan (Environment and Invasives Committee 2019, DAWE 2021aa). Five of 6 infestations of tropical fire ants have been eradicated on the Tiwi Islands, and around 1,000 hectares (ha) of Indigenous land in the Northern Territory have been cleared of yellow crazy ants, reducing the Territory distribution by half and eliminating the risk of further spread (Hoffmann 2019).

Species-based management of invasive non-native species at a national level happens through national biological control programs and regional exotic predator management programs. Since 2016, national weed biological control programs have actively targeted 40 weeds, and 6 of these programs have released agents since 2016 (DAWE 2021z). A catalogue of targets, agents and success measures is available online (Winston et al. 2014, iBiocontrol 2020). For terrestrial vertebrate pests, viral-based biological control programs remain active for European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) (CISS 2021a).

A nationally coordinated but regionally led program is tackling the estimated 2.1–6.3 million feral cats in Australia under the Threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats (DoE 2015c, DoE 2015a, DoEE 2017, Legge et al. 2017, Woinarski et al. 2019b, Woinarski et al. 2019a, DAWE 2021s). Cat management is supported by the development of cat-specific toxic baits (Curiosity® and Eradicat®) and traps (Felixer® Grooming Trap), with additional management information provided through the national Feral Cat Taskforce (DAWE 2021s) and a recent book that provides a detailed account of cats in Australia (Woinarski et al. 2019b). Across the country, cat management is undertaken by the following programs:

Several nongovernment conservation agencies also undertake widespread feral animal management on their estates (e.g. Bush Heritage Australia 2019, Hewitt 2021). Each state and territory also undertakes feral animal control of a range of other species, particularly feral pigs and deer, to differing degrees of success.

Feral pigs (Sus scrofa) are thought to occupy close to 40% of the Australian mainland, where they cause both environmental and agricultural damage. The predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs was declared a key threatening process in 2001 (TSSC 2001). The 2017 feral pig threat abatement plan updates the 2005 version, and establishes a national framework for coordinating Australia’s response to the impact of feral pigs on biodiversity (DEE 2017a). The actual distribution of feral pigs is difficult to estimate because populations fluctuate (DEE 2017b), requiring a detailed understanding of their ecology and environmental suitability. A detailed assessment by Froese et al. (2017) using population modelling suggests suitable wild pig habitat is less widely available in northern Australia than previously thought, but regions of far north Queensland and the Northern Territory are highly suitable. In these regions, feral pigs have contributed to declining marine turtle populations through nest predation, requiring development of novel interventions that target behaviour to reduce impacts (Nordberg et al. 2019) (see the Biodiversity chapter). A National Feral Pig Management Coordinator was appointed in late 2019. The threat of the arrival of African swine fever through northern Australia led to the development of the first National Feral Pig Action Plan in 2020 (Australian Pork 2021).

Six species of feral deer in Australia (fallow, red, chital, hog, rusa and sambar) have significantly increased their spread, particularly in eastern Australia. In the past 30 years, land managers in rural and urban areas have seen feral deer go from being a rare sighting to becoming widespread in all states and territories except the Northern Territory. Feral deer impact agricultural production and environmental assets, and pose risks to biosecurity and community safety. A National Deer Management Coordinator position has led to the co-development of a National Feral Deer Action Plan (National Feral Deer Action Plan Working Group 2021).

Ecosystem-based management for invasive non-native species is dominated by national and state park management activities and the investments of Australian nongovernment conservation agencies such as Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and Bush Heritage Australia. AWC, along with several other organisations, undertakes ecosystem-based invasive non-native species management predominantly through development of wildlife sanctuaries surrounded by predator-proof fences (Ringma et al. 2018 ). The largest of these in the world, Newhaven Sanctuary, was completed in 2018 and covers 94 square kilometres, with plans to expand this to 700 square kilometres (Bode 2018). Many more conservation fences are planned or under construction to buy time while developing new tools to control introduced predators throughout the landscape (Dickman 2012, Ringma et al. 2018).

