Tag Archives: conservation

Shifting public values and what they mean for increasing democracy in wildlife management decisions

Authors: Lily M van Eden, Chris R Dickman, Euan G Ritchie, and Thomas M Newsome

Published in: Biodiversity and Conservation

Abstract

Over the last century, changing public attitudes about the value of wildlife have triggered substantial changes in species management that have both benefited and hindered conservation efforts. Understanding and integrating contemporary public values is therefore critical for effective conservation outcomes.

Using historic and contemporary examples, we highlight how public attitudes—expressed through the media and campaigns—are shaping the management of introduced and native species, as values shift towards animal welfare and mutualism. We focus on the issue of deliberate human-caused killing of wildlife, because protests against such management have disrupted traditional political and management structures that favoured eradication of wildlife across many jurisdictions and ecological contexts. In doing so, we show that it is essential to work with multiple stakeholder interest groups to ensure that wildlife management is informed by science, while also supported by public values. Achieving this hinges on appropriate science communication to build a better-informed public because management decisions are becoming increasingly democratised.

van Eeden LM, Dickman CR, Ritchie EG, Newsome TM (2017) Shifting public values and what they mean for increasing democracy in wildlife management decisions. Biodiversity and Conservation, PDF DOI 

The Conversation: Government needs to front up billions, not millions, to save Australia’s threatened species

By Don Driscoll (Deakin University) Bek Christensen (University of Queensland) and Euan Ritchie (Deakin University)

Southern cassowaries, orange-bellied parrots, Leadbeater’s possums, and Australia’s only purple wattle are among the threatened species the government is seeking conservation investment for under its recently released threatened species prospectus. The prospectus seeks business and philanthropic support in partnership with the government and community groups to raise around A$14 million each year.

Orange-bellied parrots are one of the species included in the government’s Threatened Species Prospectus. Image crdeit: JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

The government has proposed 51 projects, costing from A$45,000 to A$6 million. At first glance the prospectus is a positive initiative.

But it also highlights that the current government is unwilling to invest what’s needed to assure the conservation of our threatened plants, animals and other organisms.

The good news

The government’s partial outsourcing of conservation investment and responsibility might have some benefit. Raising broader awareness about the plight of Australia’s threatened species, particularly among Australia’s leading companies and donors, could lead to valuable conservation gains. It could translate to pressure for greater financial investment in conservation and less damaging actions by big companies.

The prospectus includes an excellent range of critically important projects. These include seed banks for plants facing extinction, and projects to control feral animals and create safe havens for mammals and birds.

These projects could help to save species on the brink of extinction, such as the critically endangered Gilbert’s potoroo, the Christmas Island flying fox and the orange-bellied parrot.

The projects have a high chance of success. Community groups and government are already on board and ready to take action, if only the funds materialise.

Why do so many species need urgent help?

The State of the Environment Report released in early March shows that the major pressures on wildlife have not decreased since 2011 when the previous report was released. The prospects for most threatened species have not improved.

Habitat loss is still the biggest threat. The homes of many threatened species are continually under threat from developments. Coal mines threaten the black-throated finch, urban sprawl eats away at the last 1% of critically endangered Victorian grasslands, and clearing for agriculture has spiked in Queensland.

Feral animals are widespread and control programs have been inadequate. New diseases are emerging, such as the chytrid fungus that has devastated frog populations worldwide.

The horticulture industry, for example, introduced myrtle rust to Australia. The disease was poorly managed when it was first detected. It now infects more than 350 species of the Myrtaceae family (including eucalypts).

We have so many threatened species because national and state governments don’t invest enough money in protecting our natural heritage, and environmental protections have been rolled back in favour of economic development.

Show us the money

Over the past three years the federal government has invested A$210 million in threatened species. This annual investment of A$70 million each year is minuscule compared with the government’s revenue (0.017% of A$416.9 billion).

It includes projects under the National Landcare Program, Green Army (much of which didn’t help threatened species) and the 20 Million Trees program.

