Tasmanian devils, kelp forests among hundreds of species not recommended for recovery plans

ENDANGERED: Facial tumour disease caused a drastic reduction in devil numbers.
ENDANGERED: Facial tumour disease caused a drastic reduction in devil numbers.

The Tasmanian devil, giant kelp forests, whale shark and sei whale are among hundreds of endangered species recommended to no longer have recovery plans under proposed changes by the Environment Department.

The recovery plans would be replaced by a "conservation advice" which does not afford the species the same legal protection when ministers make decisions, including on planning matters such as land clearing.

The species were among 676 across Australia that the independent threatened species scientific committee recommended no longer required recovery plans.

The Tasmanian devil has only had a draft recovery plan for over decade - common among endangered species, where recovery plans are often developed but not actioned upon. No new threatened species recovery plan has been added since early 2020.

Other affected species that occur in Tasmania included the Simson's stag beetle, fin whale, southern fairy prion and blind velvet worm.

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Wilderness Society federal policy director Tim Beshara said the recovery plan system had suffered due to under-funding, and the department's solution would further exacerbate issues facing endangered species.

"A recovery plan for the devil would give a stricter understanding of habitat requirements, what sort of clearing would have an impact, and just a clearer set of rules for what's allowable," he said.

"If you have a recovery plan, it means it's their job to save the species, rather than just to opt-in to saving it.

"Not having a recovery plan will mean there's less detail, less scrutiny, less obligations on ministers. It's a king of back-ended way of loosening environmental standards."

The Environment Department is being audited regarding its implementation of recovery plans.

The Tasmanian devil was listed as endangered in 2009 as the facial tumour disease caused a reduction in numbers.

In the threatened species scientific committee's advice regarding recovery plans, which the department requested, the further reliance on "conservation advice" was described as being quicker and more responsive to species' imminent threats.

In the last 10 years, the committee has recommended about 85 per cent of newly-listed species have a conservation advice rather than a recovery plan.

"Because a conservation advice is approved at, and is in force under law from the time of listing, it provides targeted and timely guidance to support recovery effort to all threatened species and ecological communities, especially those that are in the most urgent need of assistance," the committee's advice reads.

"Listed entities with complex planning needs may continue to be best-served by recovery plans."

This story Devil in the detail: Protection for endangered animals dumped first appeared on The Examiner.