Monitoring of established pests and weeds and associated data about management actions are undertaken by state and territory governments. To facilitate coordination across borders, a national biosecurity data-sharing protocol has been agreed by federal and state and territory biosecurity agencies. Data sharing is being trialled as part of the National Vertebrate Pests and Weeds Distribution Project, which is currently identifying, understanding and documenting the variety of weeds and vertebrate pest data held by states and territories and other data providers (e.g. Ng et al. 2021). These case studies will help determine how disparate data could be brought together to provide a reliable, updateable picture of the national distribution of pests and weeds, and management interventions. The Atlas of Living Australia is presently the only national aggregation of species occurrence records and uses lists such as the Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species (Pagad et al. 2018) to group and present records of introduced species. The atlas has capacity to use other authoritative lists such as those under development through the Environment and Invasives Committee (e.g. NEWP; Wild Matters 2020, Wild Matters 2021).

Case Study Indigenous involvement in biosecurity

Cathy Robinson, CSIRO; Justin Perry, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance; Michael Douglas and Samantha Setterfield, University of Western Australia; Jennifer Macdonald, CSIRO and Charles Darwin University

Indigenous land and sea managers are playing a critical role in managing the risk of plant and animal pests and diseases entering, emerging, establishing and spreading in Australia. The sparsely populated 10,000-kilometre-wide northern Australian coastline is recognised as a frontline for incursions of many exotic animal and plant pests and diseases. Since 2004, Indigenous ranger groups have been paid under fee-for-service arrangements to deliver important biosecurity services, and are playing an increasing role in protecting the environment by participating in animal, plant and aquatic health surveys, insect trapping/surveillance, plant host mapping, collection and destruction of biosecurity risk material, and biosecurity awareness activities in remote communities (DAWE 2020c). The number of ranger groups undertaking biosecurity activities increased by more than 50% between 2018 and 2020, with localised management underpinned by Indigenous knowledge (DAWE 2020c).

Ongoing management of existing biosecurity risks is also core business for many Indigenous rangers nationwide, who are helping curb the impacts of introduced plants and animals on environmental, social, cultural and economic values (Adams et al. 2018, Maclean et al. 2021, Russell et al. 2021). To effectively combat the growing pressure of invasive non-native species, Indigenous rangers are adopting new technologies and approaches that weave western science with local Indigenous knowledge (Macdonald et al. 2021, Robinson et al. 2021). One initiative, the Healthy Country AI collaboration, is connecting ecological and social science, Indigenous knowledge and technology to support enhanced adaptive co-management (Schmidt 2021). For example, under the direction of Indigenous rangers, aerial drones are used to capture video footage across remote wetlands in Kakadu National Park. The images are then computer analysed to locate invasive species such as para grass (Urochloa mutica), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) and feral pigs (Sus scrofa). Data are interpreted using Indigenous knowledge, artificial intelligence from drone footage, data visualisations, Indigenous on-ground assessment and scientific research (Dickens et al. 2021). The results are made available to rangers through a dashboard, designed in partnership with Traditional Owners based on their cultural values and the season, to support real-time on-ground management (Figure 72).

Figure 72 Bininj Traditional Owner women in Kakadu National Park using the Healthy Country AI interactive data dashboard to explore changes to weed coverage after management

Photo: Cathy Robinson, CSIRO

Agriculture management

Australian farmers and graziers make a large contribution to conserving and enhancing nature, as stewards of 53% of Australian land (see Land use). Private landholders are increasingly investing in conservation beyond that required by state and federal regulations for land clearing, threatened species and invasive non-native species. This conservation leads to public benefits, as well as private benefits for the landowner in terms of improved financial returns from production of food and fibre, and greater global market access, given that Australia’s top export markets have net zero emissions targets to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Agriculture contributes 14.6% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions (see Figure 4 in DISER 2021f), which could be lowered by better practices that could, at the same time, improve productivity (see Carbon and Agriculture). Both Meat and Livestock Australia and the National Farmers Federation support net zero emissions targets, and these are considered achievable, even while the ambition is to grow Australian agriculture to $100 billion by 2030 (NFF 2019a, MLA 2020). The aspiration is for 5% of farm revenue to come from payments for ecosystem services provided by improved on-farm ecosystems.