The A$14 million that the prospectus hopes to raise is a near-negligible proportion of annual revenue (0.003%).

Globally, the amount of money needed to prevent extinctions and recover threatened species is at least ten times more than what is being spent.

In Australia, A$40 million each year would prevent the loss of 45 mammals, birds and reptiles from the Kimberley region.

Can we afford it? The 2016 Defence White Paper outlines an expansion of Australia’s defence expenditure from A$32.4 billion in 2016-17 to A$58.7 billion by 2025, even though the appropriate level of investment is extremely uncertain.

We are more certain that our biodiversity will continue to decline with current funding levels. Every State of the Environment report shows ongoing biodiversity loss at relatively stable, low-level funding.

And what will happen if industry won’t open its wallets? Will the government close the funding gap, or shrug its shoulders, hoping the delay between committing a species to extinction and the actual event will be long enough to avoid accountability?

In the past few years we’ve seen the extinction of the Christmas Island forest skink, the Christmas Island pipistrelle, and the Bramble Cay melomys with no public inquiry. Academics have been left to probe the causes, and there is no clear line of government responsibility or mechanism to provide enough funding to help prevent more extinctions.

Popularity poll

Another problem is the prospectus’s bias towards the cute and cuddly, reflecting the prejudice in the Commonwealth Threatened Species Strategy. The strategy and prospectus make the assumption that potential benefactors are inclined to fork out for a freckled duck, but not for a Fitzroy land snail.

The prospectus includes almost half of Australia’s threatened mammals (listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) and one-fifth of the threatened birds.

Other groups are woefully represented, ranging from 13% of threatened reptiles to just 1% of threatened plants and none of the listed threatened invertebrates. The prospectus does not even mention spectacular and uniquely Australian threatened crayfish, snails, velvet worms, beetles, butterflies, moths and other insects.

The allocation of funds is equally problematic. We found that birds received the most money (A$209,000 per species on average), followed by mammals and plants.

Raising new funds to help save iconic species is valuable, and can help other species. This focus on birds and mammals wouldn’t be a problem if the government were to pick up the tab for the less popular threatened species.

But it hasn’t. That means our threatened species program will continue to be exceptionally biased, while many more species vanish forever, with little acknowledgement.

We think that the prospectus, despite its biases, is a positive initiative. It is vital to engage society, including business and wealthy philanthropists, in the care of Australia’s natural heritage. But it also highlights how little the government is willing to invest in preserving our threatened wildlife and ecosystems.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article, including reader comments.

The Conversation

The Conversation

Sydney Morning Herald: Bringing back the devil

Tasmanian Devils could return to mainland Australia in the name of conservation. Image credit Duncan Rawlinson via Flickr

Tasmanian Devils could return to mainland Australia in the name of conservation. Image credit Duncan Rawlinson via Flickr

Reintroducing Tasmanian Devils to mainland Australia could solve a raft of conservation issues, and Wilson’s Promontory seems to be the ideal place to start.

Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Conversation: Nature is neglected in this election campaign – at its and our own peril

By Don Driscoll and Euan Ritchie (Deakin University).

The electioneering has begun. In a campaign set to be dominated by economic issues, the Coalition and Labor are locking horns over who can best manage our finances, protect jobs and make housing more affordable. The Greens predictably decry the major parties, including their cavalier climate-change policies.

These are important issues, but are they highest priority on the political agenda? An arguably even greater issue exists that nobody is seriously championing, but which impacts all of us, socially, environmentally and economically.

Our natural heritage – the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia’s identity – are in dire straits. Yet this biodiversity crisis is barely mentioned in political discourse, nor is it foremost in the public consciousness.

Everlastings in the Australian Alps. But will they be? Image credit: John O'Neill via Wikimedia Commons

Everlastings in the Australian Alps. But will they be? Image credit: John O’Neill via Wikimedia Commons

The world economy is losing €50 billion (A$73 billion) a year through lost ecosystem services. It is predicted to lose €14 trillion per year by 2050 without action now. With potentially 7% of global economic product at stake by mid-century, nature conservation must surely be on the agenda in this election.

