While media reports often focus on the doom and gloom of species sliding to extinction, it is important to also take note of where we are succeeding. Hub
Deputy Director Professor Stephen Garnett talks about the importance of learning from conservation successes and celebrating how far we have
A hundred years ago the global catastrophe that was the First World War came to an end. Today it is inconceivable that slaughter of people on such a scale would be tolerated, as world views are changing. And so it is with conservation. A hundred years ago most people would have been baffled by the conversations we now have about threatened species. Even fifty years ago conservation was a new concept to many, extinction seen as an inevitable, if slightly regrettable, by-product of development. A book on successful conservation of threatened species, such as Recovering Australian Threatened Species: A Book of Hope (CSIRO Publishing), could not have been imagined.
Now it can. Surveys show over 80% of Australians do not want further extinctions, and they are willing to invest in preventing them. Changing attitudes are also reflected in our evolving legislation. Australia’s earliest environmental legislation was created to reduce hunting of birds and only became concerned with threatened species in the latter part of the 20th century. It is still evolving in response to societal expectations but both legislation and policy are increasingly explicit about preventing extinction.
At the same time, governments, non- government organisations and private individuals have all made major contributions to ameliorating threats once they have become known. Often particular champions have stepped forward to ensure a species is not lost for future generations and put in extraordinary efforts to turn population trajectories around. As one of the editors of the Book of Hope, along with Peter Latch, David Lindenmayer and John Woinarski, I had enormous pleasure working with many such people, some of whom had dedicated over half a century of their lives to particular species.
This says something about species recovery – it needs to be given time. Often declines have been slow, and their reversal can take decades. When a pair of glossy black-cockatoos produce one young a year at the most (see box), and often raise none, supporters of programs must have patience from the start. Even identifying how to reverse declines can take a long time. For example efforts to recover the Helmeted Honeyeater yielded dismal results until only a few years ago when suddenly a new technique, supplementary feeding of wild birds, seemed to push them into overdrive.
A vital first step in any successful recovery program is understanding the problems that need solving.
In the Book of Hope, each case study describes the research phase that has guided recovery action. The great thing is that knowledge begets knowledge. What works on one species can work on others. New technologies – digital, genetic, electronic - are being applied in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. In many ways it is a thrilling time to be a researcher.
Society is also changing. Indigenous people are becoming increasingly involved with threatened species recovery on their land and sea country. Many Indigenous people have been greatly distressed by the loss of small mammals that were abundant just a few decades ago. Now many Indigenous ranger groups are seizing the opportunities provided by threatened species management to bring country back to life.
The Book of Hope began with a workshop in 2016. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub brought together 40 conservation managers and researchers wanting to learn from and share existing successes in threatened species recovery work. The results, now compiled in the book, are 35 case studies of conservation success and a framework of seven factors that were found to be important to success. The book’s launch has also brought many more people and examples of successful conservation forward.
Overall working on the Book of Hope was a huge privilege, just as it is to be undertaking threatened species research. The next step is to ensure that its messages reach the right people so they too realise what a long way we have come and that threatened species recovery is possible when we have commitment and investment. The success stories are also a reminder to those supporting threatened species conservation that their investment of time and money is worthwhile.
Professor Stephen Garnett
Deputy Director, TSR Hub
Top image: Co-ordinated conservation efforts by government agencies and the local community have given the Oakland diuris (Diuris callitrophila), an endangered NSW donkey orchid, a much brighter future. Photo: Karen Reta CC BY NC SA 2.0 Flickr
An inspiring showcase of conservation success stories
Against a relentless tide of threats to our biodiversity, many Australians, and government and non-government agencies, have devoted themselves to the challenge of conserving and recovering plant and animal species that now need our help to survive. This dedication has been rewarded with some outstanding and inspiring successes.
Recovering Australian Threatened Species: A Book of Hope (edited by Stephen Garnett, Peter Latch, David Lindenmayer and John Woinarski and published by CSIRO Publishing) showcases 35 of these stories and identifies the common factors that have been most effective in recovering threatened species.
The diverse case studies – dealing with threatened plants, invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals – show that the conservation of threatened species is achievable: that it can be done and should be done. They collectively serve to inform, guide and inspire other conservation efforts.
The Book of Hope is available to purchase online at: www.publish.csiro.au/book/7705
Karajarri Rangers are leading a Threatened Species Recovery Hub research project to investigate how different fire management approaches affect biodiversity. The first field trip took place in April this year, when a team of 16 rangers, support staff and scientists journeyed to the Edgar Ranges for eight days of wildlife monitoring. Hub researcher Sarah Legge worked with the rangers to compile this report from the field.
Cissy Gore-Birch is a member of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s steering committee and the Chair of its Indigenous Reference Group. The Indigenous Reference Group was established to assist hub leaders and project teams to strengthen the engagement and participation of Indigenous people in the hub’s activities and research projects. Cissy recently attended the Species of the Desert Festival on the Paruku Indigenous Protected Area, where she spoke about both threatened and culturally important species, and increasing the voice of Indigenous people in environmental policies and research.
Dr Sally Box, the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner, talks about the importance of working with Indigenous groups to conserve Australia’s threatened species.
Researchers from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub are calling on citizen scientists to help them learn more about Australia’s possums and gliders by recording sightings in a new, free app. Dr Rochelle Steven from the University of Queensland is passionate about Australia’s possums and gliders and believes people in the community can do a lot to help support conservation, especially in urban areas.
There are 27 different types of possums and gliders in Australia. They have a huge variety of sizes, shapes and appearances. We’ve compiled a profile on every species here. One quarter of our possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law. Help their conservation, be a citizen scientist: you can record sightings of possums from your local areas in the free 'CAUL Urban Wildlife App'.