The agricultural sector is developing and implementing frameworks for setting sustainability goals and verifying whether these have been met (for market access or environmental payments). Examples include the Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework (NFF 2020), the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (RMAC 2019) and the Australian Dairy Sustainability Framework (ADI 2021).

Agriculture relies heavily on soil, and management practices affect soil health and its ability to support and nurture plants. Improving soil health benefits production, as well as providing increased or improved flows of ecosystem services (see Soil). Australian governments, industry and the community have invested significantly in the sustainable use and conservation of soil resources by adopting practices that restore function and avoid land degradation. The National Soil Strategy (DAWE 2021t) and the Commonwealth Interim Action Plan for the National Soil Strategy (DAWE 2021a) are intended to encourage practices that lead to improved productivity and profitability, as well as improved natural resource condition.

The Australian Government is implementing strategic plans for agriculture, including the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia (Australian Government 2015) and the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper (Commonwealth of Australia 2015). Funds for sustainable agriculture and managing natural resources are provided through the National Landcare Program and the $34 million Agriculture Stewardship Package from 2018–19, with an additional $32.1 million provided in 2021–22 to promote biodiversity stewardship (DAWE 2021m). These land stewardship programs can meet environmental, economic and social outcomes, and can lead to more sustainable rural development (Cocklin et al. 2006). Standards, certification and regulation work best when co-developed with farmers to leverage their own capacities to enact change (Lockie & Higgins 2007, ALCA 2018), for example, through management practices such as:

  • inter-row direct drilling (in previous cropping stubble) plus zero/no-till systems
  • precision pesticide applications
  • precision lime applications to address soil acidity
  • harvest yield mapping
  • use of native vegetation for pollination services and integrated pest management
  • improved nutrient management (fertilisers) to reduce offsite impacts and improve soil biology
  • changing to regenerative agriculture practices to improve soil health and biodiversity.

Recognising that drought will become more frequent, severe and longer lasting in many regions as the climate changes, the Australian Government is supporting drought resilience for farmers, including public-good initiatives in environmental and natural resource management (DoA 2019a, DAWE 2021g). These initiatives include objectives to improve the natural capital of agricultural landscapes for better environmental outcomes (DAWE 2021v). These outcomes focus on improving indicators related to groundcover arising from drought-resilient farm management practices (see case study: Vegetation cover as a national indicator of soil health and erosion risk).

The Australian Land Conservation Alliance offers the following key enablers to increase productivity and encourage environmental stewardship in the agricultural sector (Bradley 2019):

1. Accelerating private sector investment in environmentally friendly practices like sustainable agriculture, land and system restoration and emerging environmental markets through a government-backed investment vehicle akin to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

2. Directly enabling the critical contribution of farmers and other landholders to improve and protect landscape function, reducing Australia’s rate of extinction and meeting Australia’s biodiversity targets by building a $1 billion National Biodiversity Conservation Fund.

3. Implementing an accessible and comparable natural capital measurement and accounting framework to improve on-farm decision making and provide information about natural capital stocks and flows to farm businesses, financiers and government.

4. Undertaking a cross-jurisdictional process to identify and reduce barriers blocking landholders wanting to engage in environmental markets like carbon, biodiversity and water quality offsets or credits.