Actions needed to conserve our natural heritage, and reap substantial rewards, will challenge some of our most cherished ideas about social and economic policy. This demands reforms to reverse creeping losses to our democratic process.

Looking at the major parties’ platforms, it is clear that nature is not on the agenda. Labor lists 23 positive policies, none of which deals directly with conserving Australia’s plants and animals. The Liberal-National Party has done slightly better, claiming to believe in preserving Australia’s natural beauty and environment for future generations. However, its federal platform, released last year, shows no evidence of this belief.

Public concern has also shifted away from nature issues and towards other concerns like terrorism, as well as traditional areas of focus such as health care and the economy. This shift can be seen in some surprising places, such as the major grassroots lobby group GetUp – of its ten current campaigns only one, the Great Barrier Reef program, is directly about conserving wildlife diversity.

Environmental riches, but for how long?

The value of biodiversity to humans is well established (for example, see here, here, and here). Biodiversity reduces stress, crime and disease. It also provides new economic opportunities and many other benefits, from climate control, to flood defence, to the many benefits delivered by birds.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but like the polar ice they are at risk of disappearing through our neglect.

Despite biodiversity’s immense value, Australia’s natural heritage is not assured. Good news stories exist,
but as a succession of government State of the Environment reports over recent decades has shown, our natural heritage continues to be squandered.

The reports cite population growth, economic growth and climate change as key drivers of decline. Land clearing and invasive species also lead to biodiversity loss. All must be addressed to reverse the alarming trajectory of our wildlife.

These threats to our natural heritage should be high on the political agenda. But despite recent extinctions, caused in no small part by a failure to act quickly on conservation advice, bureaucrats and politicians have failed to rise to the challenge. Australia’s plants, animals and other wildlife continue to be swept aside with an enthusiasm and abandon reminiscent of the 19th-century pioneers.

Why the lack of action?

Nature is missing in action from the political agenda for many reasons. Here are two key ones: questionable political donations and processes, and the gagging of the public service, government and university scientists. Both issues go to the heart of our democracy.

Australia has some of the weakest electoral laws concerning political donations and spending. Time lags between receiving donations and declaring them means that appropriate scrutiny of policy motivations, particularly at election times, is uncommon. This is concerning, because links between political favours for donors, while hard to prove, are frequently noted.

These correlations are not surprising. Corporate political activities are typically not gestures of goodwill, but a widely accepted corporate strategy aimed at securing better outcomes. Because many companies depend on using land for activities such as digging up resources and clearing native vegetation, the success of their political donations can often be reflected in damage to nature.

Equally concerning is the deafening silence from people who really know how damaging government policies can be for the environment. Inconvenient truths might challenge government policies. So public servants, including government scientists, are prohibited from speaking, or tweeting. Governments will go to extremes more often seen in the pages of crime thrillers to track down and punish whistle-blowers.

Governments attempting to silence academics hit the spotlight over cattle grazing trials in Victorian national parks. A senior Victorian public servant reportedly threatened to withdraw further funding from the University of Melbourne if the university did not agree to oversee the government’s grazing trial, despite the trial being widely regarded as flawed and unnecessary. Faced with this type of pressure, many university scientists simply avoid public debate for fear of damaging their job prospects or government funding.

In this climate of silence, major biodiversity issues and damaging government policies aren’t appropriately aired. The public don’t hear about it and so can’t make informed decisions at the polling booth. Consequently, government and public service barriers to honest media coverage undermine an informed democracy.

Valuing and preserving nature are critical for our well-being and prosperity, but species continue disappearing at alarming rates to causes we could better manage.

There are things that can be done, at a political level, to help stop this erosion of Australia’s natural heritage before it’s too late. In addition to adequately funding conservation, we should reform political funding rules. We should also encourage, even legally require, honest and open disclosure of how government policy impacts our environment.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article online, including reader comments.

