The Kritic

Rocks being removed to make way for farming.

Rocks being removed to make way for farming.Source: YouTube

My (DM’s) perception of threatened species habitats changed the first time I encountered a population of endangered lizards living under small surface rocks in a heavily cleared grazing paddock. That was 20 years ago, at a time when land managers were well aware of the biodiversity values of conservation reserves and remnant patches of native vegetation. But back then we knew very little about the biodiversity values of the agricultural parts of the landscape.

Much has changed. Research has clearly shown the important ecological roles of different elements of the landscape for maintaining biodiversity on farms, especially for vertebrates such as carnivorous marsupials, frogs, snakes and lizards. Rocky outcrops and areas of surface rock, often termed bush rock, are among them.


Read more: On dangerous ground: land degradation is turning soils into deserts


Areas of bush rock are biological hotspots. They represent island refuges for specialised plants and animals, and help ecosystems to thrive even in heavily cleared landscapes. In Australia, more than 200 vertebrate species depend on rocky outcrops to survive, and many of these species are found only in agricultural areas.

Recent surveys by The Australian National University on working farms in New South Wales found new populations of the threatened Pink-tailed Worm-lizard. Rocky outcrops and surface bush rock are the reason these reptiles can keep living in grazing landscapes.

Unfortunately, these critical habitats get little protection in agricultural regions. Rocky habitats may look tough, but they are fragile ecosystems and are easily damaged. Vast areas of surface rock have been removed and previously undisturbed outcrops are at risk of being destroyed by legal and routine farming activities.

The new wave of habitat loss

Licensed operators have been removing bush rock for use in landscape gardening for several decades. This is of growing concern, but is not a new threat to our native wildlife. Instead, more sophisticated technology is being developed which turns vast tracts of rocky country into farmland by crushing and destroying surface rock within minutes.

Across Australia, heavy duty sleds are being towed behind tractors to rip and remove rocky breakaways, ridgelines and small outcrops. The machinery operates like a large cheese grater, ripping bedrock with a row of tines, then crushing the displaced rocks with a large roller. These machines are designed to process large areas at once and can crush an entire hectare of rock every hour.

Turning bushrock into farmland.Source: YouTube

Large areas of Western Australia, South Australia and western Victoria have been subject to widespread rock removal using these machines. This increasing agricultural practice has largely gone unnoticed.

While not illegal, rock-crushing has massive implications for the populations of native mammals, frogs and reptiles in agricultural areas. This approach to farming is at odds with the principle of land sharing, which encourages agriculture and wildlife conservation on the same land. Pressure to maximise productivity by increasing crop yields and intensifying land use could spell disaster for native species that live in these landscapes.

Some argue that using this new technology reduces soil damage by minimising how often agricultural machinery passes over the land. But this is not enough to offset the loss of this critical habitat. Surely we should be trying to find ways to protect and manage these environments in our cropping landscapes rather than developing ways to destroy them?

More rock-crushing.Source: YouTube

A gap in the law

The removal of bush rock is listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. However, this does not include the removal of rock where it is necessary for carrying out a development or activity with an existing approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Nor does it prevent the removal of rock from paddocks when it is a necessary part of routine agricultural activity.

This loophole in the legislation could spell disaster for threatened species that rely on bush rock on private property to survive. For example, the Grassland Earless Dragon is thought to have gone extinct in Victoria as a result of habitat loss, including the removal of critical surface rock habitat from across its former range.

It would be a real shame to lose more threatened species to poorly planned and completely avoidable agricultural practices – especially when so many progressive landholders are actively trying to restore and improve biodiversity on the land.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
By Damian R. Michael, Senior Research Officer, Australian National University and Professor David Lindenmayer The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University
Read the original article.

Leadbeaters Possum

Leadbeater’s PossumSource: Unknown

MEDIA RELEASE

20 April 2018

Case to proceed to test VicForests’ non-compliance with forest agreement

Allegations that state logging agency VicForests failed to identify and protect Leadbeater’s Possums, Greater Gliders and their habitat in accordance with the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) will soon be tested, with the Federal Court today saying the case should proceed.

The new allegations are in an amended statement of claim filed by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum.

The case questions whether logging in endangered species habitat can continue to have an exemption from Federal environment protection law.

The new claims include allegations that VicForests did not conduct detection activities or surveys for Greater Gliders in areas that have already been logged and is not protecting the species in more than 30 planned coupes.

As a result of the proceeding, logging has been on hold in more than 30 areas that are home to Leadbeater’s Possums and Greater Gliders.

VicForests’ undertaking not to log in those areas has now lapsed. Logging has commenced in some of the areas subject to the amended claim.

As a result, Environmental Justice Australia, on behalf of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, indicated in Court this morning that it will seek an interim injunction to halt logging in these areas.

“In March, the Court found non-compliance with State rules accredited by the RFA would remove the logging industry’s exemption from Federal environment protection law,” said Danya Jacobs, lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia.

“Our client alleges precisely this type of non-compliance in forests that are home to the Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider,” Ms Jacobs said.

Steve Meacher, President of the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, said if logging continued in the Central Highlands forests, the extinction of Victoria’s faunal emblem would be even harder to avoid.

“The government recently announced an extension to the Central Highlands RFA designed to lock in another two years of logging our critically endangered possum’s habitat – despite non-compliance with rules that are meant to protect threatened species,” he said.

“If the government won’t act to protect the state’s faunal emblem, we will.”

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc filed this case in November 2017. The Federal Court heard a preliminary question over two days in December. In March the Court found non-compliance with terms of the RFA that require five-year reviews does not remove the exemption from Federal environment law, but other types of non-compliance with the RFA would remove it.

There will be a case management hearing in the week of 7 May.

Environmental Justice Australia

Media contact: Josh Meadows, 0439 342 992