Examples of successes towards meeting the agriculturally relevant Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 ‘Zero hunger’ listed on the Australian Government’s SDG data platform (DFAT 2018a) include:

Arlidge et al. (2018) suggest that the global mitigation hierarchy, which guides users towards limiting as far as possible the negative impacts on biodiversity from development projects, could be extended to agricultural settings. The mitigation hierarchy (avoid, mitigate, restore or rehabilitate, and finally offset or, failing that, compensate) represents broad categories of biodiversity impact reduction and compensation to achieve net positive outcomes (BBOP 2018b), which are applicable across sectors (Ekstrom et al. 2015). Although a recent development, aspects of the mitigation hierarchy are being applied to agricultural settings. For example, in New South Wales the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code 2018 permits clearing under certain conditions, provided equivalent areas are set aside (see case study: Woody vegetation loss in New South Wales). In Victoria, Kilter Rural voluntarily set aside 30% of their farmland for native vegetation management to attract risk-averse financial investors in agriculture.

Case Study Indigenous-led development of bushfood enterprises: the Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance

Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance

Despite the significant revenue generated by the rapidly growing Australian native foods and botanicals sector, only around 1% of the produce and monetary value of the entire bushfoods sector is generated by Indigenous people and communities (Mitchell & Becker 2019). This is a marginal proportion of benefit considering that much of the industry is built on Indigenous ecological knowledge (see the Bushfoods section in the Indigenous chapter).

Many and various challenges and circumstances have resulted in Indigenous people being marginal beneficiaries of this industry, including ongoing appropriation of Indigenous knowledge in the development of new bushfood enterprises, and a lack of understanding and respect for Indigenous custodial rights, responsibilities and attachments to bushfood plant species (Woodward et al. 2019, Jarvis et al. 2021, Maclean et al. 2022) (see the Indigenous cultural and intellectual property section in the Indigenous chapter).

Despite the challenges that Indigenous people face in developing enterprises based on bush products, the Traditional Owner–led bush products sector continues to grow and diversify. This establishing sector incorporates a wide range of enterprises developed from bushfoods; native plant–derived industries (e.g. seed harvesting, nurseries, cut flowers); and the development of botanicals-based products including bush medicines, essential oils, and health and beauty products. These enterprises result from the wild harvest, cultivation and enrichment planting of select native plants. One such example is the Kakadu plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana), also known as gubinge in the Kimberley region. This native fruit grows almost exclusively on Indigenous-held land across northern Australia, from the Kimberley to Arnhem Land. Aboriginal communities and families have been harvesting and using Kakadu plum for many millennia, accumulating detailed knowledge of the plant’s characteristics, growing patterns and uses (NAAKPA 2020).

The Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance (NAAKPA) is a consortium of Aboriginal enterprises involved in the harvest and processing of Kakadu plum across northern Australia (Figure 73). It aims to encourage ethical sourcing of native fruit by large-scale markets, while protecting the interests of Aboriginal communities and their traditional knowledge. The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC; see case study: Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation) has been a key supporter of the development of the Alliance, committing $448,000 in 2018–19 towards establishing an Indigenous-led Kakadu plum supply chain through their Kakadu Plum Project (ILSC 2019a). The project supports Indigenous community harvesting and processing enterprises, with the aim of providing greater Indigenous influence and control in the market, and maximising the flow of benefits back to Indigenous communities.

According to NAAKPA, the growth of access and benefit-sharing arrangements in relation to Kakadu plum supply chains is being driven by nation states who are signatories to the Nagoya Protocol (for details about the protocol, see sCBD 2011). There is a growing need for ethical sourcing of Kakadu plum and provenance traceability, as demanded by consumers, as food fraud is becoming more prevalent in larger supply chains. The benefits for remote communities are obvious in creating an economy, income and employment in areas where there is a distinct lack of opportunities to otherwise achieve this.