The Conversation

 

The Conversation: Killing cats, rats and foxes is no silver bullet for saving wildlife

By Tim Doherty (Edith Cowan University), Chris Dickman (University of Sydney), Dale Nimmo (Charles Sturt University) and Euan Ritchie (Deakin University). 

Cats, rats and foxes have wrought havoc on Australian wildlife and ecosystems. Image credit Paul Hocksenar, Jude, Paul Hocksenar via Flickr.

Cats, rats and foxes have wrought havoc on Australian wildlife and ecosystems. Known as “invasive mammalian predators”, these are species that have established populations outside their native range.

Responsible for numerous extinctions across the globe, this group of species also includes American mink in Europe, stoats and ferrets in New Zealand, and mongooses on many islands.

One common solution is to kill these predators. However, research published this week in the journal Biological Conservation shows it’s much more complicated than that. Killing invasive predators often doesn’t work and is sometimes actually worse for native wildlife.

Killing for conservation

Management of the threats to biodiversity posed by invasive predators has focused on reducing their populations using lethal control. This includes poison baiting, trapping and shooting.

These programs have at times been successful at local scales and on islands. However, they are extremely costly and they often fail to stop declines of native fauna at larger scales.

Such management programs often occur with little regard for how they might interact with other threats that are impacting ecosystems. This has led to unpredictable outcomes of invasive predator control. Sometimes it doesn’t work or, worse, it results in a negative outcome for wildlife.

Key disturbances

We identified six disturbances with strong potential to increase the impacts of invasive predators: fire, grazing by large herbivores, land clearing, altered prey populations, the decline of top predators and resource subsidies from humans (such as increased food or shelter availability).

These disturbances interact with invasive predators in three main ways.

First, disturbances such as fire, grazing and land clearing result in a loss of vegetation cover, which makes prey more vulnerable to predation.

For example, small mammals in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia experienced more predation by feral cats in an intensely burnt area, compared with patchily burnt and unburnt areas. Grazing by livestock similarly removes protective cover. Research shows that feral cats prefer to hunt in these areas because of the improved hunting success.

Second, increases in food or declines of competing top predators can allow populations of invasive predators to increase, thereby increasing their impact on native species.

For example, introduced prey species, such as rabbits in Australia, can support larger predator populations. This can lead to increased predation pressure on native species – a process termed “hyperpredation”.

The extinction of the Macquarie Island parakeet was attributed to this process. The parakeet co-existed with feral cats for more than 60 years, but declined rapidly to extinction following the introduction of rabbits to the island in 1879. Resource subsidies, such as garbage or hunters’ carcass dumps, can also support larger predator populations, leading to greater predation pressure.

Third, many of these disturbances also have a direct impact on native species, which is exacerbated by invasive predators. For example, habitat fragmentation reduces population sizes of many native species due to habitat loss. Increased predation by invasive predators can therefore make a bad situation much worse.

Getting it right

Our synthesis shows that management of invasive predators is likely to benefit from employing more integrated approaches.

Maintaining habitat complexity and refuges for prey species is one way that invasive predator impacts can be reduced. This includes improved management of fire and grazing. Lower-intensity fires that retain patchiness could reduce the predation-related impacts of fire on native species. Such approaches may be the best option where no effective predator control method exists, such as for cats in northern Australia.

Native top predators such as wolves in Europe and North America or dingoes in Australia can have suppressive effects on invasive predators. “Rewilding” is an option in some places where these species have declined. Where native predators conflict with livestock producers, guardian animals can often protect livestock from predation instead of lethal control.

Reducing resource subsidies is a simple way of reducing food resources for invasive predator populations.

If lethal control is used, it should be applied with caution. Selectively removing individual pest species from ecosystems can do more harm than good. Multi-species approaches are the best way to avoid such surprises and the order in which species are removed is an important consideration.

Rather than focusing on single processes, conservation managers should consider the multiple disturbances operating in stressed ecosystems and use management actions that address these threats in unison. Such integrated approaches are essential if further extinctions are to be avoided.

The paper is free to download until 30 July 2015.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article online, including reader comments.

The Conversation

 

Multiple threats, or multiplying the threats? Interactions between invasive predators and other ecological disturbances

Authors: Tim S Doherty, Chris R Dickman, Dale G Nimmo and Euan G Ritchie

Abstract

Invasive species have reshaped the composition of biomes across the globe, and considerable cost is now associated with minimising their ecological, social and economic impacts. Mammalian predators are among the most damaging invaders, having caused numerous species extinctions.

Here, we review evidence of interactions between invasive predators and six key threats that together have strong potential to influence both the impacts of the predators, and their management.

We show that impacts of invasive predators can be classified as either functional or numerical, and that they interact with other threats through both habitat- and community-mediated pathways.

Ecosystem context and invasive predator identity are central in shaping variability in these relationships and their outcomes. Greater recognition of the ecological complexities between major processes that threaten biodiversity, including changing spatial and temporal relationships among species, is required to both advance ecological theory and improve conservation actions and outcomes.

We discuss how novel approaches to conservation management can be used to address interactions between threatening processes and ameliorate invasive predator impacts.

Doherty TS, Dickman CR, Nimmo DG, Ritchie EG (2015) Multiple threats, or multiplying the threats? Interactions between invasive predators and other ecological disturbances, Biological Conservation, 190, 60-68 PDF DOI

The Big Roo Count

Help us conserve northern Australia's iconic mammals by supporting The Big Roo Count. Image credit: David Webb

Help us conserve northern Australia’s iconic mammals by supporting The Big Roo Count. Image credit: David Webb

Ten years ago, with my wife Jen, I was finishing up four years of fieldwork in some of Australia’s most remote and spectacular habitats. We had been lucky enough to be investigating the ecology and conservation of Australia’s tropical kangaroos and wallabies, collecting first-of-its kind information on where they each occurred, how big the populations were and why each species lived in certain areas and not others.

But a lot can change in ten years.

While Jen and I have been blessed with kids, health, happiness and more, our northern mammals haven’t been so lucky. Many are disappearing; some at alarming rates. Why? fires, feral cats and climate change are all likely causes.

We have a plan that will give us our best shot at conserving Australia’s northern kangaroos and wallabies.

This winter, we’re packing our kids and our tent into a four-wheel-drive for an epic journey of scientific discovery to find out how the roos are faring ten years down the track.

We’ll repeat all the work we did a decade ago at the same field sites:

  • roo counts,
  • mapping habitat and measuring its condition,
  • and the most glamourous job of all: counting and collecting kangaroo poos to get more information on which species live where.

This time, we will also be packing exciting new technology including remotely-triggered camera traps.

It’s rare for ecologists to have long-term information like this. Our data will tell us what we are up against in the battle to conserve our native kangaroos, wallabies and other native fauna in the same region. We’ll also take every opportunity to talk with as many people as we can about the conservation issues facing northern Australia’s mammals.

“Euan Ritchie’s re-survey of kangaroos and wallabies across northern Australia 10 years on from his foundational PhD survey is fundamentally important research. Nobody but Euan can undertake the work, and I’m profoundly grateful that he’s willing to do it.” — Professor Tim Flannery

Following the outstanding success of my crowdfunded research project on Papua New Guinea’s remote mountain mammals, we are again partnering with Pozible to bring this project to life. With your generous support, we’ll be able to hire a four-wheel-drive and buy the remote camera traps we need to do this important work.

For more information, a video, regular updates and to pledge your support, visit pozible.com/bigroocount.

Please help us conserve Australia’s iconic northern kangaroos and wallabies. Please support The Big Roo Count!

Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia

Authors: Mark R Ziembicki, John C Z Woinarski, Jonathan K Webb, Eric Vanderduys, Katherine Tuft, James Smith, Euan G Ritchie, Terry B Reardon, Ian J Radford, Noel Preece, Justin Perry, Brett P Murphy, Hugh McGregor, Sarah Legge, Lily Leahy, Michael J Lawes, John Kanowski, Chris N Johnson, Alex James, Anthony D Griffiths, Graeme Gillespie, Anke S K Frank, Alaric Fisher and Andrew A Burbidge.

Abstract

Recent studies at some sites in northern Australia have reported severe and rapid decline of some native mammal species, notwithstanding an environmental context (small human population size, limited habitat loss, substantial reservation extent) that should provide relative conservation security.

All of the more speciose taxonomic groups of mammals in northern Australia have some species for which the conservation status has been assessed as threatened, with 53% of dasyurid, 46% of macropod and potoroid, 33% of bandicoot and bilby, 33% of possum, 31% of rodent, and 24% of bat species being assessed as extinct, threatened or near-threatened.

This paper reviews disparate recent and ongoing studies that provide information on population trends across a broader geographic scope than the previously reported sites, and provides some information on the conservation status and trends for mammal groups (bats, larger macropods) not well sampled in previous monitoring studies. It describes some diverse approaches of studies seeking to document conservation status and trends, and of the factors that may be contributing to observed patterns of decline.

The studies reported provide some compelling evidence that predation by feral cats is implicated in the observed decline, with those impacts likely to be exacerbated by prevailing fire regimes (frequent, extensive and intense fire), by reduction in ground vegetation cover due to livestock and, in some areas, by ‘control’ of dingoes. However the impacts of dingoes may be complex, and are not yet well resolved in this area.

The relative impacts of these individual factors vary spatially (with most severe impacts in lower rainfall and less topographically rugged areas) and between different mammal species, with some species responding idiosyncratically: the most notable example is the rapid decline of the northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus due to poisoning by the introduced cane toad Rhinella marina, which continues to spread extensively across northern Australia. The impact of disease, if any, remains unresolved.

Recovery of the native mammal fauna may be impossible in some areas. However, there are now examples of rapid recovery following threat management. Priority conservation actions include: enhanced biosecurity for important islands, establishment of a network of substantial predator exclosures, intensive fire management (aimed at increasing the extent of longer-unburnt habitat and in delivering fine scale patch burning), reduction in feral stock in conservation reserves, and acquisition for conservation purposes of some pastoral lands in areas that are significant for mammal conservation.

Ziembicki MR, Woinarski JCZ, Webb JK, Vanderduys E, Tuft K, Smith J, Ritchie EG, Reardon TB, Radford IJ, Preece N, Perry JP, Murphy BP, McGregor H, Legge S, Leahy L, Lawes MJ, Kanowski J, Johnson CN, James A, Griffiths AD, Gillespie G, Frank ASK, Fisher A, Burbidge AA (2015) Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia, Therya 2015 6(1) 169-225 PDF DOI

Science Network Western Australia: Thousands predicted to die along state barrier fence

The south-west of WA is a global biodiversity hotspot. The state barrier fence has had a questionable impact on controlling pest species and extending it would likely cause more harm than good.

Read more, including reader comments, on the Science Network Western Australia website.

ABC News: ‘New mammal species’ found in PNG by Australian scientists on crowd-funded expedition

We went in with 40 crowd-funded camera traps and hopes of collecting evidence of some of Papua New Guinea’s most endangered animals. What we found were the first images of previously unrecorded mammals, including a small dorcopsulus wallaby.

Read the full story online

AM with Chris Uhlman: Australian scientist snaps previously unknown mammals in PNG

Jim Thomas from the Tenkile Conservation Alliance and I chatted with the ABC Radio’s Rachel Carbonelli this morning about our adventures in PNG, conserving tree kangaroos, and the possibility of previously undiscovered mammal species.