Figure 73 Harvesting mi marral (Kakadu plum) at Wadeye, Palngun Wurnangat Aboriginal Corporation, Northern Territory (left). Mamabulanjin Aboriginal Corporation (Western Australia) and Thamarrurr Development Corporation (Northern Territory) have freeze-dried Kakadu plum powder for wholesale (right)

Photos: left – Northern Australia Aboriginal Kakadu Plum Alliance; right – Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation

Forestry management

Australia has a comprehensive framework designed to conserve and sustainably manage its forests. This framework includes:

  • the National Forest Policy Statement, which outlines objectives and policies for the sustainable management of Australia’s forests, agreed by the Australian, state and territory governments (DAFF 1992)
  • Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs), which are long-term bilateral agreements between the Australian Government and relevant states and territories for the sustainable management and conservation of Australia’s native forests, covering specific regions of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. The RFAs provide certainty of access to forest resources for the timber industry. A key outcome of the RFAs was the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) reserve system (ANZECC 1997, DoA 2015)
  • Australia’s Sustainable Forest Management Framework of Criteria and Indicators, which was created in 2008 under the internationally recognised Montréal Process Working Group on Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests (DAFF 2008). This framework is applied to all forests in Australia that potentially exceed 2 metres in height and with existing or potential crown cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 20% (ABARES 2021c)
  • state and territory frameworks, in which jurisdictional legislation and codes of practice are applied to ensure environmentally responsible forestry practices
  • forest certificationindependent third-party forest certification to credible forest management standards, which applies to most of Australia’s production forests. Approximately 11.4 million hectares of native forests and plantations were certified for forest management under either the Responsible Wood certification scheme or the Forest Stewardship Council scheme as of 2019 (ABARES 2019). Some forests and plantations were certified under both schemes
  • laws to promote legal and sustainable production of timber products, and work with trading partners to support sustainable forest management and trade of legal timber products
  • a 5-yearly State of the Forests Report on the values and management of all Australia’s forests (e.g. MPIGA 2008, MPIGA & NFISC 2013, MPIGA & NFISC 2018).

Since the RFAs were signed (between 1997 and 2001), the area of native forest in conservation reserves in RFA regions has almost doubled – from 5.4 million hectares to 10 million hectares in 2019 (Jacobsen et al. 2020b). These areas have been reserved based on identification of environmental values such as old-growth forest and threatened species.

There are 10 RFAs in 4 states covering commercial native forestry regions. All RFAs have been progressively extended as their initial 20-year terms came to an end. The Tasmanian, New South Wales and Western Australian RFAs have been extended for 20-year rolling terms. In December 2020, the Australian and Victorian governments began a major review to assess the effect of the 2019–20 bushfires on the Victorian RFAs; during this event, 18% of the public native forests were burned (DELWP & DAWE 2021). The 5 RFAs in Victoria have been extended until 30 June 2030, in line with the Victorian Government’s decision to end native forest harvesting by that date.

Renewal of RFAs takes into account contemporary legislation, including commitments to protect threatened species listed under the EPBC Act and other matters of national environmental significance. The decision is informed by:

  • consideration of the extent to which the RFA state’s forest management policy, legislation, institutional and administrative arrangements provide for ecologically sustainable forest management
  • an assessment of the likely impacts of the extension on environment and heritage values, as listed in the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002
  • feedback from stakeholders and the general public.

Improvements to the extended RFAs include:

  • commitments from states to take into account matters of national environmental significance (the states are responsible for ensuring compliance with their forest management systems)
  • inclusion of clauses acknowledging the impacts of climate change and the need for adaptive forest management to build resilience and manage climate risk
  • 5-yearly reviews to include enhanced outcome reporting
  • improved communications and assurance mechanisms (such as provisions for annual meetings and audits, requirements to notify the Australian Government of significant changes to state forest management systems and the CAR reserve).

Ongoing community concerns about the impact of forestry operations on threatened forest-dependent species (e.g. Taylor & Lindenmayer 2019, Taylor & Lindenmayer 2020) led to a court case between the Bob Brown Foundation and the Commonwealth of Australia (Federal Court of Australia 2021). The court found the Tasmanian RFA in question to be valid for the purposes of the Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 and the EPBC Act (DAWE 2021d). The subsequent appeal to the High Court of Australia was rejected.