Transcript available via the ABC website

Belinda Christie: Increasing the success of conservation outcomes

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

I often ponder why, when we have so much scientific information about how our natural environment is deteriorating and more importantly what we can do to reverse it, does so little change? In fact it’s rapidly getting worse.

Perhaps it’s not just about what we (including scientists) know but just as importantly what we value, and how do we increase and improve the connection between information, values and actions?

Deakin University PhD candidate and guest contributor Belinda Christie offers some interesting thoughts.

Recently, I attended a public forum in Melbourne. After the forum ended, the queues forming behind the food stalls grew quickly. As I waited for my cuppa, I noticed one of the forum’s guest speakers placing his lunch order. He was a marine biologist, who just a few minutes earlier, had presented evidence for the need to increase the number of Australia’s marine national parks. I was surprised, perhaps naïvely, when I heard him order a tuna roll. Was I now more, or less, convinced by the evidence he had presented? I wasn’t sure.

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi...

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi we might start to examine the connection between the science we teach and the science we practice.

Our daily experience provides many examples of this disconnection between the professional and the personal: the smattering of nurses standing outside the hospital smoking, the personal trainer welcoming clients at the gym while snacking on a bag of potato chips, the academic writing an article about sustainability while sitting with the heater blasting in her very draughty office. There is often a disconnection between working and living the lessons of our professions. This disconnection is of particular importance in environmental science.

There is a common, but misleading, assumption made by both academics and the public that environmental sustainability ‘belongs’ to the sciences, and so, the belief follows, that students of the environmental sciences already learn much about environmental sustainability. We assume that environmental science students learn about the social and economic aspects of their field. We assume they learn about carbon footprints and sustainable lifestyles. We also assume that all ecologists, environmental managers and conservation biologists received such an education.

Research suggests otherwise. Recent research has shown that of all the disciplines, academics from the sciences are the least supportive of environment and sustainability education for all university students, rarely teach these issues in their own classes and have the most difficulty articulating the meaning of sustainability. While environmental science academics might spend time teaching their students about environmental policy and management, few actively educate their students for sustainability by cultivating the knowledge, skills and values to contribute to a more sustainable society.

But what would be the effect if all those studying environmental science courses were intentionally, and explicitly, educated for sustainability? Would this influence the success of future conservation outcomes? Would this effect be positive, negative or somewhere in between?

The answers to these questions probably hinge on your view of the purpose of science itself. You may fear that conservation recommendations will not be taken seriously unless they come from a seemingly neutral, detached and passionless scientist. You may feel that those recommendations should be, as much as possible, removed from politics, public sentiment and cultural context, so they can be seen as ‘objective’ and beyond influence.

Conversely, you may feel that perhaps the public, industry and politicians would be more likely to support a scientist’s recommendations if they are seen to follow their own advice and are a passionate advocate for change. You may feel that conservation recommendations should be aligned with the current political, economic, social and cultural landscape of the community, so that the recommendations are more likely to be accepted.

You may feel, like many others, including some of our best known and most influential scientists, that it is wise to occupy the ground between the two extremes.

Some years ago I was involved in a program which intended to decrease the occurrence of wildlife poaching in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. While it was informed by conservation recommendations from biologists and ecologists, the program was largely unsuccessful. The recommendations had failed to cater for the entrenched economic and cultural practices of the local community – the use, and trade, of traditional medicines harvested, often fatally, from wildlife.

While considering the social and economic context of conservation recommendations is already well practiced by many, it wasn’t until the biologists, ecologists and volunteers who had designed the program, publically pledged to adopt the recommended sustainable behaviours personally, and stopped using medicines derived from wildlife, that poaching in the area started to decrease. Without this element of ‘social diffusion’, or peer influence, the program may never have been successful. Had those biologists and ecologists learnt about sustainable living practices within the context of their own culture during their undergraduate education, perhaps the program would have been more influential earlier on.

Educating environmental science students for sustainability however, should be evidence-based, rigorous and preserve the integrity of research. It should take heed of the concerns of those who warn educating for a purpose is akin to indoctrinating students. It can do this by encouraging deep critical reflection so students can learn to assess the concept of the sustainability itself. Doing so can, and should, move an environmental science degree beyond merely providing a professional qualification, to inspiring students to lead by example and to make a measurable difference in their world.

I like to think that if the marine biologist at the forum received such an education, perhaps he would have skipped the tuna roll, and I wouldn’t have been left questioning his conservation recommendations.

Radio National Bush Telegraph: More hunting on the cards?

Victorian Agriculture Minister, Peter Walsh, claims hunting is the state’s second biggest tourism money earner and he wants spend nearly $18 million to lure more hunters from interstate and overseas.

While I’m not against the idea of hunting per se, I’m concerned about justifying hunting as a conservation tool.

Shooting fast-breeding feral animals such as rabbits and foxes is unlikely to have much impact on overall numbers — they reproduce far too quickly.

The evidence for successful ‘conservation hunting’ is fairly weak.

Transcript available via the ABC website.

Published: Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity

Authors: Euan G Ritchie, Corey JA Bradshaw, Chris R Dickman, Richard Hobbs, Christopher N Johnson, Emma L Johnston, William F Laurence, David Lindenmayer, Michael A McCarthy, Dale G Nimmo, Hugh H Possingham, Robert L Pressey, David M Watson and John Woinarski

Abstract

Conserving biodiversity against a global backdrop of rapid environmental change poses one of the biggest and most important challenges to society. For this reason, systems of nature reserves have never been more important.

Protected areas are under threat in many parts of the world (Mascia and Pailler 2011), but the weakening of protected areas in a rich, developed country with a global reputation for conservation leadership (Harrison 2006) is particularly alarming (Ritchie 2013). Consequently, we are concerned about the recent spate of substantial policy, legislative and management changes being made by three of six Australian state governments for exploitative uses of national parks — actions that could affect much of Australia and have significant negative effects on biodiversity.

In recent decades, the Australian state and federal governments have collectively built a system of terrestrial and marine conservation reserves that aspires to be comprehensive and adequate, and to form the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. The resulting national reserve system is imperfect, but goes some way toward protecting Australia’s unique species and ecosystems (Taylor et al. 2011). That system is now being systematically undermined, even while continental-scale biodiversity losses are underway.

Ritchie EG, Bradshaw CJA, Dickman CR, Hobbs R, Johnson CN, Johnston EL, Laurence WF, Lindenmayer D, McCarthy MA, Nimmo DG, Possingham HH, Pressey RL, Watson DM, Woinarski J (2013) Continental-scale governance failure will hasten loss of Australia’s biodiversity, Conservation Biology, 27(6) 1133–1135 PDF DOI

Catalyst: conservation hunting (video)

Can recreational hunters control feral animals? Is there a role for so-called “conservation hunters”? And is their claim backed by science?

What about the introduction of native predators, such as dingos, or companion animals such as alpacas?

These questions are explored by Anja Taylor on the ABC’s popular science program, Catalyst.

The video and a transcipt is available from the Catalyst archive.

The Wire: Australia’s National Parks under threat

Experts are warning Australia’s National Parks are facing a ‘death by a thousand cuts’. As protections against grazing, hunting and logging within the parks relax, we are at risk of finding out first-hand just how fragile these eco-systems are, and why they desperately need protecting.

Professor Bill Laurance and I speak to The Wire’s Graham Backhaus.

via The Wire

The Conversation: Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks

Kakadu National Park. Image: Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Kakadu National Park. Image: Thomas Schoch [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s make or break time for Australia’s national parks.

National parks on land and in the ocean are dying a death of a thousand cuts, in the form of bullets, hooks, hotels, logging concessions and grazing licences. It’s been an extraordinary last few months, with various governments in eastern states proposing new uses for these critically important areas.

Read more at The Conversation