Extractive industries management

Mining can have a significant and lasting impact on the environment, rendering land unsuitable for other uses over the long term. Sustainable resource management in Australia is a key focus, and new mines are planned for closure at the outset to fully account for land rehabilitation and regeneration costs. Land management related to extractive industries is guided by:

Management aims for environmentally sustainable resource extraction, over the whole lifecycle from exploration through planning and design, construction and operations, to decommissioning and closure. Consistent with the mitigation hierarchy, the main objective is to avoid, minimise and rehabilitate land degradation. The industry typically uses environmental offsets to manage ecological impacts. A wide range of tools have been developed by the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) to guide industry best practice (BBOP 2018a, BBOP 2021). BBOP is an international collaboration between companies, financial institutions, governments and civil society organisations working towards a net gain of biodiversity (BBOP 2018b).

Effective management under the mitigation hierarchy has flow-on consequences to wellbeing. Indigenous rights are intended to be addressed via free, prior and informed consent where significant adverse impacts are likely to occur as a result of relocation, or disturbance of lands and territories or of critical cultural heritage, as required under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been endorsed but not yet ratified by Australia (see the Indigenous chapter). Sustainable environmental management of mines supports traditional hunting, harvesting and agriculture. Where Indigenous people jointly or solely own mines, wellbeing benefits can be even greater.

However, if management is not conducted with sustainable principles, extractive industries are one of the largest pressures on Indigenous heritage and connection to Country (see the Indigenous and Heritage chapters).

Case Study Gulkula – a mine in the Northern Territory owned and operated by Indigenous people

Gulkula Mining Company (Gulkula) was established in 2011 by the Gumatj Corporation. The venture is unique in that it is owned and run by and for the Yolngu people of East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. The Indigenous enterprise engages in environmentally sensitive, sustainable practices underpinned by Traditional Owner values that prioritise Indigenous upskilling by working on Country, while minimising cultural and ecological impacts of mining operations (Figure 74) In establishing their own mining company, Traditional Owners are changing the narrative by taking direct control of the mining process.

Gulkula provides local Yolngu employment, with training opportunities aimed at developing transferable skills among the workforce (Figure 75). Gulkula’s nursery is accredited by the Nursery Industry Accreditation Scheme Australia ((NIASA; NGIWA 2021) (Figure 76) and supports local training in land management skills, including seed collection, fumigation and propagation of native flora. This in turn supports progressive mine rehabilitation, whereby mined land is revegetated annually during the wet season. The main goal of mine rehabilitation at Gulkula is to re-establish self-sustaining native vegetation by propagating predominantly eucalypt savanna woodland species that support both traditional uses (i.e. bushfood, medicinal plants and timber) and habitat requirements of native fauna (i.e. food, shelter and resources).

Gulkula’s land-clearing procedure does not permit the burning of native forest (as is the industry norm). Instead, it specifies the salvage of timber products for the local sawmill (also owned and operated by the Gumatj Corporation) before mulching forest residue, which in turn is used as growth media for progressive mine rehabilitation.

In the mine closure phase, Gulkula intends to transition into broader natural resource management operations through active forest management in some mine rehabilitation areas. This will help sustain the local sawmill and timber industry while allowing Yolngu employees to use the skills they attained during mining activities.

Gulkula is a demonstration of a sustainable mining model that marries environmental and cultural values while engaging Indigenous peoples in all aspects of mining operations.

Figure 74 Knowledge sharing with Cape York Traditional Owners

Photo: Tracy Menon

Figure 75 Operating machinery (left) and assisting in dozer maintenance (right) at Gulkula

Photos: left – Gulkula; right – Tracy Menon

Figure 76 Propagating native plans for mine site rehabilitation at the Gulkula nursery

Photo: Tracy Menon

Source: Jawun (2019)